High Muck a Muck

I actually looked at High Muck a Muck initially for my own project and I am glad to get a chance to play. The phrase itself means an important or influential person, especially one who is pompous or conceited. It comes from Chinook Jargon in the period (later 1800’s) and area (Pacific Northwest) in which the story is set. The first screen appears to be the Pak Ah Pu lottery card that they reference. Interesting that it seems the game is set up to be multimodal (text, video and sound) and it indicates that the player has final decision on how the game unfolds, since the front page promises that the site can be explored “in any order and for any length of time”. No other part of the page is clickable except Enter. The text reveals slowly. The poem begins two lines at a time, referencing the lottery book which then replaces the poem large in the center of the screen. Some of the Chinese letters seem to be darker than others and I found that at least one was clickable, but while I was checking the others, blue ink stains appeared over some of the letters and then it all disappeared, replaced by a map. Starting over, I tried clicking on the one spot and all it does is erase the spots and then they come back again. So I let it go to the map. The lottery  card in the corner acts as a kid of a map key and reveals a list of places you can explore if you cursor over it. There is the sound of Chinese flute music – very calm at first, but soon replaced with conversations and silverware, etc – sounds very much like a restaurant. The blue stains are now on a person’s back covered with a drawing that looks like a map. By messing with the key, I discover that this is the home page. If you click on the book that says “British Columbia” in the left corner, it takes you to a poem. The seven biggest and darkest blue dots correspond to the seven locations in the lottery key. Clicking on “Everywhere and Nowhere“, you get a mystical horn sound, like a digeridoo. There are the images of two men facing away from each other and a ying yang between them. The ying yang takes you to a video that shows an old man emerging very slowly from the black screen – so slowly I thought the link was broken. It then pushes in on him. Is this the man with the lottery card from the beginning of the story? Discordant music plays over the video which just keeps pushing into the old man’s left eye. At about the halfway point, it dissolves into a bay’s eye and slowly pulls back. The juxtaposition of old and young is interesting – perhaps it means that if we look closely enough, we find things about us that are all the same? Just like the baby and the old man’s eyes are the same when you look closely?  (As I point out later, it’s interesting that each of them is shown separately and by themselves, fitting with a theme of solitude throughout.)

Back to the home page and I’m trying to figure out what this is a map of. The opening page mentions that the idea of this game is to explore the difficulties of Chinese immigrants in North America’s Gold Mountain, which I discovered is a reference to both San Francisco and Canada’s British Columbia. The closest parallel I can find using Google Maps is Vancouver Island just north of Washington state. The lighter blue dots on the map reveal short poems, seeming to channel Chinese immigrants’ experiences and perhaps the locals as well (dealing with the wave of immigrants). One poem talks about villages a hundred years ago and describes them as “elegance in tune” – perhaps a reference to life before the immigrants came. But another says he marks his time “in sluice” – a type of gate that can be used in panning gold (a big part of what drew immigrants to the region). There are references to Chinese cuisine and names. By the way, interesting that each poem has an FW at the bottom – I’m guessing a reference to Fred Wah, one of the makers of the game. Click on the Pacific Rim, I realize that it has a book in the corner. I go back and check and the Everywhere and Nowhere page does not have a book. Clicking the book, I get a poem about the location. It seems to be referencing the troubles for someone going back and forth between China and Canada – “the counterbalance to the Mainland not so man at home” – maybe means the man is no longer welcome back home?  “Here and back again, stopped stunned and caught in this double-bind of information, Chinese-Canadian, China Chinese tongue-tied”… maybe the man is finding it difficult to jump back and forth both physically and mentally and getting caught unable to speak the language fluently either place. On the man page for the Pacific Rim, there are three ships (actually the middle one is several ships).  That middle one shows a bunch of stuff shipped by China and the label “Made in China”, so perhaps this is about how critical China is to other parts of the world and how Chinese immigrants want to be recognized for that? In Richmond, the poems and images are about Chinese immigrants longing for you and complaining about being disillusioned by the U.S. One video shows expensive American houses and complains about this “empty life”, saying “it’s just not me.” Interesting that this is a modern story with modern images – not so much a reference to life in the 1800’s (although the sensibilities may have been the same). The juxtaposition of the Chinese drawings and art (even the writing has a Chinese feel) and music with the American images is jarring. It gives the player the sense that these things are being forced together instead of fitting together seamlessly. I think this is the whole point, to show the beauty of the Chinese culture and then show how poorly it fits with America. I noticed that many of the characters in the art are depicted singularly and in the videos as well, it’s often (if not always) a single person or face. They even opt to push into the face a couple of times, emphasizing the singularity and (in my opinion) solitude of the person, giving the viewer no sense at all of the people or environment around them.

The overarching theme is of someone who doesn’t feel like they belong – either in the homeland they have left or in the new land they now inhabit. Canada is similar – it shows a map of the Northern U.S. along with the Great Lakes and images of workers and the railroad. The poems speak of loneliness (ancestors who wont remember you) even though it seems to refer to a lot of ancestors being in the area (or maybe just a lot of Chinese). Interesting to note all of these maps are on images of a body, showing that the land and the experiences of these lands are ingrained in the people and that the people and land start to become inseparable for better or for worse. When these immigrants came to these areas, it changed them forever.”Nelson” is another dot (a city I discovered). The images you can click on are more modern – restaurants and shops and a small house… The poems again speak of homesickness – of dreaming of a land across the water – and disconnectedness from the Chinese people who are living there – the “uncle” in the shop, the people playing mah jong. The main character questions everything – how are they related to him?  or more likely, how are they like him? Another image of a man with a camera takes us to a video. More action in this one – mostly showing people playing mah jong, with a close up on the game (not a lot of faces) and an odd toy or something showing a figure with a Chinese hat on a string leash of some kind. Again, faceless and unidentifiable. In the poem, it’s interesting that the narrator admires a man named “Charley” who he says “is China”. Apparently he finds it easy to move between the two worlds – a trait our  narrator finds admirable.

After I clicked through the locations, I tried the “Legend” which I should have looked at first. It told me what all the images meant (and I went back to look at another video hidden behind a character in Vancouver. It showed people moving cups around) And it told me that ears had audio from people who told stories about the places they lived and their experiences. The key also had an option to learn about the making of the game and all their awards, as well as an option to tweet about it or share the game on Facebook. All in all, this is a very involved, multi-layered game with lots of different options for the player. The drawings and audio put you very much in the mind of an Asian/Chinese experience and with the different text, video and audio options, there are lots of places to draw a sense of what the authors are trying to do. That said, the entire game seems very much to stay with the theme which, to me, is that of people coming to a new land, trying to maintain identity and yet feeling disconnected, at odds with the new culture even as they try to maintain their own, and in some ways disillusioned with where they find themselves. And yet, the sense is they don’t really have an option to go back (although they admire those that can move between the two worlds) and so therefore are stuck to try and make the best of it. Looking back, I think the image of the lottery card may simply be telling us that all of life is a game of chance. You make your choice, buy your card, and hope to come out ahead.






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