So I’ve been playing Hi, How Are You, the iPhone game based on the drawings and music of Daniel Johnston, for a couple weeks now. The game debuted near the end of September, and the Internet gushed. That’s what it does whenever anything related to the Waller artist and musician is released.
Much has been written about Johnston’s mental illness, and anyone who’s seen him perform live has no doubt felt a twinge while watching him chain-smoke and twitch his hands all the way up till the moment he grips the mic. Nicholas L. Hall summed up the situation well in a recent article in the Houston Press:
Johnston’s frequently crippling psychological problems have made claiming to be a fan a somewhat tricky ethical conundrum, the assumption being that the fascination lies with Johnston’s personal demons rather than his deeply personal creations. The truth is a bit grayer than that.Johnston’s music is inexorably linked to the ebb and flow of his mental state, but that’s true of anyone who has ever attempted to create art. The man himself is certainly aware of this interplay, and equally aware of the power of curiosity in shaping taste and opinion. He writes songs that open his life and his mind up to the world in such a naked way that it’s impossible not to feel voyeuristic when listening to them.
So what are we to make of Hi, How Are You, the app created by Austin designers Peter Franco and Steve Broumley? Randy Kennedy compared it to Frogger in a New York Times article, and it does have a frog, but the game’s three-dimensional elements bring it more into the realm of, say, a Crash Bandicoot or a Ratchet and Clank.
In Hi, How Are You, you must navigate a series of levels, hopping from block to block and avoiding all manner of antagonists. Your ultimate goal is to defeat the devil and rescue your true love, a stand-in for Laurie, an object of obsession in Johnston’s work to rival Petrarch’s Laura.
The game’s graphics are dandy and true to Johnston’s drawings, and the soundtrack features his real-deal songs, but I think it’s all something I’d rather watch and listen to passively, as a piece of video art, than actively play. Since installing the game on my iPhone, I’ve sat on two cross-country flights, I’ve stood in line at the pharmacy, I’ve slouched over a wooden bar while waiting for a friend, and I’ve never really had much desire to load up Hi, How Are You, save for wanting to give it a good go before writing about it.
And that’s not a great thing to say about a game.
Am I glad to have it? Yes. But like many iPhone games, it’s totally goofy and cool and gone.
You can download Hi, How Are You here, and don’t forget about our previous coverage of iPhone apps made by Texas artists.