If Governor George Grey had accepted Tamihana Te Waharoa’s challenge to a game of mu-torere where the stakes were ownership of the entire country, the game could have provided the ultimate decolonizing experience (Mikaere, Reed 54). It was through the study of mu-torere that I became aware of the need to focus on the perspective of players in order to unpack the intentionality of a system or social structure. Mu-torere is a two-player board game of Ngati Porou origins. With nuances unique to the design of the game that only become apparent to those who play the game. As all accounts of the game focus on documenting its rules and systems they leave questions unanswered regarding the cultural relevance of the game. So I found an in-game critique became a necessity. I also think that through game play it may be possible to access a pre-colonial experience that can be differentiated from cultural exclusivities due to the games basis in mathematics. Therefore connecting one to the decision making process as it would have been experienced when the game was first designed. The focus of Gilbert Caluya’s research while it is primarily concerned with online games is a useful corollary in order to consider what might be gained from studies that place primacy on “in-game analysis” rather than “letting offline politics define the research of online politics” (Caluya 1). Through gameplay one experiences the parameters of a system first hand, while Eldson Best’s record of mu-torere denies a “common understanding or common basis for understanding” (Bishop 203) that forms Russell Bishop’s ideal of reciprocity between researchers and those researched regarding their “concerns, interests and agendas” (203). Best had his own imperatives in this regard he notes that he “has made no study of this game mu-torere [from a players perspective]” as a result we can see inconsistencies in his account that place limits on a clearer understanding of the games significance to those who played it (Best 15). As one plays mu-torere they become familiar with two game ending moves. These I will refer to as the traps of mu-torere as they shut down game play. These traps occur at two points in game play. The first first trap occurs on ones first move and will always result as a win for first player. The second trap occurs in four turns in favor of the second player. While Best identifies a “tapu” prohibiting players from moving into a winning position on the first turn (which is represented by a Jelliss sequence of A, Z*), he fails to identify that the rules that he outlines define the outcome of the game before a move is ever made (Best). Any significance that these traps may have is dismissed by contemporary analysts as negligible in relation to the wider mathematical discussion of all the potential arrangements that can be mapped.
In plotting the unmapped traps of mu-torere, I have determined that A, H, I, B, Y* is the Jelliss sequence that ensures that the player who moves first will always lose. Game analysts presume that the lack of a second rule prohibiting this sequence reveals the failure of historians to document a rule restricting “trivial wins” (Straffin, Jr. 384). These analysts see the trap as evidence of “inconsistency in the literature regarding the starting rules” (Ascher 90). Whereas I see it more specifically as evidence that historians such as Best never played the game. Best records the phrase “E mu torere ana ranei koutou ki au, e hoa ma!” which he translates to “O friends! Are you playing mu torere against me?” and later summarizes as “Are you striving against me? (Best 14).” Yet no example is given to place the phrase in a context of its everyday usage. It seems to me that the phrase obviously relates to strategies that emerge in play. In this respect I contend that playing Mu-Torere reveals more regarding what might be perceived as the idiomatic significance of mu-torere to its players than Best is able to attribute. Focusing on the A, H, I, B, Y* sequence, the resultant meaning could be that of a warning that if you attack then you will lose. If we consider the A, Z* sequence as significant, it could be considered a lesson that one should only attack if they can be certain of a win. It is notable that these speculations are only valid if the game itself is competitive. Given that there are 92 achievable patterns these could be goals to be reached rather than trapping another player. Each in-game variation shifts and enhances the potential meaning of the phrase beyond those that have previously been considered. I have a sense that Mu-Torere’s phrase is a way of acknowledging one’s awareness of a how a given set of variables such as systems, opponent(s) or perhaps even a given set of circumstances exist in relation to ones own interests.