Rhett Tsai (Yuxiao Cai)

How Deep Is the Dark Water?

Videogame-based animation, 2022


How Deep Is the Dark Water? is an experimental game that imagines a cross-strait war. The player, guided by a fleeing man, slowly wanders through memories and visions constructed by the context of the war and individual experiences. At the same time, the player finds another layer of meaning of war for individuals, cultures and nations by discovering the messages hidden in each scene.

From historic dwellings to steam trains carrying displaced people, from bomb shelters filled with fear and violence to burned cultural traditions, from confrontations with the ghosts of refugees under the water to the emotional orgy of social media, what is always present in this game is the back of the fleeing man who represents a helpless individual and an object that cannot be possessed or perceived clearly. As a response to the tensions in the world, this work does not directly portray war, but tries to let the player feel the separation, fear, violence and trauma of war in the process of chasing the fleeing man. Water is an important imagery in the work and is almost everywhere. The black seawater carries not only the sound of shelling, but also individual nostalgia, love, hate, and confusion.

How Deep Is the Dark Water? creates an interactive scenario that allows the player to read text (or short poems) hidden in the game space, by using the right mouse button to zoom in on an object, look away, and in some cases, to see the text superimposed on the object. This technique stems from the artist’s long preoccupation and experimentation with reading texts in virtual space, and is in line with the special significance of reading in this work – the texts are the weak repercussions that lurk beneath the surface of historical events.

How Deep Is the Dark Water? is presented in black and white, except for certain things accentuated with color in an attempt to achieve simple yet heavy quality. Minimalist and lacking a clear-cut narrative, the work explores the ability of video games to mediate reading and affect, guiding the player with cinematic interactivity and connecting the act of “wandering” in video games with the individual feelings in the time of war.


Director / 3D Artist / Programmer / Sound Artist:

Rhett Tsai (Yuxiao Cai)


Yuri Kuzmin

Title Font Design:

Mofan Zhai

Special Thanks:

Chia-Lin Lee, Dongting Fu, Guangli Liu, Jiahui Wang, Lauren Moffatt, Lihao Shao, Wenjing Shen, Zhan Gao, Zhipeng Wang

Full sounds and assets credits inside the game.


Rhett Tsai (Yuxiao Cai) is a new media artist based in Hangzhou, China. He was born in 1995 in Ningde, China. Currently, he is a lecturer of the Department of Open Media, School of Intermedia Art at China Academy of Art.

Based on China’s unique Internet ecosystem and media society, Rhett’s interests include art and technology, cyberculture based on China, smart cities, and hypertext. His work spans multiple fields including experimental game, virtual reality, computer animation, and sound to express his critical reflection on the media society here and now. His current focus is on the use of video games/art games as a method to tap into the diaspora (non-physical level of diaspora), wandering, and nostalgia of individuals living under multiple historical narratives.

His works have been exhibited at various international art festivals, such as The Wrong Digital Art Biennale (Online, 2022), Utopian Dystopia Festival (Kochi, India, 2022), International Intermedia Art Festival (China, 2018 & 2019 & 2020), Kortrijk Design Week (Belgium, 2018), FutureLab (Shanghai, 2020 & 2021) and so on. Rhett’s works have also been exhibited at international venues such as China National Museum of Art, Macao Museum of Art (Macao), West Bund Museum (Shanghai), Duolun Museum of Modern Art (Shanghai), Times Art Museum (Beijing), OCAT Institute (Beijing), etc. As one of the eight selected leading international contemporary artists, his works were invited by the inaugural Binance NFT Marketplace Premium Event for Contemporary Art Auction to participate in the auction. Rhett’s works are collected by Times Art Museum (Beijing), Duolun Museum of Modern Art (Shanghai), and CAA Art Museum (Hangzhou).

Rhett holds his MFA degree in The Centre for Chinese Visual Studies at China Academy of Art, and BA degree in Open Media Department at China Academy of Art.

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