How old were you in 1962? Five? Me too. We probably didn’t have the luxury to know that it was precisely the year when videogames were first invented (some argued that it should be 1958). Hong Kong was still trying to solve her own social problems when millions of people had overwhelmingly stormed into the city all of a sudden within a decade. The ‘world’ didn’t mean exactly as the way it does to us all right now. ‘Videogames’ were a little out of reach to many poor folks back then. We could never have imagined how such games would have consumed such a big part of ‘leisure’ among so many young people 40 something years later, with many minds and fingers around MTR, KCR, cafes, and city corners, focusing only on tiny little portable gadgets? Who would pay attention to people sitting right next to a videogame player when one is engaged in the action-packed monitors (not mentioning the RED HOT cellular phone)? Who would care if the world would fall apart when the players were caught up with simulated actions as the game designers anticipated, a world of ‘actions’ that simulates courage, power, control and most of all, winning at NO costs, without having to go through any ‘boring preaching’, ‘churches’, ‘schooling’ or, ironically speaking, ‘monitoring’ by others? All one has to do is to keep repeating the targeted actions, with eyes and fingers totally hooked up with the self-activating circuits, repeatedly asserting the ‘ever-present-sense’ of control over something simulative. What kind of ‘control’ would that possibly be?
Modern technology seems to have provided the ruling class an ideal platform for behavior control, channeling human energy into routes of anticipated ‘social’ paths, ensuring continuous human slavery to ‘economic growth’ that could ONLY be ‘prestigiously-monitored-and- benefited’ by the Few, i.e. the Class of Elites. Our city has become the chessboard for these Elites, calculating all possible positions of entrances and exits through rules, regulations and the oh-so-easy-to-read-guidelines and media-driven slogans in order to ‘guarantee’ every possible projected source of profit simply by ‘congregating’ human vision in the name of ‘security’ (mostly referred only to ‘financial security’), a capitalistic totalitarian society all under the umbrella of ‘globalization’, a monstrous ‘Utopia’ that falls into the ‘prophesy’ long made by Aldous Huxley in his ‘Brave New World’. What exactly would be the images of Community for a city like Hong Kong, trying so hard to erase her own roots of history and cultural significances, patterning her ‘cultural path’ in the direction of a floating buoy, forever subject to the heat of waves generated by politicians, technocrats, stockbrokers and pseudo-patriotists.
A mother in our “RemappingHK2” workshop shared with us her frustration of seeing all these ‘NO’ signs standing so tall in parks, shopping malls, public AND ‘private’ places (like toilets), all intended for regulating public behavior in the name of ‘effective management’. Her momentarily rebellion with other mothers to ‘step and play on grass’, solely for the sake of alarming her daughter the ‘monstrosity’ behind these signs, managed to draw the watchful ‘dog eyes’ of a few ‘loyal’ security guards, each trying to ‘secure’ the implementation of ‘rules’ they were uniformed and paid to enforce, with ‘precise judgment’ prescribed by the Authority. (Indeed, these poor front-liners are afraid they may lose their jobs if they don’t carry out their ‘duty’. What good is common sense?) The sudden ‘awakening’ in this mother is oh-so-rare in this City when it has got so used to the pre-programmed and colonized impulses of staying away from trouble under any circumstances. What kind of community are we building here in such a ‘self-defined-metropolitan-city’?
Videogame players would be the ‘perfect patrons’ for a park. They would seclude themselves in a fixed spot and place no threat at all to anyone. These are ‘rebels-of-no-harm’ in spite of the fact that they don’t truly pay much attention to any ‘rules’ around. They see only ‘rules’ laid upon the images circulated in the monitoring screens, where they could simulate their own ‘revolution’ and keep the ‘outside’ world untouched and secured.
Correct me if I am wrong to say that you had been one of the ‘forerunners’ to seek alternate routes in ‘audience building’ (not exactly ‘culture building’ as what we would like to think), trying to engage more people (or consumers rather) to go to concerts and theatres, places mostly regulated and controlled by the government. When you witnessed how young people enjoyed their story telling out in the public, in an open and friendly environment they helped created in the first “Remapping Hong Kong” project held in Victoria Park three years ago, you and I were encouraged and moved by the very sight of ‘community-at-work’ that had long been missing in public places. Such rare occasion was precious indeed and yet difficult to arouse any significance among bureaucrats whose interests weren’t (and still aren’t) in ‘public awakening’. What good is Art anyway? Especially when ‘art uttered by art lovers’ were often used to pass judgment triggered mostly by dint of ‘conflicting feelings’ over ‘imaginary’ motivations that means so little to ‘common folks’. Art doesn’t help to earn ‘marks’ for securing their economic progress! And so how would the public take ART in return?
No wonder so many of our young participating members didn’t stay on the project long enough simply because:
We don’t provide ‘CERTIFICATES’!
We don’t give MARKS!
We don’t have ‘A DIRECTION’ to follow!
We don’t monitor attendance for the sake of any ‘materialistic return’!
We don’t put on ‘well rehearsed’ performances to ENTERTAIN the public!
We don’t SELL our beliefs because such ‘beliefs’ should be re-examined by each member!
We don’t provide any sense of ‘security’ or ‘guarantee’ any ‘compensation’!
WE CREATE THROUGH RE-EXPLORATION OF MUDDY LAYERS LONG BURIED UNDER THE LANDSCAPE OF OUR HEARTS. NO WONDER HAVE WE UTTERLY FAILED TO FULFIL THE ‘EXPECTATIONS’ OF OUR ‘CONSUMPTION-DRIVEN’ PARTICIPANTS!
For those who did stay on, they may still don’t know what have happened. They probably only know something ‘small’ and ‘seemingly-insignificant’ within his/her heart clicking, and yearning, for changes they have long forgotten. They mostly seek alternative visions and outbreak from their daily routines. They want to feel FRESH! They are a very SMALL community, looking for performances that could innovate their minds and souls…
Yet, what kind of community performance could we be projecting then in the next ten or twenty years to come? How could the Arts, oh so ‘popular’ nowadays solely for the potential sight of consumable glamour, or simply an alternative ‘temporary therapeutic dosage’ for our fading self-esteem? You have been working in the Arts and cultural management for so many years. Your colleagues speak very highly of your performance in the field. Truly wonder how you would look into the phenomena above raised if you were still around us. How would the government choose to address the social phenomena and re-examine the role of Arts in community building when the younger generation would much prefer the Internet community? In keeping up with the high promises to remain a free market for all, do we have to pay such high costs, jeopardizing the community kinship and the core of neighborhood building we used to be so proud of back in the 1950’s and 1960’s? Up above among the heavenly bodies, how would you temper with these ever-expanding ‘human playstation‘, seeking to chip off our spirit bit by bit simply to transform man to become machinery marksmen, filling in figures simply to set up another ‘target’ for the next round of players-in-lines, another perfect round of ‘contributing financial backers’ to ensure the AAA economic grading by International finance surveyors?
I am NOT advocating to ‘kill’ videogames. They are ‘unstoppable’ indeed. Yet, do we have any other alternatives? How are we preparing to transform our mode of thinking in attaining alternative forms of activities to diversify the mode of ‘leisure’ under the mind-blowing economic bombardment? When ‘leisure’ exists mostly through behavior of material consumption, how could we attain any alternative reflection or observations through critical or creative thinking if we were ‘blogged’ by a set of simulated values generated by sheer electronic imaging devices? It is more than just videogames. It is a war to unhook us all from simulated reality, especially when bodies and minds falling into the abyss of ‘complexity’ of conflating and oversimplified world affairs in the close-circuit ‘social networking’ hookups.
Well, no matter what – looks like videogames have turned into the most popular ‘art form’ among the younger generation, a form that would fit perfectly to the economy-driven society where the size of consumers means everything. The global videogames industry is enormous, another ‘monstrous enterprise’ looking for whatever ways to outstrip its competitors simply to gain bigger and bigger market control and profits for stockholders. Who cares about the well being of a person as far as the big dollar sign is shining upon oh-so-many shoulders of ours? Every little videogame set suddenly looks like a body snatcher, climbing all over the player and have his/her spirit consumed upon the ‘demand’ long seeded inside the little tiny machine, indirectly infiltrating the exact movement of body cells until they reach their limit. The irony is: the elderly are producing these games for the young and yet blaming them doing no good other than playing. What’s the picture of ‘ethics’ behind such scenario? Where would art be other than the computerized moving figures roaring for social recognition at all costs? What are parks for when signs are designed to discourage any public gatherings and sharing?
Just around the corner, about 50 meters from our “Remapping Hong Kong 2” project site, a security guard is standing at the ‘designated’ jogging lane to ensure all joggers running in the SAME direction. Imagine what would happen if one of the joggers doesn’t abide by the logic of this watchful person? Hong Kong is a ‘proud’ and ‘secured’ city that our slogans always express the platitude of our ever-conforming impulses. We HATE breaking rules, as if everyone would be furious when seeing someone on the vice. What kind of ‘community performance’ is that to be exact?
It was indeed impressive on how much changes taken places in Hong Kong in the past forty something years, especially the economic ‘big leap’ in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a time when almost everyone believed that any person could have ‘a handful of gold’ as long as he/she willing to work hard. We both grew up through this important era and eye-witnessed the amazing changes. Just when such euphoria of economic progress had made so many proud to be Hongkongers, who would have thought such ‘economic pride’ also left us blind and made us give up some very important community quality we used to hold onto back in the 50’s and 60’s, the noble sense of neighborhood? Now, our city is almost totally ‘consumed’ by materialistic commodities and our daily living impulse seems to be drawing only to the World Stock Market Index. As one of the ‘great HOT products’ in department stores, what would possibly replace videogames as the NEXT major target to draw a yet bigger market in the years to come? Mass consumption seems to be the only winning ‘community performance’…
’Remapping Hong Kong’ would mean a yet-bigger-and-forever-frustrating-effort, setting out to provide alternatives in ‘rebuilding’ the landscape of our minds and hearts in a city turned ‘cold’ and ‘unfriendly’. As a member of the City, what each of us, all valuable community members, holds at heart would be a significant part on the map of Hong Kong. Taken that away would mean erasing our footprints from history-in-the-making day in and day out. Truly wish you were still around to speak up for us all in the System. Your voice could be so valuable to us in irrigating alternative cultural soil where no monitoring screens or any surveillance-gadgets to secure only the rich with insurmountable profits and power. Maybe it IS high time for us to re-think regionalized development, cultivating small blocks in all districts and de-centralizing ‘behavior’ through a different set of art subvention projects. Allow art to help re-surface many unsung voices that could make changes in the community scenario to come, a series of neighborhood building, cracking the fortress of beliefs filled with security guards. The simple things we learn in kindergartens are important: love thy neighbors! Yet, where ARE our neighbors? All turned invisible behind ‘secured doors’ and ‘monitoring devices’!
You know what: it is an amazing sight to see five students walking together speechless, with four playing, or ‘communicating’, through their small portable ‘playstations’, with ONE left guiding them through the pedestrians and ‘obstacles’ passing by. How in the world could the ‘CROWD of FOUR’ hear the community outcry from above, below or around?
Can you hear us from above?
TRULY WISH YOU WERE HERE WITH US AGAIN IN CENTRAL LAWN!
*Tanny HUI (1957-2006) was a civil servant working for LCSD, a government body in support of arts and culture. She was also a friend who helped working with me in the first “Re-mapping Hong Kong” project. She died of cancer last year.
*”Remapping Hong Kong” is a community arts project designed by Hoyingfung. It is an on-going project deduced from his creative youth workshop “Drumming Voices” started back in 1999, setting out to use arts as bridges for building better education and social awareness.