ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Arcade: The Documentary —

This is probably going to confuse things horribly, but the word’s getting out and I might as well put up an explanation of what it’s all about before I start reading “explanations” by people who don’t know me.

I’ve started another documentary. It’s called ARCADE. I have a website up: It will be about arcades. Not so much about games, which has been done quite to death, but about the actual places, the come on inside to the flashing lights and drop some money into some skill games and you’ll lose your money but have a great time places that have been around for about a hundred or more years and which have included various types of machines ranging from skill cranes to pinball to pachinko to skee-ball to shooting galleries to video games. I expect this one will be quite a while in filming. It will be in high definition. I will be interviewing a ton of people.

So leaving that aside, the natural question is “What happened to GET LAMP, the documentary on text adventures you’ve been talking about for months????”

And the answer is I am still doing GET LAMP. In fact, I am primarily doing GET LAMP. Anything else documentary or computer-wise is secondary to GET LAMP.

I envisioned possibly doing some documentary about arcades some time back. I even did some small bit of checkaround research on them. I was much more entranced by text adventures, of course, since that’s a pretty big challenge and there was a lot to consider in making a video documentary. So I’ve been working on GET LAMP and occasionally doing some inquiries regarding the arcade stuff.

What changed? This camera I got, mostly. Ten thousand dollars is a metric assload of cash, and while it didn’t kill me financially, I didn’t know it was going to be the price of a Hyundai with extra trimmings either. I love the image it produces and it’s real easy to work with and once you buy into the whole P2 card thing on the HVX-200, then you really enjoy working with it. But so much money, so quickly, was not what I was intending to spend.

And really, within a year, the thing will already have lost significant value in terms of cost. I’ll probably be able to buy the amount of stuff I did for half the price, and have it be better, and all the rest. So really, I’m in this interesting position as regards time.

So, I’ve begun shooting the second documentary, ARCADE. Any time I don’t arrange an interview set for GET LAMP, any time I’m waiting on people responding, any time I could potentially lose a day of work on GET LAMP while waiting for ducks in a row, I’m going to jam ARCADE work in there. It will be a shadow documentary, the night shift, the guy who uses the office and the photocopier when the company’s closed. This doesn’t mean it won’t be good, just that I will not turn down an interview with an Infocom Implementor because I need to go find some shots of a pinball machine in a bar.

In terms of research, I found out something interesting involving text adventures: there has been a hell of a lot of good work done on that front. I mean, an amazing amount. With Bulletin Boards (and my producer would like everyone to be reminded to buy 10 copies) I had to self-start a lot of the research myself. There were smatterings of coverage about them and a lot of in-depth pieces on specific parts, but doing the whole 25-year story (and longer) and combining it into a timeline and chapter set and repository of information was insane work, involving many hours a week for months on end. By the end, I could say that I am honestly the world expert on bulletin board systems. I can get my ass kicked in specific areas, certainly ones where people personally played a part, but after 20 years of observing/collecting for what became and 5 intense years of study and interviewing… I got that stuff handled. Hire me as a speaker the next time you need a dash of BBS history for your corporate event or children’s birthday party.

Not so with text adventures or arcades. I am not the expert on these and will likely never be able to shine the shoes of those who are. I have enlisted the help/advice/confederacy of some of the people who have done years of research. I hope to enlist more. Unlike, say, trying to find all the different BBS software packages was a big deal that not many people were doing, a lot of people have worked to put together ultimate, exhaustive, amazing collections and lists of any program ever out for sale (or just distributed) that resembled a text adventure. People like David Kinder, Stephen Granade, Nick Montfort, Dennis Jerz, Andrew Plotkin, Graham Nelson, Emily Short, David Glasser, David Cornelson and many others – names I have learned very well in the past half year – forget more about Interactive Fiction and text adventures on the way to get a cup of coffee than I will ever know. I will be able to pipe up if someone asks for history and current events in interactive fiction and I will spell a lot of names and places better than the average person, but I will never be “the top expert”. Instead, I will be citing an awful lot of people, and an awful lot of web pages, and an awful lot of good solid work done before I ever turned on my camera.

Similarly, the discovery regarding arcade games is very well documented compared to the BBS Documentary. There are lots of explorations, overviews, photos, and stuff out there that I can pull from over time. I am not worried about being the only guy doing research. Organizations like the Video Arcade Preservation Society have many members and are doing amazing work.

I’m not saying I’m going to slack off or anything; expect the usual insanely anal Jason Scott work on these two projects. I’m just saying I can swing them together, allocating my time properly.

So there we go, it’s out in the open. Now everyone knows.

Now let’s get to work.

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  1. Krisjohn says:

    It’s just like a “Second Unit”.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Will you be doing something with this similar to what you did with your other projects? Letting people preorder them and getting their name listed or something similar?

    I loved the bbs documentary and am looking forward to the arcade documentary.

  3. ian says:

    Your a nobody floating between ideas in your head and other projects. Good luck. You will need it. You will fail.

    Trust me this is going to suck. You need more help. Stop building yourself up with campy nostalgic throwbacks. Real Nice overall design on this site by the way. Im sure the film will have the same aesthetic feel thats sure to win you some credibility at the festivals.

    Go back to your computer science degree and leave the art to us.

  4. Jason Scott says:

    Thank you for your suggestion! I’ll get right on it.

  5. phil says:


    I’ve seen the results of “a nobody”‘s work. It is not a failure. Niche, yes. Failure, no.

    I have not seen your body of work yet.

    Jason, sign me up!

  6. ian says:

    if its a documentary it has to look good. A bunch of fat BBS geeks talking about the good old days and filmed terribly isnt going to work this time around. Get some artistic direction. Im so sick of everyone these days thinking they are a director because they can pick up a camera.

  7. phil says:

    I disagree Ian; I don’t care how good a documentary looks if it has no (or badly structured) content. On the other hand if the visuals are so bad as to be a distraction from the whole point of a documentary…

    I tend to agree with you that a bunch of “BBS geeks” is not going to work this time around… because it’s not about BBSes!

    And, could you have a word with one of the directors I’ve worked with, who thinks that being a director he can operate a camera? Please?

  8. Anonymous says:

    ian: if you did the slightest bit of research you’d realize that Jason has a film degree.

  9. ian says:

    oh god …….that so sad. what a waste of a degree im halfway trough mine and i could crank out a better written, structure and aestheticly pleasing documentary. im out. fuck this site.

  10. Tim says:

    ian: Get off that computer now little mister and finish your homework! Awww, you’ll always be mommy’s special widdle guy…
    Good luck when your ego finally has a one night stand with reality.

  11. Ice Cream Jonsey says:

    ::what a waste of a degree im halfway trough mine
    ::and i could crank out a better written,

    Hahaha, this fucking nobody of an art school never-will-be is bagging on someone’s ability to write when he can’t even work up the energy to slob his pinky over to the left shift key. It’s so hard when the blood in your veins turns into liquid meh, isn’t it “ian”? I call shenanigans.

    On the other hand, you will probably earn six figures on your first gig too, (assistant) managing that Big Lots! across town. You’re totally like jscott’s peer! He’s recording the feeling of checking your inventory and getting “Inside the Barrow,” while you will be checking store #7668’s inventory of wheelbarrows.


  12. DS says:

    Hilarious. “im halfway trough mine” – you’re the next fucking Quentin Tarantino, kid. You might want to consider “Remedial English Composition” before you start rockin’ the screenplays.

    But don’t despair. If you work your way up, you can undoubtedly be managing a couple of Starbucks if you start now.

  13. Henry Swanson says:

    Hi Jason

    I’m a science fiction writer. I really dig your site and all that your doing, keep up the good work. As for the “Get-up-late yawn scratch-my-nuts yeah whatever” style ‘critics’ – as Henry Rollins said in the song Shine: “If I listened to everything they said to me I wouldn’t be here / If I took the time to bleed from all the tiny little arrows shot my way I wouldn’t be here / The ones who don’t do anything are the always the ones who try to put you down.” (Little do these intellectual giants realise they’re conforming perfectly, as predicted, to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.)

    Anyhow here’s my own 50c worth on your Arcades documentary project, I hope it helps some:

    1. Are you going to write a Blog / Diary about the EXPERIENCE of making this Arcade project?

    RE: Process over Product (Some thoughts on Projects generally)
    – I often find that the Process of making a work of Art, is as interesting and relevant on a narrative, and simple human-scale level as the ‘end product’ itself. (It’s often why the Extras Disk on a Hollywood production is often better than the actual film..) The ‘background story to the main story’ so to speak. What’s often missing in a project is the author’s in-the-moment Feelings about his direct role to his work – those everyday, in-flux, ‘mundane’ thoughts and observations which often actually mean a lot. Too often, a production seems like it ‘sprang fully grown from the forehead of Zeus’ when what would really be important / interesting to one’s fellow primates are the fuzzy underlying human motivations (in all their illogical & contradictory glory) for it’s creation, those strange unseen interlocking processes by which I.T was made..

    2. RE: The core underlying concept / feeling / mood-tone / psychology behind the whole ‘arcade experience’:
    – For me it’s all about the notion of ‘Inhabiting and exploring a (secret, personal) Virtual Space’.. Whenever I think of “Arcades” in all their bleeping magnificence, two things immediately stand out; “Tron”, and William Gibson’s notion of “Cyberspace.” What I would personally find interesting is the degree to which a documentary about Arcades (and watching that documentary) generates a feeling of “Other new strange [ie ‘kinda trippy’ / psychedelic] new electronic worlds just around the corner.” (If you ask me you can never have too much hot pink or freezing blue neon and diffused volumetric lighting, heh.)

    ..Yeah, you read right. I’m making the direct connection between computers and psychedelics. In fact I’m saying they are one and the same thing. (And just what is this thing anyhow??)

    Ahem. Here’s an awesome William Gibson interview quote (from

    “I was walking down Granville Street, Vancouver’s version of ‘The Strip,’ and I was looking into one of the video arcades. I could see in the physical intensity of their postures how rapt the kids inside were. It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel: a feedback loop with photons coming off the screens into the kids’ eyes, neurons moving through their bodies, and electrons moving through the video game. These kids clearly believed in the space games projected. Everyone I know who works with computers seems to develop a belief that there’s SOME KIND OF ACTUAL SPACE behind the screen, someplace you can’t see but you know is there.” [Emphasis mine.]

    3. RE: (Virtual) Wor(l)d-Associations

    Check it out. The following are closely related (especially in a Visual sense):

    arcade(s) / retro 80’s / futuristic / hyperreal / neon / blocky / sim / video / lo-fi / glitch / virtual / pixellated / electronic / ZX84(??) / ‘home-grown’ (as in ‘garage culture meets Macgyver’) / cheesy

    Perhaps ‘cheesy’ needs a bit of explaining: Here in merri old Endland, ‘cheesy’ is a word associated with anything that’s a bit past it’s sell-by date, perhaps a bit tasteless, often ‘unconsciously self-parodying’, something which is run down, cheerily obsolete – but often still very popular, with it’s own unique ‘charm’ (American tourists always seem to call England ‘charming’, which is utterly confusing for the humans forced to actually live on this tepid little island.) David Hasselhoff, Benny Hill, the Eurovision Song Contest – and indeed most cult teen films from the 80’s (and indeed ALL oldskool kung-fu films) can all be seen as having this ‘cheesy’ aspect or quality.

    Some History: The primary experience of Arcades in England was almost always at these really awful, utterly depressing seaside towns on the lost coast, where it’s always raining and there’s a smell of cigarette smoke and old greasy fried potato ‘chips’ on the cheesy 70’s style striped orange carpets. Pensioners shuffle about listlessly, playing the fruit machines and mumbling to themselves. A man with weird/bad hair in a band called The Smiths once wrote a song about such places, called “Everyday Is Like Sunday”. An article entitled Britannia Moribundia ( mentions the phrase “melancholy poignancy”, which perfectly sums up the experience of going to these seaside towns (often having being dragged there on holiday with one’s parents) and experiencing the sublime electronic joys of these strange, run-down places for the first time. A kind of “seaside surrealism.” For me the two things cannot be separated: the everydayness, the poverty of the souls of the people who hung out at these places, these shuttered sea encampments of forced entertainments, their ambience of faded derelict obsolescence – and the eternal promise andor threat of digital nirvana glimpsed in the staring, scan-lined faces of the blaring arcade machines, screens angled like the inner walls of some ancient Mayan temple cult.

    4. RE: A quote I just made up
    – “To the 80’s MTV generation, Videogame Arcades are what LSD was to the 60’s; they are an retro-electronic version of DMT.”

    5. RE: Digital Media influences and ‘that certain retro-80’s kinda look-feel’

    * Buggles “Video Killed The Radio Star”
    * The Wizard
    * Night Of The Comet
    * Liquid Sky
    * Back To The Future
    * Old Nintendo commercials
    * Weird Science
    * War Games
    * Tron!

    Note that what all these things have in common is they all have that unique videogamelike AESTHETIC – ie. a whole related set of visual mood-tones and feelings closely associated (at least in the Generation X mindset) with “the whole Arcadian experience.” In modern terms, the games “Rez” and remakes / dreams of “Tempest” strongly generate this ‘retro 80’s video-arcadian feeling’ in the viewer – that is, the feeling of exploring and being part of a whole new virtual world behind the HAL eye of the computer.

    – Article on “Videogame Aesthetics”:
    – A band which uses retro videogame aesthetics:

    6. RE: Videogame Arcades as a form of “Scientific Visualization”
    – See

    Arguably, Video Arcades are a use of Science to generate, interact with, and understand data, and the flow of that data (in a bizarre virtual world of bleeps and hot neon) – a method of making or manifesting some kind of interior Vision of another world, perhaps..

    7. RE: The term “Arcadia”:
    – According to wiki-wack-pedia (heh I understand your feelings about this Jason), “Arcadia remained a rustic, secluded area, and its inhabitants became proverbial as primitive herdsmen leading simple pastoral unsophisticated yet happy lives, to the point that Arcadia may refer to some imaginary idyllic paradise.”

    Hmm for me this sounds like a hell of a lot why video arcades have such an appeal – the set of feelings we have about them (what I call “near future retro 80’s” in my own forever-forthcoming sci-fi novel) are often an attempt to mentally and culturally retreat back (to the near future!) to some imaginary ‘perfect childhood’ full of simple andor simplistic (electronic) pleasures..

    8. RE: Walter Benjamin
    – Walter B. was a fascinating writer and thinker who’s book “The Arcades Project”.. probably has nothing whatsoever to do with Video Arcades – but then neither has the term “Arcadia” – I just thought I’d mention them for the sake of completion – and because (as the Mugwump says in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch) they have “mythic resonance.”

    Anyhow. Hope this provides some tasty snack food for thought. L8ers.

    Henry Swanson