Category Archives: student blogs

High Muck a Muck

I spent some time  interacting with the electronic literature High Much a Much: Playing Chinese, and I will in this blogpost share my thoughts and observation regarding this interactive poem. 


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The website adresses racism, intercultural exchange, imitation, history and economics regarding Chinese immigration to Canada. The story is about Chinese immigrants who move to Canada, where their culture is thrown away and illegitimate.

One of the creators of the piece is Fred Wah, who grew up in Nelson, B.C. Canada,  working in his father’s Chinese restaurant. He is passionate about telling the story of his «blood ancestry» and his «passing» privilege mixed with the complexity of his racialized family identity.

The piece relies on its modality; it is not just a narrative – it only makes sense by combining the different modalities. The piece relies on its pictures, the meaning in the text, the sound and the non-linear narrative.

The webpage has calming, traditional Chinese music from the start-page and through the narrative to set the mood. The music is mellow and kind of melancholy. The drawings are soft and hand-drawn, and it looks like the artist used watercolors, creating vibes of tradition and older times. The pages looks like old paper, and the artist is using traditional artifacts to create a vivid narrative. You get the feeling of it being a folk-tale; an old story which has been passed down orally and which reveals the customs of these difficult times and their culture.

A multimodal text will always be a product of a culture. By combining the visual and the verbal, the artists creates a deeper understanding of the content; the sadness and hard times of the immigrants. When reading this interactive narrative the modalities creates different expectations to each other. It is important to publish this kind of storys to raise awareness of the struggles of ethnic group meeting western culture, fight against racism and prejudice, and in this case raise criticism in Canada and internationally.

High Muck a Muck is like a kind of a game whose primary purpose is something other than entertainment. When you do it in this way and the readers interact with the story, puts themselves in the refugee shoes and through hyperlinks read about what the refugees went through, it makes it real. The piece make an impact and engage the players.

#4 High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese

This week it is my turn to present one piece of Elit to my #elitclass. I spent quite some time figuring out which of the pieces from the ELC I should present – but I always found my way back to one piece I checked out at the beginning of my journey: High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese.
I’m not sure why I always got back to this specific piece; maybe because I liked the aesthetic of it, maybe because I liked the theme(s) of the piece, or maybe just because I had the feeling that there was more to be discovered than I already had? Anyway, I decided to go for it.

But before we dive into the piece, let’s start with some basics.
High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese is an interactive poem consisting of a website, 8 videos and an interactive gallery installation. The piece is an interdisciplinary collaboration of 9 different Canadian artists, writers, designers and digital developers who shared and transformed each other’s work over 3 years, starting in 2011.  The project was first presented in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada in 2014 and was even exhibited at the 2015 ELO Conference in our beautiful Bergen. Oh and by the way – the project has won the 2014 Spark Creativity Award from BC Creates as well as the 2015 New Media Writing Prize – need any more reasons to check it out? 

No? So let’s start 🙂
The first page of the piece welcomes us with the request to „take a gamble and enter through the Pak Ah Pu lottery card.“ According to Wikipedia Pakapoo (or Pak Ah Pu) „is a Chinese lottery game poplar in Oceania in the 19th Century, including on the Victorian Goldfields. A pakapoo ticket is bought which contains rows of characters from the Thousand Character Classic (an ancient poem in which no two words are repeated). The master ticket is kept hidden and is marked by the organiser of the game. The player marks a number of characters on their ticket. The ticket closest to the master ticket wins.“

High Muck a Muck
Source: High Muck a Muck. Playing Chinese

When we enter the piece we get confronted with the first of many poems…interpretation anyone?  (Oh and could we just take a moment to appreciate the pretty font?)

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Up next we find the „main page“ of the piece, a human torso with several blue droplets. Five of the seven darker and bigger ones signify Pacific Rim, Victoria, Vancouver, Richmond and Nelson, while the other two are called „Canada“ and „Everywhere and Nowhere“.

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Brittainy Newman points out that „[i]n Chinese medicine it is said that vital energies flow along the human body’s natural pathways, specifically linked to human organs. The cities within British Columbia are labeled on top of a drawing combined with watercolor of a human body, essentially personifying these various links with specific themes, thoughts, writings and their corresponding characters.“  (And again, could we just stop for a second and admire the pretty drawing? Or am I the only one appreciating this kind of hand-painted style?)

What is it about?
Maybe the name as well as the Chinese symbols at the beginning of the piece already gave it away, but the main topic of High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese is the historical and contemporary Chinese immigration to the west coast of Canada. According to Nicola Harwood, the curator and one of the artists, „the project approaches immigration as ‚a journey towards a new identity‘ fraught with tensions: between the old way and the new way, between races, cultures, neighborhoods, and also between different groups of Chinese immigrants such as the old laborers struggling to save money to bring their families to Canada and the new wave of immigrants from Hong Kong that come with cash and invest in property“ (
According to the authors‘ statement on the ELC web-page, „High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese troubles the cliché of historical tales of Chinese immigration to North America’s ‚Gold Mountain‘ by juxtaposing this classic narrative of struggle against one of mobility driven by the exigencies of contemporary global capitalism“ – but more on that later in class.

Because we’re gonna explore the different parts of the piece together, I just want to show you one of my favorite parts of High Muck a Muck:

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If we start discovering the Vancouver-part from left to right, the first thing we’re gonna find is a video called  „Diaspora“ by Nicola Harwood . The term Diaspora is one of great importance to the whole piece and refers to „a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographical locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland“ (thank you Wikipedia). Up next is a text which is hidden behind two men – „All dressed up and clean-shaven with no where to go, a troublemaker, that one, a yellow peril, … an Asiatic Exclusion League problem,“ –  in my opinion, this quote underlines how High Muck a Muck   „challenges the racist paradigm of an all white Canada into which Asian immigrants enter but are never fully allowed to arrive“ (Nicola Harwood) as it presents several (old-fashioned) stereotypes, such as an Asian being a „troublemaker“ and a „yellow peril“.
(As I would like for us to discuss the theme and the literary value of High Muck a Muck in class, I will not provide you with a in-depth literary analysis of the poems here.)


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The Navigation
Navigating High Muck a Muck is rather easy, even though sometimes it can be tricky – some texts disappear after a certain time and if you were just busy with something else chances are you might miss something. Basically every building, person, and icon in this piece is clickable or hides something; sometimes it’s a part of a poem, sometimes it’s a video and sometimes it’s an audio-piece. The reader can click on one of the blue droplets on the torso and can read the poem either by discovering its pieces through specific characters or simply read it entirely by clicking on the red book in the left corner. Even after I have now spent several hours working on this piece, I still feel like I haven’t found everything there is.

Random thoughts
I think High Muck a Muck is the prettiest Elit I have discovered so far. Its design was the first thing that drew my attention to this piece and I still enjoy the handwritten poems, the watercolored drawings and the way the colors are rather simple and calm.
At first, I also really liked the traditional Chinese music in the background; but after I spent a few minutes exploring the piece I had to mute it.  In her Directory Entry, Brittainy Newman states that „[t]he music is shown with purpose, supplementing the despair in Fred Wah’s writings and the repetition of the music on loop forces this upon the viewer“ and I get the point  but still, the repetition of the music started to kind of annoy me after a while.
Another thing I enjoyed was the multimediality of the piece. Especially the oral histories one can find as an addition to some of the poems were nice to listen to whereas I found some of the videos hard to follow. Their length of 4-6 minutes sometimes made it tiring forme to watch them if I couldn’t grasp their context right from the beginning.

And what’s up with the name anyway?
The term „High Muck a Muck“ refers to „a Chinook jargon for somebody in a position of authority who thinks he is more important than he actually is“ ( Why does it relate to the topic of this Elit? Great question! That is something to talk about in class as well.

I’m gonna update this post after class with the things we had to say about it – so stay tuned 😉


Konsoll 2017 and Jake Elliott

Last week I volunteered at Konsoll Bergen, which is a videogame developer conference, the conference is a yearly event, and it was my first time attending. Now I wanted to look at a lot of different things at the conference, but one of the talks, really resonated with me in a e-lit way. That was the talk on playful text, by Jake Elliott.



Jake Elliott.

Jake Elliott makes games, music and artware, he is part of the team that makes Kentucky route zero, a game that has won several awards, among them best narrative from Game developers choice in 2015. Kentucky route zero is a point and click narrative driven game, it is set in Kentucky and the focus is debt and the people in debt, in a quote in vice the team states:  “Our experience is pretty typical: student loans, medical bills, confusing credit cards, stuff like that.”

The interesting bits of his talk is the part about generating dialog, and using generated dialog to change the story, he talked about a random drink generator they made for the game. They made tables filled with different types of alcohol, and other tables for ingredients, and by random generation you get a, pretty much, unique drink. But that is just an example of what they are doing in playful writing. At one point they have the player choose answers in a phone call, but the other side is scrambled, and you must select the answer without hearing the other end. This sets the player in charge of what they think the conversation was about.

Changing the narrative with dialog choices.

All the dialogue choices you make does not change the story in a huge way, but small things are remembered, and will come back in later dialog or text, it’s something they could not do easily if they had voice acting for the entire game. But the small things are remembered, and sometimes used later, but not always. Jake talked about creating things that not many people get to see, or not get the complexity of. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, another speaker, Ryan Duffin, from dice, talked about how much time they put into animations, and how he felt that if they spent much time on something it was a shame is not everyone would see it. On the other side of that fence is Kentucky route zero, they have a musical piece that only plays if you walk far enough out on a balcony, and that music was specially written and recorded in a church, but still they put it in a place where many people could miss it.

The writing.

Jake Elliott talked about other forms of playful writing, and it was then I noticed how much it was like electronic literature, he showed examples of hypertext, and working with twine. He mentioned Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, which is something we have looked at as inspiration for random generation of poems.


I am really intrigued by randomizing and using that in text, making it work, I will add the link to Jake`s talk as soon as it is online.

articles about Kentucky route zero

Thoughts on High Muck a Muck (from Dublin!)

Well, going off only the title “High Muck a Muck” I was not sure what to expect. For some odd reason I imagined a story involving a duck (I see the connection but I’m not happy that my brain worked that way), and I know that people sometimes refer to bossy folk as “high muck a muck.” The piece really had nothing to do with either of these things … so why the title?

First impression: the badges on the bottom of the title page struck me. The piece has won some prestigious-looking awards, and much like a book with a positive NYT review on the cover my feelings were swayed before I even dove in. I expected it to be good.

Aesthetically speaking, I was pleased. (No neons! Finally!) The worn paper background and the watercolor details were lovely. I love the look of mixing digital and hand-drawn (or appearing hand drawn) elements in an online setting and hope to explore this for my own piece during the semester. Also, I would probably buy a poster of any of the illustrations. That map on the bare chest? Swoon.

So I clicked around and I read the pretty poems and listened to the music. There was “Everywhere and nowhere,” an almost four minute video where the camera zoomed in on a still of an old man and zoomed out to show a baby. While there were a lot of easy allusions that anyone could grasp, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out on some deeper meanings — or maybe hoping there was something more. Why are the map points located on specific areas of the chest? It’s not like “everywhere and nowhere” had to be the neck. Again, I like to think there’s something more.

I guess what I need to say — though I hate to say it — as that while the piece was lovely I don’t think I felt as much as I was supposed to. There’s something with a lot of e-lit pieces where I can’t quite reach a level of full investment; when I know there are easter eggs I rush to get through everything. This However, the oral histories hooked me. I could just close my eyes and listen and I loved them.

Tomorrow will be spent traveling home to Bergen from a trip I planned before I joined our lovely e-literature class, so while I’m sad to miss discussion on the piece I’ll hopefully catch a recap on Wednesday.

And my favorite line? “I’m just a little chihuahua against a german shepard. That’s okay. We’re all dogs. Just different size.”

High Muck a Muck

First of all I had to look up the phrase “high much a muck”. I can only recall one other instance of ever hearing this and it is in the song Wonderboy by the band Tenacious D. I even had to look up the lyrics of the song to be able to compare the two different usages. In the song the lyrics go: “High above the mucky-muck, castle in the clouds. There sits Wonderboy, sitting oh so proudly.” The way the phrase is worded is different but I think there’s room for interpretation there.

The definition of the phrase “high muck a muck” goes like this however; “an important, influential, or high-ranking person, especially one who is pompous or conceited.” That’s all fine and dandy, but the issue comes when interpreting the entire piece of electronic literature itself.

Before I start off talking about the parts I didn’t get about “High Muck a Muck”, I’d like to point out what I appreciated the most: the presentation. Talk about a visually gorgeous work of e-lit. The combination between water color painting and a map looked stunning, and the combination of an exposed body serving as the landmass across a map looked pretty cool—and not to mention the “hotspots” placed across the map giving the reader different responses depending on their shape and size.

This piece made me think several stories I’ve heard—but admittedly haven’t researched enough on my own—of the rail road work in the United States in the period where the rail road companies worked to connect the west coast with the east coast, and create a “highway” across the mainland. This thought came to me first and foremost because of the combination of the music—which sounds like the combination between a melancholy and tranquil song played on a wooden flute—and the various references to Asian culture and heritage spread across the work. (There’s also a gong placed in the a few times, which immediately directs me to an Asian.)

And then once you click on the option of “Canada” we actually get to see rail roads, people carrying tools, and a sigil that says, “Canadian Pacific Rail Way”. Like I mentioned earlier, I admit to not know much about this, but with the combination everything I’ve seen in this piece I’m thinking the piece is predominantly working around the immigration of people of Asian to the west—in this case Canada, and even more specifically; Nelson, Vancouver, Richmond, and Victoria.

The stories that I’ve heard surrounding the rail road work in the United States were horrendous. We’re talking working conditions that killed people, and companies that would rather see their workers die in the ditches so that they could get out of paying them for their work. Apparently, if memory serves me right, Asian immigrants were exploited because of their willingness to accept awful work for awful pay when others would refuse to work under the same conditions.

Although I haven’t been able to go through the entire piece as much as I’d like to, I’ve found that I enjoyed it so far and I’d like to highlight the aesthetics and atmosphere surrounding the piece the most, and I ended up placing the literature part second to the presentation—for now.


First of thanks to Dr. Mia Zamora that let me write about Konoll 2017 in this weeks blog. Second this blog post is late and short  because I having problem with an bacterial infection in my foot that im dealing with and having some problem with , anyway lets start.

Konsoll started with Jo-Remi Madsen talking about the 10 years of developing Owlboy and how about not to lose hope when you see no end in a project. For me this was alot of fun. As a studnet I hav alot of deadlines and its easy to lose hope, but like Jo-Remi said its not about have hope to finish a project but make it a goal to finishh the project and this can be hard.

The one presentation that I like most was Jake Elliot Plyful text. noe as an E-lit student I undersatnd how text can work in videogames and e-lit. Jake Eliott talket about how branching worked and how  you make different text choose with help of hypertext and patterne poetry. His game Kentucky Route Zero is a game that easily can be called an e-lit bcouse the game plot is about how you interact with people wih the help of text patterns. A eyeopener for me was when I talked with him after his speak about different generes and video games and E-lit was wheen I asked him what he tought about his game as an e-lit, he said: I like how different people can have different opinions about genre. I just make it, its up to other people to define what is it.” This was an eye opener for me because I have always tried to see the different in e-lit and videogames, but he said that hes just making a thing that he like and he dosent care what it is as long as he is happy. I think thats is importhant that people make e-lit pieces or videogames without thinking if it is this or that but just a thing that you happy with.


The rest of Konsoll was alot of fun I loved to talked more about it but his is all i manage right now. sorry about that and see you soon



High Muck a Muck

Tomorrow, we are going to hear about “High Muck a Muck”. Like last week, this piece dealt with a topic that I knew little to nothing about: Chinese immigration to Canada. This is a piece that doesn’t require as much interaction as some of them have. You can click through the collection of text, images, music and videos on your own pace and spend as much time there as you want to.

In general, I liked the atmosphere of the piece. It was very multi-dimensional and wonderfully put together – it was just like visiting a multimedia-installation in a museum. However, I have to admit that I did not have the most enjoyable experience at first. I think you need the right mindset for this piece. Anyway, the loud sounds and the changing images were a bit too much for me last night. But maybe that was also due to the order in which I clicked on the links – the first video kind of overwhelmed me. It showed the picture of an old man, which kept coming closer and closer, followed by the picture of a baby. The video was accompanied by intense, traditional music. It was unexpectedly hard for me to just lean back and listen or watch, I had to physically restrain myself from skipping the video, taking my phone or exploring the rest of the page.

Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the following pages. I especially liked the little snippets of poetry that were included in some parts. Also, once I got accustomed to the sounds, I really enjoyed the soft, traditional Chinese music that accompanied the page.

A lot of the pieces made me think of another seminar I had at home: there, we talked about “Bookishness”, a term used by Jessica Pressman, whom we also heard about in this seminar already. Here, you can find the link to the text if you’re interested. She describes here how we are more and more drawn to “textuality and the book-bound reading object”. And even though she refers to more traditional forms of literature, I have found this to be true for a lot of E-Lit-pieces, too. It is amazing how many of them incorporate images of physical books, have you flip pages or aesthetically resemble picture-books. This is also true for “High Muck a Muck”; a lot of the charm of this piece comes from its specific aesthetic. On the background of what seems to be yellowed paper, we see amazing paintings of nature, beautiful drawings and the poems we encounter seem to be in handwriting, too. Even though we just sit in front of our screens, we have the urge to touch the piece, to smell the paper, to turn pages. It is very interesting to think about the piece with the Pressman-text in mind and to question how and why we are so keen on physical paper in this age of digitalization.

#4 Second chances

For our last meeting in E-lit class we read Kouryokhin’s Second Life, which will be the theme of this weeks blog post.

The object of the piece is the russian composer Sergei Kouryokhin who died of a cardiac sarcoma (a rare heart condition) in 1996.  The difference between reality and the story is that Kouryokhin survives in the piece, and now wants to do better in his second life.

When entering the piece the title is at the top of the page, then it states that this is a “metasimulator”. I think this might relate to the idea that one should think more about their actions and their how they live their life, just as Kouryokhin does when given the chance. He looks sort of tired on the picture of him that is also part of the title page, which is maybe also part of the meta-layer. It will obviously take a lot of effort to chance your way of being.

The piece has a game-like interface. On the left side of the screen the reader sees the three categories Health, Knowledge and Madness, with an indication of how much out of 10 Kouryokhin has of each. While exploring the game the reader will realize that they need to have certain levels in the different categories to do certain things. You must for example have more than 6 Knowledge to evolve the “Schizonet”. I like this part of the piece, because it also gets me more involved. I want Kouryokhin to survive and feel better, and be able to make music and do all the stuff he wants to do. But as I went through the piece, I realized that I couldn’t win. I feel like that is also something that a lot of people can relate to (and maybe even more in these “perfect” times of social media), the feeling of never being able to be as good as you want to, and just keep on running after a unachivable goal. During the read through in class we managed to “win”, or at least Kouryokhin didn’t die or kill himself, which I think is nice – if you read try to read it enough times there is going to succeed.

When you finish the piece you can either choose to start over or listen to a piece of music by Sergei Kouryokhin. The music is called “Morning Exercises in the Nuthouse – Exercise 1”, and though I haven’t listened to the entire thing I think the name is suiting. It is played on piano, and is both fun and quirky, but also sort of disturbing with some very dissonant chords. I think the music reflects the mood of the elit. I’m not sure I necessary like it, and I think it could have been integrated better into the final “page”, but it is a fun way to end the reading, when you, as a reader, have almost killed off the main character.

I think in the end the piece is a reminder that everyone is going to die one day, and we might just get the most out of the time we got on earth, and sometimes it’s okay to go drinking with your friends to increase your madness, even if it makes your health a bit weaker. Because you never now if you will get a rare heart condition at the age of 42, and suddenly not have time to do the things you wanted to.

To know yourself you have to become yourself

In this blogpost I go through the elit “High Muck a Muck”, expressing my thoughts and feelings about it. According to google, High muck a muck means “a person in a position of authority, especially one who is overbearing or conceited”.

As I open the piece of elit, it tells me to “take a gamble” and see if I win the lottery. The piece itself starts with a male taking a ticket out of his pocket – next I am shown a square of chinese symbols. I am familiar with a few chinese symbols, but far too few to make any sense of meaning or interpret anything here.I try to make up my mind about which symbol to click, and feeling lead to click on the one symbol with a blue background (reminds me of a game of bingo where one has used a big marker to mark off which numbers has been called).

Before I get to clicking a symbol, the page has changed into a drawing of a human stomach with a map of trees, mountains and rivers. Honestly I am not sure if this was supposed to happen if I took too long clicking a symbol or if I clicked without realizing or whatever.

The neck says “everywhere and nowhere”, the left arm “pacific rim”, the right arm “Canada”. There is also Vancouver, Victoria, Richmond and Nelson. These are all clickable. The rest of the marks are a lighter shade of blue and appear as poems rather than geographic locations and are not links.

I am not sure if the poems are one or several, but one of them moved me a bit actually.

“Full or parsed moon with tears,
One hundred years ago,
Twenty eight village homes,
Elegance in tune,
How you landed where,
Scattered ashes orbit”

I am sure I could have filled a whole blogpost about just this one passage. Interpretations, emotions, thoughts. I think all the poems on the map gives clues towards the story the elit is trying to tell us, but somehow I find this passage of more importance than the others. It tells of troubled pasts and hope for the future, and thinking of what the piece said about immigration at first… This piece, so far, appears to be about your home – now just a memory of how home used to be – and how you hope the future will have something better planned for you. The other poems seems to hold memories as well, of food and areas.

The page of Canada has shorter poems, and more than one of them can be interpreted as thoughts of someone leaving their home in hopes of a better life elsewhere.

Victoria shows illustrations of various buildings and structures. The text that shows up when one clicks a door with chinese symbols above it moved me even more than any of the others did so far. “To know yourself you have to become yourself”. This passage is so full of meaning to me, as someone who in their teenage years had no clue what they wanted to do with their life – so many possibilities yet so many obstacles…

The above quote also reminds me of one of my favorite songs. It is well over ten minutes long and contains a poem being read towards the end. One of the passages of this poem also says “How can you just be yourself when you don’t know who you are?” (Song of Myself by Nightwish). And there is a link between one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists, and this piece of elit. The reason for me to like this elit becoming more and more clear.

“Some people are different.
You can see it. Or hear it.
That’s how I grew up
On the schoolground
What you’re called
A painful spike.”

Once again I am moved by “High Muck a Muck”, this time by a passage from Nelson. And here I am reminded of one of my favorite poems of all time. The poem starts like this:
“From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring” (Alone by Edgar Allan Poe).

And yet again I have another reason to really like this piece of elit. Although I cannot relate to the immigration theme of “High Muck a Muck” I can definitely relate to many of the topics and poetic passages of the piece.

I then continue to the page of Vancouver and click on the man with two girls where one is placed in a stroller.

“Don’t mention yourself
Especially when you show
A family portrait”

And even though this does not remind me of some favorite of mine, it touches me. Something about the selflessness and showing pride in not yourself but those that matter the most to you.

This is where I started having trouble exploring the rest of the piece, either the elit or my internet was against my mission of discovering the last pages.

With patience, I slowly moved forward. Richmond was next, followed by Pacific Rim and lastly Everywhere and Nowhere. Everywhere and Nowhere consisted only of sound, a clip almost four minutes long, and a slideshow to go with it. The sound gradually turns into music, with what I imagine being Chinese instruments. The song sounds rather sad, and at times a bit scary. Given the theme of the elit, I imagine families leaving their safe homes, fearful of how the future will be, but hoping things will be better someplace else. Towards the end, birds start to chirp – and the sad melody now accompanied by bells sounds somewhat happier. I imagine the same families arriving their new homes and discovering a better life awaits.

So, these are my thoughts and interpretations of High Muck a Muck. I really liked this piece of elit and am now sure that my own piece of elit definitely will contain poetry of some sort. High Muck a Muck also gave me inspiration and ideas for when I will start creating my own. All in all, I think this piece has had the most impact on me the most so far – which kind of surprised me. I did not expect that from High Muck a Muck, though I must say it was a nice surprise. Definitely one of my favorite pieces of elit so far this semester. Awesome.

Thank you for reading!



Kuryokhin: Second Life

Earlier this month this twine game was presented in class, during which I was playing it myself to see what kind of outcomes there were. Because there are few to no analyses of it that we know of, it meant that none of us really knew the extent of Second Life. This in turn meant that I was allowed to discover an ending to it that the presenter herself hadn’t come across yet, which led to further discussion in class, and for me to appreciate the piece a bit more.

But what exactly is Second Life? According to its creator; Michael Kurtov, it is a (meta)simulator of Sergey Kuryokhin’s afterlife, as he originally did die of a cardiac sarcoma. The simulation part supposes that you – playing as Sergey – actually survived and now have to decide what to do with his second chance at life. What the meta-portion of the piece means is not immediately apparent upon playing it, as the game at first just seems like some form for simulation game, whereas the (meta)-ness comes into play when you go through the game in a fairly particular way. This does mean that it is a difficult piece to navigate to the end as it took me a number of tries to get there myself, but the piece actually acknowledges this in a clever way once you get past a certain point which I liked.

The most important clues to this lies in the first text screen;

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More than just general instructions

At first it may indeed seem like the introduction merely lies out the general way you should try to play the game, but you’ll quickly realize that whether you pick random options or try to increase stats in a particular way that the simulation simply requires you to restart as you end up getting nowhere. Maybe Sergey dies because his knowledge is too low, or his madness is insufficient to get any work done, either way it quickly becomes apparent that unless you play in a certain way you won’t progress. This is where the clues come into play;

  1. You have to take special care of your health
  2. Increasing knowledge is required to manage your health correctly
  3. Increasing madness is required to reach the end

The first clue is essential to understand, because while you do need a certain amount of health to reach the end you also have to reduce it to 1 – twice – while having the correct amount of knowledge and madness, otherwise you have to restart. Even understanding this, it will likely take several attempts to reach this point as it isn’t easy to guess exactly how to proceed as the game wants you to.

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The beginning of the end

Note the text marked in red, if you’ve reached this point in the game you will have seen it more than once already, basically whenever you visited the music studio after the first time, and hovering over it displays text that explains the condition for its appearance. In this case it was because my health is at least 6, and I’ve visited this page more than one time. At first it may just seem like an erronous mistake on the developer’s part, but it is instead an intentional glimpse into the (meta)-component of Second Life, gradually breaking the illusion that you are merely playing a simulation game. Once you “wake up” however, that illusion is completely shattered as the (meta)-portion of the piece is clearly shown.

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We’re not in Sergey’s mind anymore

When something is meta, it means that it’s referencing or commenting upon itself in some way, thereby breaking the fourth wall that usually separates the viewer or player from what they are experiencing. The act of “waking up” in Second Life clearly breaks the notion that you are merely playing a simulator, and it puts into question just who or where you are positioned in relation to the work. M.K here is an obvious reference to the creator; Michael Kurtov, and he makes a self-referencial nod to the very game you are playing as he calls it ‘fine, but a bit over the top.’

It goes on from there, framing the simulator as merely a work-in-progress from the previously futuristic standpoint (It feels a bit strange to see dates like Oct. 10th 2017, when that was just days ago), of a game tester that states “But it wasn’t quite a game, but, as its author claims, a metasimulator, both a game and not a game, simulation of the game and game simulation.”. So not only is there the viewpoint of Sergey and some self-referential e-mail exchanges, but now also a game tester who reviews the very game you are still playing. It makes for a clever way of both presenting a game while simultaneously questioning itself and the possibilities it presents along the way.

Now, it is at about this point the presenter in class believed the piece was at its end, and it was only by chance and persistance that I stumbled across another way forward. There is but a lone hypertext link “after the Explosion”, which leads to some brief exposition and seemingly nothing else than a dead end.

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The end?

If you go back and follow through the same link again however, something has changed.

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The secret path forward

It’s entirely understandable that this is missable, but I am glad that I stumbled across it since it meant everyone in class got to experience something new and unknown about a piece. It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that you have to intentionally go back and forth to discover it, and it makes me wonder how many even reached the actual ending, both with the difficulty of passing the simulation portion of the game, and now this as well.

Reaching this point presents yet another viewpoint, that of a metasimulator researcher that discusses the use of rhythm to navigate hypertext games and how it can be difficult to understand intuitively, yet again invoking the meta for Second Life, considering the challenge of getting this far. Perhaps cleverly so, the example the researcher uses is a simplified visualization of the very game you are playing too.

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Layers of progression

You start at A, which is the incomplete simulation of Sergey Kuryokhin’s second life. Assuming you meet the requirements of a, you are allowed to proceed to AB which is the self-referential e-mail exchanges about the simulation, and so on. By the point you reach this visualization the only way to proceed is with a hypertext link that is aptly named “D”, the final level so-to-speak. In following the previous steps correctly you’ve therefore earned the chance to reach the end of the game. I thought it was a clever yet slightly subtle way of showing how far you’ve come, while rightly so acknowledging the difficulty.

The link sends you to a page with a growing wall of text of seemingly nonsensical phrases, with a lone hypertext link that jumps to and fro. I do not know whether it is possible to click it in time, however as you are thrown back into the simulation after a brief time, revealing that it was all some bizarre dream. Once more making you question your relative position to the piece.

A few more clicks and the final viewpoint is revealed:

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A game that is not a game, or is it?

First there is the view from Sergey, that this was merely a strange dream and that you can go back to the business of the simulation. Second is the creator Michael interjecting that while the strange happenings are indeed part of the game, excusing it as merely a dream won’t hold up the illusion for long. Group 17 is revealed to be a group of metasimulator archeologists that apparently were just trying to re-create the lost simulation of Sergey Kuryokhin, and this attempt at a recreation is what you were playing through up to this point. Clicking ‘report’ leads you to the actual end of the game with a link to a Russian music video whose significance I unfortunately I don’t know.

So what can one say about this? A whole lot, evidently as it is a bit of a layered experience, and certainly not an easy one to traverse all the way to the end. Some might get stuck at the beginning, giving up after trying to pass the first requirement, others might miss the path to another layer and think that is the end instead. It is in a way both a weakness as it means fewer gets to experience the whole thing, but instead perhaps a strenght for those that do get there because it is knowingly acknowledged to be hard to figure out. I thought it was a clever game due to the layered experience, even if it is confusing to keep track of just who and where you are in relation to the game and what it could possibly mean as a piece of electronic literature. It is kind of a simulation game since you do interact with it and you can succeed or fail to proceed. It also has a fairly linear progression path once you discover what to do, but that makes it fall short of feeling like an actual simulation game. Once you pass into the meta portion it kind of ceases to be a game and feels more like a hypertext fiction, as the stats you accrued earlier no longer are relevant, though you could argue the purported ‘dream’ is a result of the madness level you earned even if it is always at 9 before you can proceed. Perhaps the best way I could put it is as such; it is a game that is about the layered viewing experience of a simulation game and its creators, its researchers, testers and reviewers as seen by you the player. It is no less confusing to wrap your head around, but I nevertheless found it interesting to think about. While not an amazing piece of electronic literature it certainly has a fair bit of depth to it that I happened to enjoy.