Pirates, and Tourists, and Intertextuality… Oh My…

The games in the Monkey Island series  from LucasArts Entertainment, make frequent references to Voodoo, pirates, and tourism cultures as well as references to popular culture and story tropes. The Monkey Island games often reference the Star Wars movies, because LucasArts makes all the Star Wars games. Monkey Island alluded to the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene from Stars Wars in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge when LeChuck, the games antagonist, tells Guybrush, the game’s protagonist, “I–am your brother.” Guybrush responds “No! No that’s not true! That’s impossible!” And, of course, no collection of Star Wars references would be complete without a Jedi mind trick: At the Brim Stone Beach Club on Puerto Pollo Island, the cabana boy asks to see Guybrush’s club membership card. Guybrush responds  “You don’t need to see my identification… I’m not the pirate you’re looking for… I can go about my business… move along.” It does not, however, work as well for Guybrush as it did for Obe Wan. Another popular movie referenced by The Curse of Monkey Island, is the movie Deliverance.

Instead of dueling with pistols Guybrush chooses to hold an actual duel with banjos near the grassy knoll. Every game in the series shows the “love triangle” trope between Guybrush Threepwood, Elaine Marley, and Captain LeChuck. Guybrush Threepwood, is a wanna-be pirate who starts his adventure on Melee Island, searching for the infamous pirate treasure Big Whoop. It is on Melee Island that Guybrush meets Elaine Marley, the love of his life and the life-long governor of the Melee Island Tri-Island area, which is inclusive of Melee, Booty, and Plunder Islands. Elaine is notoriously beautiful and adventurous, the ideal pirate wife for any seafaring aficionado. That must be why the evil ghost pirate, later the evil zombie pirate, later the flaming evil zombie pirate LeChuck is intent on forcing Elaine to marry him. Like any “love triangle,” there is at least one party who experiences unrequited love. In Monkey Island, no one loves LeChuck except for Minnie “Stronie” Goodsoup and she’s dead and locked in a crypt on Blood Island. The intertextuality in these games brings the audience into the piece and makes them feel special, by referencing the audience’s favorite games, movies, and literature. In online gaming forums, intertextuality, or a text’s reference to other content, is often referred to as an Easter Egg. Well, I love Easter Egg Hunts and I fully believe that video games should be considered more than just a form of entertainment.

Guybrush Threepwood inside a snake.

The pirate themed puns of the Monkey Island games range from the obvious, like the names of the islands Melee, Booty, and Plunder, to the level of jargon, like when Slappy Cromwell, a thespian, recites “I’ll be mizzen ya” (a mizzen is the lowest sale of the mast at the rear of the ship). These puns play the same role as the other intertextual element in the games by making the player feel included and special for recognizing the reference. In his undergraduate thesis “Semiotics and Intertextuality of Video Games,” Jarrod Thacker claims that successful intertextuality in video games is dependent upon the game’s content and proximity to the reference. Thacker’s claims are especially true of the pirate and trademark puns made in The Curse of Monkey Island. Without knowing what a mizzen is, the pun in Slappy’s horrendous revue is lost on the player. A lack of real world understanding also affects the player’s ability to solve the puzzles of the game. The greatest examples of this are when Guybrush is eaten by a snake and when Guybrush makes a compass. Just before the scene in which Guybrush is eaten by a snake, he clips a flower from some nearby plants. The flower is from the ipecacuanha root, also known as ipecac, and used as a purgative. After being eaten by a snake, Guybrush combines the ipecac flower with a bottle of maple syrup he found in the stomach of the snake in order to create syrup of ipecac. Faulty science aside, the idea to combine these two elements may be lost on the game’s target audience of children ages 12 and up. The other piece of scientific intertextuality, the making of the compass, may also be lost on the younger players depending on their scientific knowledge. While on Blood Island, Guybrush must make a compass in order to sail out to another island. To make the compass Guybrush uses a magnet, a pin, a cork, and a measuring cup filled with water. Guybrush scratches the pin on the magnet, pushes it through the cork, and then drops the contraption into the cup of water, effectively making a compass. If the player is through, she will find an encyclopedia which details how to create both the syrup and the compass; however, if she does not find the book, or doesn’t examine it in her inventory than the in-game instruction is lost. If the player is not knowledgeable of making a compass nor of what syrup of ipecac is or does, then the game play will be difficult. Other areas of the games which play off off real world knowledge refer to stereotypes created by Hollywood.

What comes to your mind when you think about Voodoo? Does your mind conjure a picture of the swampy Louisiana Bayou? Perhaps you see a woman sitting around a cauldron throwing toes and chicken feathers into a boiling green goop which she intends to use in order to punish some unsuspecting passerby. This is because for years, you went to the movies to see films like Eve’s Bayou and The Skeleton Key, in which Voodoo practitioners use their supernatural powers to control people and steal their bodies. The Voodoo Lady from The Curse of Monkey Island (CMI) is Guybrush’s tutorial character, a popular device used in video games in order to give hints and instructions to the players. She uses her psychic powers to guide Guybrush in the right direction. In each of her houses, which change from game to game, there are echos of the hollywood stereotype of the Voodoo practitioner. In CMI, the Voodoo Lady’s house is a shipwreck in a swamp. The music is eerie, the visual aesthetics are greyish blues and greens, and a demonic talking skull named Murray greets you as you enter the swamp. Shrunken skulls line the path to the shipwreck. The interior of her house is decorated with Voodoo masks and earthy tones and is lit by extremely melted candles. There are crafts left over on the floor from when “the kids came over to play” and made paper Voodoo dolls. The reference being made with the dolls is to children’s toys, but with a little Voodoo spin. When Guybrush pulls a pin out of one of the paper Voodoo dolls, a cinematic cut shows Mort, the gravedigger on Blood Island, standing up and exclaiming that his back suddenly feels much better. Keeping with Hollywood Voodoo’s mysterious aura of old houses and secret passageways, Guybrush must pull the alligator’s tongue in order to summon the voodoo lady. After Guybrush pulls on the tongue, the Voodoo Lady is pulled into place by a series of ropes and squeaky pulleys. Depending on the player’s input, the conversation changes with the Voodoo Lady’s first appearance. If Guybrush asks her who she is, she will respond that she is known by many names, adding to the mysterious stereotype, but if Guybrush, or the player, is more familiar with her character and exclaims that he’s got some stories to tell, the Voodoo lady will threaten to disappear in a large flash of light and command Guybrush to cover his eyes. The Voodoo Lady is a reference to Miss Cleo, a pay-per-call Psychic and Shaman of the early 1990’s.

I once believed that the Monkey Island series was an original tale of swashbuckling adventure; however, I have come to realize, as an adult, a gamer, and a scholar, that this particular text is littered with intertextuality. In James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” he defines intertextuality as a “principle that all writing and speech… arise from a single network” (34). meaning that all writing contains traces of other works, such as literature, TV shows, music, religious beliefs, or culture (as is the case with the Monkey Island franchise). No text, according to Porter, is truly original. The Monkey Island series often references other games within the series and even other games from LucasArts. After obtaining a crew, a map to Blood Island, and a ship, Guybrush is challenged by Captain Rottingham, the most well groomed pirate in the seven seas and a staple part of the Monkey Island series, insult sword fighting, gets a new twist: on the high seas–all your insults have to rhyme. Guybrush has never before fought while on a ship and has to learn a lot of new insults. The first insult that Guybrush yells at Captain Rottingham, “Oh yeah? Well you fight like a cow!” is from The Secret of Monkey Island, the first game in the series and the game in which Guybrush learned to insult sword fight. This is not the only reference made to previous games in the series. After feigning death for a second time, Guybrush is buried in the Goodsoup family crypt. When Guybrush peeks his head through a mysterious hole in the wall of the crypt his head sticks out of a trunk in an 8-bit forest. This scene is actually directly from The Secret of Monkey Island and pokes fun at the graphic capability of the earlier games. Guybrush details how lush and deep the forest is. He exits the scene in order to escape “a horde of stunningly rendered rabid jaguars.”

Another former game reference occurs on Plunder Island, when Guybrush finds himself in a fried-chicken restaurant. He walks up to a customer (who is obviously a skeleton to the audience) and pats him on the shoulder to get his attention. When the customer falls over, a button falls off his chest and lands on the table. The button says “Ask me about Grim Fandango.” If the player tries to pick it up, Guybrush will refuse and say “I don’t want people asking me about Grim Fandango.” I wouldn’t want anyone asking me about Grim Fandango either. It was one of LucasArts’ first adventure games and their largest commercial failure. Despite receiving high reviews from GameSpot and PC Gamer, two popular gaming magazines, the game just did not sell well. The skeleton being knocked over is the likeness of the main character from Grim Fandango.

In CMI, Slappy Cromwell, née Rex Fortune, Adventure Seeker, rewrote the collective works of Shakespeare into a “45-minute revue.” He calls it Speare: A Theatrical Medley. It’s atrocious, to say the least. The show features bastardizations of famous quotes from Romeo and Juliet, Julius Ceasar, and Macbeth:

“Romeo, Romeo! Where for art thou treasure, Romeo?”
-Stu the Spokesmodel

“Pee-ew, Brute! Then fall, Ceasar!”
-Slappy Cromwell

Although, I think the worst one is the alteration of “Is this a dagger I see before me?” while Slappy juggles knives. Speare shows the sensational nature of resort entertainment. In Slappy’s own words, he re-wrote the work of Shakespeare because no one was coming to his shows.

Griswold Goodsoup.

Guybrush eventually travels to Blood Island and arrives at the Goodsoup Plantation Resort Hotel and Casino, run by the remaining Goodsoup family member: Griswold Goodsoup. The Goodsoup Resort contains traces of major resorts and chain restaurants, like Walt Disney World and Chuck E. Cheese, which have constant entertainment to keep guests engaged, and small business owners who rely on the aesthetics of the local geography, like an owner of a bed and breakfast near a beach who would undoubtedly suffer a loss if the beach were covered in litter. Griswold explains that when Mt. Acidophilus, the volcano on Blood Island, stopped erupting, so did business. People used to come from miles around to see the infamous dinner show, which involved lava from the volcano flowing through a special irrigation system by the hotel producing a lava barbeque. In addition to the main attraction, the Goodsoup resort also put on campy shows, one of which featured Slappy Cromwell who, I’m sure you can figure out, was horrible to watch and horrible to deal with. Griswold says that the audience cheered when Slappy burst into flames while attempting his firewalking act. Another show, keeping with the abundant soup puns at the resort, was Voulez Vous Vichyssoise, a musical about a Parisian soup chef with radical ideas about–well–soup. The soup theme is reminiscent of other themed restaurants resorts like Walt Disney World. Soup bowls and soup names appear everywhere around the Goodsoup Family property as often as, if not more often than, Mickey Mouse’s silhouette around Walt Disney World. Other games in the series have a message of globalization and the effects of international companies in small towns.

Planet Threepwood, a spoof on Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe.

In Escape from Monkey Island (EMI), the fourth game in the Monkey Island series, Ozzie Mandrill, an Australian land developer, moves into the Tri-Island area and buys up all of Jambalaya Island, forcing all of the pirate residents to move to Knuttin Atoll, a small uninhabited island nearby.One of the main tourist attractions on Jambalaya Island is Planet Threepwood, a spoof of the Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe franchises who have, or claim to have, personal property of the stars. When Guybrush enters, the uninterested waitress seats him but does not recognize him and refuses to acknowledge that Guybrush is in fact Guybrush. Ozzie’s plan is to develop the entire Tri-Island area so he muscles business and homeowners out of their land. The take over happens very quickly on Melee Island turning the Scumm Bar, the location where Guybrush began his whole journey, into the Lua Bar. This change was very familiar for me.

The Scumm Bar, as seen in Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge.

Prior to Rowan University, I attended school in Vermont and Connecticut. When I left for school, some areas of my hometown were being remodeled and a new shopping plaza was being built. The most notable changes were the ones I did not expect to see when I returned: the shops in the blue plaza that had a Domino’s Pizza and a chinese food restaurant had been moved across the street to make way for a Walgreens; the used car lot was emptied, repaved, and now had a new plaza with new shops; and the old Shell station, which had been closed for years by that point, was replaced with an extension on the local bank. The chinese restaurant that I had gone to at least three times a week by my high school was closed. Even stores at the local mall had been moved or changed. So I feel for Guybrush, who had left his grungy, dirty familiar Scumm Bar but came home to find the Hawaiian themed Lua Bar, which was bright, clean, and devoid of any traces of the local color.The intertextuality of the Monkey Island games asserts itself in the expectations of its audience, who want to see references to other games and movies, allowing the players to be joined in the discourse community of the series.

The players and developers of the Monkey Island series combine to make a discourse community. A discourse community, according to Porter, is a group of people joined by a common interest, in this case the common interest is the Monkey Island game series. The discourse community communicates through designated and regulated channels. A discourse community “shares assumptions about what objects are appropriate for examinations and discussion” (Porter 39). The reactions from gamers regulate what game developers will continue to create. The channels through which this community holds its regulated interaction are the game themselves. More modern games, such as Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), hold a more direct discourse between developers and players, by inviting players to have input on the game’s development. The developers of DOTA have created an online forum in which DOTA players may suggest ideas for new items, rules, and character for the game. After a voting process by the game’s developers, the users created content may, or may not, be entered into the game. The gaming discourse communities differ from game to game, and some may not have communities as defined by Porter. DOTA is a massive online battle arena (MOBA), meaning that the game is played by teams against teams. The Monkey Island adventure games are not multiplayer and do not encourage the same types of interaction as multiplayer games. By Porter’s standards, the Monkey Island series, and other single player games, may not have a discourse community because there is no opportunity for leadership and regulation.


Works Cited

Porter, James. “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community.” JSTOR’s Rhetoric Review. 5.1 (1986): 34-47.

Thacker, Jarrod. “Semiotics and Intertextuality of Videogames.” Scribd. University of Kentucky, Feb. 2013. Web. 25 June 2014.

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