ASCII by Jason Scott

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Kick My Ass —

I am very sad today.

I have two big piles in my life: unfinished projects to do, and unfinished media to absorb. The piles are huge, because I acquire a lot of stuff and I get a lot of ideas.

One of the pieces in the unfinished project is a novel. I’ve had this novel on the back burner for roughly 9 years. All good unfinished novels have to get a good decade behind them before you either tell everyone cryptically that you’re taking two weeks off to work on something or throw the idea away, forever.

On the unfinished media pile was a book. A novel. In fact, idly reading its promotional paragraph before buying a copy about half a year ago, I kind of dreaded reading it. Because I knew it would have similar ideas as my own novel I’d been working on. However, that didn’t stop me from ordering a copy from Amazon, because I know more than most the regret that can come from seeing something interesting, not moving on it, and then finding it’s gone, lost forever.

The unfinished media pile is real and currently looms, literally over my head at my desk while I work on my projects. It is a massive pile of books and DVDs and pamphlets and other creation that needs my attention. I glance across the titles and read and either pull stuff down or leave it to get in my face again soon. It really is huge.

I had to do a particularly boring task for my employement that would take a few hours, so I finally bit the bullet and brought this possibly-like-my-nonexistent-novel novel to the work and read it while the task basically ran itself.

Two things came of reading it.

Number one, it was like my novel. Not exactly, of course, but very similar. Enough points are similar that you would go “Hey….” if you read them near each other. Not the vital “gotchas”, of course, nothing like that, but enough that you’d think the two of us were roommates at college or had cubicles facing each other at a temp job.

Number two, it is horrible.

There is no doubt there are passages with craft, with an effort put into them, obvious months of sweating the details. I was pleased with his take on certain points of videogame history, with how he tried to capture aspects of the videogame experience, and so on.

But there are parts here, throughout the book, where I’m just miserable at how ruinous the story is to videogame culture in general, and especially in its portrayal of the people who adore these parts of their youth. You can certainly point to the passages which show intense respect or at least admiration to the whole nature of videogames, but then this sniffing of flowers is followed by a steamroller of silly images, needless vulgarity, and horrifying juxtapositions or broken narrative. By the end, it is nearly unreadable.

It shows respect to the videogame culture he obviously spent some time studying and communicating with, much as a worm shows respect to an intestine.

I am not going to give the name of this novel, since I obviously am a biased person with his own little spiral-bound axe to grind, an author who didn’t make it to market before someone else made a similar whosis. It would be unfair and petty to show up in search engines as a review of it, with this semi-jealousy looming over me like a cloud.

The reason I bring this up is that I have two choices, really:

Give up on my project…. or kick his ass.

More than once I have gotten people who have mailed or communicated me about stuff I’ve been working on. “Man, I wish I’d moved ahead… I had some ideas, your site/project/work does it, oh well. Damn.”

In some cases, I understand; my monomaniacal approach to a lot of stuff gets things done in those arenas, and I’m proud at how massive they get.

But on the other side, I’m not perfect; the way I did stuff isn’t necessarily the best. You could take my data and then integrate it into your work and make the features better and add stuff I didn’t think of and link it all new ways so that using it is a complete joy.

You could kick my ass.

There’s something to be said for innovation, direct innovation where you say “I saw X, and now I am making Y, which will be X*2.” You acknowledge something came along before you were done, it got the “big ideas” out there in the world. Now the bar is back to you, and you better show how you would have done it even better… by doing it. Talk is, truly and utterly, cheap. Action is not.

So I’m out to kick his ass. Watch out.

And kick my ass too, while you’re at it.

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