ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Character Assassination of Jason Scott by the Coward Ed Cunningham —

Whoever gets annoyed by that title, just calm the hell down. I was doing a cute reference to this movie title, which you have to admit is pretty memorable.

Well, OK, I want people to calm down but in fact this entire weblog entry is about flipping out, so feel free to get all wound up again. Actually, do whatever you feel necessary; in today’s wonderful world of online discourse, we’ll get to do anything we want to so that trend might as well continue on here.

I promised I was done writing about that movie and I am, I totally am. Instead, I’m going to write about some back and forth related to it that you might not have been aware of, and what that means in the greater totality of stuff.

After I started getting dozens and dozens of links back to my weblog entry, I knew it was just a matter of time before people related to the production would find it. It’s not that hard to find me and I’m not being Mr. Ego when I say that stuff I write about tends to get the attention of the people being talked about, if I talk about them. Witness that whole thing about the Electric Slide, where I got the Electric Slide creator, the plantiff and defendant in the only dance copyright case, the EFF lawyer, and a bucket of Greek Chorus. I’m not saying what I did necessarily deserved their attention, but for the current golden age of weblogging, my doing so held enough prominence, arbitrarily, to get the focus of all those related people for some short time. It’s nice. It will eventually go away.

When people write to you with opinions that you have written about, you don’t always get positive responses, especially if you compare their creative output with sodomy. Hence, they tend to write rather energetically in a direction non-parallel to your own. I like getting those perspectives. None were forthcoming from the producers of The Movie. OK, fine. I have a lot of pillows and they absorb a lot of tears. But I couldn’t imagine they didn’t, you know, stumble upon what I wrote.

This lack of imagination on my part was validated when I found out they had read about it and were writing about it. Not to me, mind you; that would be too easy. No, they were writing to people linking to my writing to “set the record straight” or at least try to dissuade them from talking about it too much longer. Major mistakes were made in this process.

The writer, Ed Cunningham, who was producer of this film, insisted the writing be confidential. Well, dude, someone has totally misjudged what the concept of confidentiality is. You implement confidentiality in two fashions. You demand confidentiality because someone is under your chain of command. You insist it be kept confidential that your company made X dollars selling things one way and Y dollars selling another. Trade secrets. You demand this of your underlings or contemporaries or you add the “confidential” marking on the communications you do so that it is clear to people within the chain of command above or below you this is sensitive. There’s a whole science to it. You’re doing it wrong.

The other way you demand confidentiality is this. You write to someone. “I’d like to speak to you, but it has to be confidential.” The person you are speaking to either tells you they’re totally down with this or you should go fuck a couch. If they say they’re down with it, then you speak to them confidentially. I’ve done this myself, both as the receiving and providing parties of the confidentiality. Upon acknowledgment, the receiving party gets your confidential missive and you are communicating. Pre-emptively declaring confidentiality is poor form.

Oh, there’s a sort of third way, but it has less and less meaning these days. The third way is that if you demand confidentiality upon the writing of your communication and the person “breaks” this confidentiality, they are revealed as a harlot and can never work in this town again. This third way depends on three premises that are not very valid: that anyone gives a toss if you’re a harlot, whether there’s a “town” to no longer work in again, and whether you have any sway whatsoever to get someone declared a harlot in this town. This is, as I said, a nearly impossible conflagration in the modern era. Go fuck a couch.

Anyway, so the confidential but not really confidential message got forwarded to me, and the positions were, roughly:

  • We have chosen not to engage Jason publicly.
  • This letter is confidential and we’re sending it to you.
  • Jason is wrong.
  • Jason uses information from people at Twin Galaxies, who don’t like the film.
  • Jason is a biased filmmaker who hopes to one day make a documentary about arcades and so he’s bitter.

I disclaim that these are my summarizations and feel free to post the real letter somewhere and then call me wrong.

Anyway, I can’t speak to the fact that I have had to rely on Twin Galaxies and related folks as one of the sources of my complaints, beyond the fact that I definitely did. Yes, I used other parties to discuss this film, parties that felt wronged by the film. Yes, yes, I did.

As for any amount of “oh no, Arcade is ruined” thing, I can completely assure you that Arcade is not ruined. I have 20 hours shot already, and I expect by the time I’m done I’ll be at the 200 interview mark and it will be longer than the BBS Documentary was. When you live your sad little existence thinking of everything and everyone as “fuckoverable”, “fuckupable”, and “other”, then I could see where you think I’m non-positive because my movie’s been “killed” or some sort of zero-sum game bullshit. But let me assure all parties: Not the Case.

It is remarkably cheeseball to go about this by sending back-routed letters about this whole thing to people linking to me. It is definitely less cheesy than having strawmen make fake accounts and implying something untoward about me and my motivations and the rest. But make no mistake, OK? It is cheesy. I realize that the window for your little flick’s sales is about six weeks from time of release, which was four weeks ago, so you’re just gritting your fucking teeth hoping my untoward statements will just stay out of your goddamn way until the release window is over and you can relax. I know how it works. I don’t like it but I know how it works.

But let’s get beyond all this and even the sleazy tactics of Ed Cunningham, who appears to have an excellent future in the world of filmmaking, and whose name I expect to show up mysteriously and spontaneously in the future releases and discussions of my future films. Right now he is working hard to make a highly fictionalized movie based on a shortcut-filled documentary. His comfort level with this sort of activity is why you will never see me doing the “Hollywood” thing. OK? OK.

Now, to get to what I am primarily trying to say.

Realize that online discussion is very useful in some ways and very problematic in others.

On the plus side you get immediacy, truly global access, and (more than a pool hall debate anyway) permanence. You can cross-reference, you can engage immediately, you can argue like hell while home, then go to work and keep arguing, then get out your phone while out at a restaurant and argue even more. You can, in other words, never stop arguing. With BBSes, you had the problem of one caller at a time, so you only had a short time to make your stuff count. You might back off, then. With in-person debates, you are less likely to use language like cretinous fucktard in the course of describing your collaborators. When you engage online, you totally lose all those self-limiting conveyances and can get right to pure, uncut argument.

Unfortunately, this position of mine is, even though it’s laced with profanity and apparent cynicism, idealistic. The question of a debate is, how much is too much?

We’ve all seen this. A guy says something. Someone responds negatively, in a paragraph or two, or maybe even more. The original guy responds even more to that person. To some people, the debate is now over. This appears to be magazine limit, the rate at which most magazine debates end; article, letter to editor, response from writer. You cross some threshold then. I am going to coin it. I am going to call it the zota threshold.

Here’s zota’s weblog. zota’s name is Jason. He’s an engaged guy. He’s smart. He’s definitely not a slouch. And, if you spend the time going over all my stuff, it is zota who has pushed things to the level they are now. I can’t imagine I would have written an eight thousand word weblog entry about a subject if I hadn’t gotten such a tough customer in zota.

Watch him in action over here at Will’s weblog. This is not run of the mill discussion. Seven go-arounds occur, each one is progressively hostile on both sides, each one draws in more facts and suppositions, and I think each of us has a point when we go “Oh, come ON”. Not, and this is important, not because there’s nothing left to say and not because all the points brought up have been addressed, but because this medium, this immediate, global, permanent medium is being stretched in very odd places and the format of weblog entry and comments is obviously not the best container for the ocean of discussion being brought up.

In fact, and since zota has more than once come up with theories as to how I do things, my own impression is that only if we were to assemble in a room myself, Ed Cunningham, Seth Gordon, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Steve Wiebe, Michael Moore, Robert Shaye, Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi, strap us to chairs, videotape the whole thing and then ask an unbelievable amount of questions under oath would he be satisfied. This is, utterly, his right, but there is a point when the diminishing returns of such an approach outweigh the aspects of truth being plumbed.

For my own bit, I try not to get hung up on the specific debate but what the greater meaning or context is. Teach a man to punch someone in the face and you get a boxer, but teach a man to punch anyone in the face and you get a weblogger.

The reason half of the mongo entry was about BBS Documentary was because I wanted to draw parallels to how these sorts of films are made and what they mean, or else I would feel I was truly wasting my time. The number of people who were so explicitly unhappy with my verbiage up to that point that they enunciated it to me was one: zota. So instead of being stuck in a zota-loop, I made the context greater. I think the essay has more meaning. Some, however, don’t get it.

Some, also, don’t want it! For many people, the zota threshold is not three go betweens. It’s one! They don’t want this stuff gone into beyond what’s there. They might make commentary on it, but not in the way one comments on a work to bring greater meaning; they just want to squirt a little whipped cream of themselves on someone else’s work. Comment pages encourage this, and I’ve begun to see a trend where sites are starting to put the commentary elsewhere, on a separate section, linking back to the work. I can see why they would do that. I could see that very much indeed.

These extremes of the spectrum (I don’t want to talk about it, I wish to talk about it until all relevant parties die of old age) belie the number of people in the middle. The whole reason I got any attention at all was that a lot of people would see The Work, then go online and see Commentary on The Work. They wanted to know more. They didn’t need to read a book and half on it, but a nice set of paragraphs with greater context was just what they were looking for. Being sucked into a debate regarding truth and editing was perhaps an unexpected dessert, but OK, they’ll browse a little of that crap before they get bored and see what else is up. It’s not their job to know every single last debate and detail, especially when it appears some aspects are subjective. At that point, a 14-round comment go-between of two people pushes from an interesting discussion to a rapidly fading noise down the hall that you’re walking away from very briskly.

This problem of the zota threshold is not going away. I’d like to consider more of it.

But not for that long.

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  1. Dezro says:

    Er, I think he actually wouldn’t want Gunpei Yokoi exhumed and strapped to any chairs. I mean, I don’t know this guy, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt where digging up dead people is concerned.

  2. zota says:

    Do you mind if I respond here, or will you need to coin another level if I do that?

  3. zota says:

    Now that my “secret identity” has been breached, you know that I’m on the west coast and I know you’re asleep, so I’m just going to post something long and call it even.

    First of all, I’m going to breach Ed Cunningham’s trust and publish the full text of his Confidentiality Request:

    We have chosen not to enter the debate over the facts in our film, as it would certainly turn into an exercise in futility. (Hence, me not wanting this correspondence posted, referenced, etc.)

    Ohhh damn! That is some serious legal business!1! I guess I’m not going to work in this town again! Oddly enough, it sounds very similar what you just wrote in this post, Jason. Moving on…

    Regarding the squirting of a one’s whipped cream onto someone else’s work, let me tell to you a recent quote from a colleague:

    “Yeah, I heard that King of Kong is fake. One of my students forwarded me something on the web — turns out Steve Weibe was the world record holder for like three years and he was just trying to beat his own record?”

    Interesting! Because if Steve Weibe already held the record, then the entire movie would be bullshit, start to finish. Of course this claim itself is bullshit: none of Weibe’s Donkey Kong scores were validated by Twin Galaxies until he played live in 2005. So where could this person and their students and everybody else on the web have gotten this utterly false impression?

    Ah yes. From the place where stuff “tends to get attention.” The place that got this false claim linked all over the web. Oh hey! There it is, still sitting there uncorrected, backed by the reputation of a respected, trusted figure in the history of recent technology, scrawled in his very own whipped cream:

    Steve Wiebe already had the top spot in Donkey Kong, having achieved the record before the documentary started.

    But he had the championship for 3 years!

    This is a lie, Jason.

    When you first posted it, maybe it was a just a sloppy weblog karate chop. “Hate that film! Keeyah!!!” It happens. When it was pointed out that the facts are vague and disputed, it was a deliberate elision. But hey, you’re busy guy.

    When Robert Mruczek and Greg Erway corroborated quotes from Walter Day that all of Weibe’s videotaped scores were invalidated and he didn’t officially hold the Donkey Kong record till he played live in 2005, and you still let your false assertions stand, proudly uncorrected… Well that particular squirt has been flapping in the breeze for a good month, so “lie” is starting to sound just about right. And it’s bonus egregious when the entire point of your original critique of the film was that it was packed with falsehoods.

    All the issues around respectful documentation, truthful framing, empathetic historiography — that is something I would love to discuss. In an extended way. Over drinks. Using the corpse of Walter Benjamin as a bar.

    But if you still have a mess of documented lies throbbing all over your well-distributed public persona, and that contagious shit is spreading around the web and getting back to me? Uh yeah, sorry. Gotta say something. You may call it the “zota threshold.” I call it public hygiene.

    Clean that mess up, son.

  4. Will Schenk says:

    I never used to understand why bloggers would make a show about replying to comments. “This comment was too good to pass up, I just had to respond.” Wasn’t the point of having these things in order to spark a debate and share ideas? Why the exception rather than the rule?

    But now I get it. There is a small amount of idea exchange that happens that quickly gets mired down in miscommunication and frustration-giving confusion. People always argue of course, but a good chunk of this is the fault of the medium. The quick response that shows up the moment you post it means that unlike sending in an letter through the post you aren’t forced to sit down a carefully consider what you are going to say. Just fire off another one. So there’s not the same incentive to pause and think it thought. It’s knee-jerk reaction.

    And it’s hard to control the tone. Its funny that you characterize the dialog as “progressively hostile on both sides”, because for me it started off as a thoughtful exchange by two people which about 4 or 5 responses in flipped directly into brazen hostility. It wasn’t progressive as much as binary. From my side I definitely felt compelled to respond, but didn’t feel like I was talking to someone who was stubbornly refusing to make any effort till the end. Embarrassing really, from the perspective it being in public, but satisfying on another level for feel like “those thoughts survived a challenge and now get that glow of being right”. But hardly mature. I read his post in a certain way that got the blood moving, jumped back in “you study paranoia? I can see why.” and The Grind began. Unsurprisingly, not much of value was said after that.

    The medium also shaped conversations by favoring things which can be expressed concretely in a sentence or two. Perhaps this is my math/computer background talking, but it’s really hard to keep the discussion in a more subtle and nuanced areas. I feel the my main point was that the producers were playing fast and loose with these people’s lives, and that they disrespectful with people’s lives. Trying to articulate this I’m reduced to desperate allusions to Errol Morris films, try to finding a counter example and trying to pull out a metaphor. I don’t think that this got across. Because when I reread it, most of the words were a tactical retreat to defensible positions.

    “I’m arguing that the film wasn’t honest in its portrayal of the people in film, which is upsetting both because I really liked watching the film and because it’s a pain for the people involved” went quickly to “The statement ‘the film contains false’ can be asserted by X” and then we’re pulling in obscure and more or less immaterial details. From “emotionally dishonest” to going at it over what the meaning of “is” is in a few short comments. Because those thought can be clearly expressed in a few short sentences.

    Long rambling pieces don’t make for a dialog. But I think those are what’s needed to convey larger thoughts, or more nuanced issues. Part of the problem is that we are overloading Written Language as a form of back and forth, real time communication. Arguments are normally made verbally, where a significant amount of information content isn’t in the words themselves. And the words all tumbling forward on and on, and you don’t get the opportunity to look back and what someone wrote 4 paragraphs ago (or weeks ago) and throw it back at them.

    Monkeys are used to interacting face to face. Heightening some of the interaction across space & time while dropping the fidelity makes for some interesting distortions.

  5. zota says:

    Will, if it matters, I didn’t think you were that hostile in your comments. I could tell you were just getting frustrated because you felt I wasn’t getting your point — that your main objection was the way the film treated people.

    The thing is, in your original post attacking King of Kong, what you objected to was the “distortions and out-right lies.” And Jason’s original attack was not about selective framing — it was about falsehoods. The point that I was trying to make is that although you and Jason have moved on to more subtle critiques, these public claims of lies and falsehoods are still out there, still spreading.

    I understand the argument that King of Kong manipulates perspective and misrepresents a subculture. I think that opens up a very interesting and probably endless discussion. But before getting into subjective issues of framing and the deliberate construction of truth, I felt like I needed to know if we were even talking about something that is objectively false. Because if the entire documentary is based on lies and falsehoods, then fuck it.

    So the reason I’ve kept at this to the point of getting my own wacky “threshold” is that I wanted to answer a basic fact — did Weibe already have the record. I felt that this was one of the most damning accusations that Jason made and continues to stand behind. Because if this claim is true, then the whole film is a total distortion. It would be like a documentary about a guy struggling against all opposition to get a pet donkey, but it turns out he had a donkey farm the whole time. If Weibe already had the record, then King of Kong is total bullshit and everyone can just move on.

    And the thing is, this fact — did Weibe hold the official Donkey Kong world record starting in 2003 — isn’t very hard to verify. Actually it was so easy to verify that I managed to do it myself: No. No he did not.

    I know that most people feel that arguing about the details of someone’s video game score is an obsessive debate about tangental minutiae. I got that. I get it. But if this claim is false and Weibe did not have the record, then the people making and defending this claim are willfully distorting the facts just to take a documentary down a peg. And at that point we aren’t just talking about a video game score. We wade into the realm of subjective historiographical debates. Passionate conflicts and disputed issues. Interesting. Maybe someone should make a movie about it.

    But at that point, the loud and persistent accusations of out-right lies need to be walked back a step or two. As Jason Scott said in his solemn promise to correct what was wrong or mis-stated: “It’s about getting stuff right, stuff that only a very tiny percentage will care about”

    Or, you know… whatever.

  6. Will Schenk says:

    As I posted on your blog, I think you’ve misread the facts and that Mruczek, as well as everyone else involved excepting the film makers, is saying that that Weibe had the record. But I think it’s time for me to get off this ride. Maybe we’ve moved on to more subtle critiques, I don’t think that theres any reason to retreat from the rather accusatory statement “these are outright lies.” So I don’t feel like I’m doing anyone a disservice by having what I consider to be the considered truth propagate.

    On the whole I’d rather have less hostile exchanges, so I’m glad that it didn’t come off that way.

  7. zota says:

    everyone else involved excepting the film makers, is saying that that Weibe had the record

    Everyone except the filmmakers. And Steve Weibe himself, who was notified in 2003 that his record was being reclassified. And Robert Mruczek who publicly posted that notification in 2003. And Steve Weibe’s family and friends, who encouraged him to get a verified record.

    I think there’s a little more to it than calling all of these people outright liars. But hey man. If you see it as black and white, then that’s how you see it.

  8. Chuckles says:

    So here I am, a bystander new to this controversy, trying to get a handle on it. zota’s claim that Mruczek notified Wiebe in 2003 that his score was being reclassified seems like an easy thing to check out. And there’s some posts from Mruczek at zota’s blog.

    Here’s Mruczek:

    “When Steve Wiebe’s first submission of 947K was accepted, at the time Twin Galaxies had no idea that a multi-game boardset known as “Double Donkey Kong” existed. We did not know until after Steve sent in his 1.006M submission shortly after Jul02/04.”

    Like I said, I’m new to this whole thing. But on its’ face, it looks to me like Mruczek is saying that Wiebe’s 947k score wasn’t called onto question until July of ’04 at the earliest.

    Who am I misunderstanding here?

  9. zota says:

    Webie’s July 17 score was questioned the day after it was announced. Robert Mruczek announced the reclassification on October 29, 2003. This page has an archived copy of a Funspot thread announcing the record and the reclassification

    And here’s Walter Day saying that the score wasn’t actually reclassified

    I feel like I’ve been able to piece together a sketchy idea of what happened, but this stuff is harshly disputed, poorly documented, and thoroughly spun. A lot of it depends on who you are and which way you look at it.

    Other people are certain about all the facts and they know exactly who’s lying and who’s telling the truth. If you want to know what definitely happened, just ask one — and only one — of them.

  10. Flack says:

    I’m a simple guy who understands simple things, so let me see if I understand the big picture here.

    Jason says there are dozens and dozens of falsehoods contained within The King of Kong.

    Zota says that one of those dozens and dozens of falsehoods may or may not be a falsehood, depending on who you ask, due to poor documentation of the event four years ago.

    Is that pretty much it? That one of the dozens and dozens of falsehoods contained within the film is in dispute?

  11. zota says:

    Jason goes into eloquent depth about his personal objections to the film, involving issues of scope and framing and respect. But hopefully reasonable people are able to respectfully disagree about things like the range of a particular documentary or role of nostalgia in writing history.

    Most of the specific falsehoods Jason lists are subjective (exactly when did Billy Mitchell start snubbing Steve Wiebe over his involvement with Mr Awesome? How did Nicole Wiebe feel about the men she told to stay out of her house?)

    But one of Jason’s assertions is based on clear objective criteria. He states it forcefully, without ambiguity, as a fact. And if it were true, it would undercut the central premise of the film. But even a quick look reveals that it’s not anywhere near that clear.

    As far as his statements of fact and falsehood, I think the best you could say is that Jason is strongly backing one side of an ongoing argument. Which is fine. If that’s what he wants to do, then he should go right ahead. But it seems awfully hypocritical to stand up for truth and honesty by using one-sided distortions to attack something as a one-sided distortion.

    Big picture — hypocritical infighting is what made the internets great, so I just need to learn to let it go.

  12. Scott says:

    I used the wayback machine to see what the record listing was at TG for Donkey Kong in the past. The earliest page they had saved was from 3/25/2005 which was a couple of months before Steve went to Funspot. This is within the disputed time period. Lo and behold, Steve is listed at the top above Billy just as TG officials indicated. Check it out yourselves.

  13. zota says:

    The score was reclassified on October 29 2003, but it remained in the database.

    Here was the score situation when FunSpot started

  14. zota says:

    Rather than argue on comment threads, I made a timeline.

    Lemme know if you have additions or corrections.

  15. Jason Scott says:

    I am shocked, SHOCKED I say! to hear that upon writing on my weblog, should anyone say anything to me that I wish to comment on, I may never bring my thoughts about them within human ears or eyes again!

    I wish I’d known of this guideline sooner.

  16. Scott says:

    Zota, the DK score was NOT reclassified in 2003. Robert announced that it would be reclassified at the Funspot forums which are not the official TG forums or website. It was never announced officially at TG, and it was never moved to a separate DDK category. The decision was not final, and it was never executed. The Junior score was reclassified however. Steve’s 947k was the top score in the DK category on the official TG website for the period that Walter described in his KoK rebuttal. Again, your source is from the Funspot forums. That is not where official TG announcements are made.

  17. Scott says:

    Also Zota, I noticed that you quoted this on your timeline:

    “On the FunSpot thread discussing the reclassification of Steve Wiebe’s score, user Rick calls Billy M the “current record holder.””

    Actually, Rick calles Billy “a current record holder”. The context indicates that Rick thinks Billy shouldn’t be involved in the decision making since he also has a score on that title, which at the time, was actually 3rd place.

    You are twisting some things around my friend.

  18. zota says:

    Just noticed your responses here.

    I didn’t say the score was officially reclassified in 2003. I quoted head referee Robert Mruczek publicly announcing that the score would be reclassified and declaring the matter closed. Obviously you can interpret that however you’d like. But if you’re suggesting that this public announcement should be ignored because it isn’t an “official” public announcement, then I must respectfully differ with you, sir, on your painfully limited notions of historiography. Harumph!

    When I contacted Robert Mruczek about the timeline (I do have a threshold to maintain) he didn’t really critique the way I presented his quote from 2003. But if you have a better way to describe the divergent scores than anyone else I’ve spoken with, I’d most certainly love to hear it.

    I corrected the incorrect article a vs the — thanks for the proofreading. As for me twisting things around… please.