ASCII by Jason Scott

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Demoscene Week: The Countries —

For an environment that is so critically associated with computers and later networks of computers, and which many elements can be downloaded around the world (except for the aspects I mentioned yesterday), you would think that countries wouldn’t matter. But in the demoscene, they do. They do very much indeed.

Demos and demoscene folks often identify themselves by what country they’re from. Demos are (very occasionally) referred to as being in a certain country’s style. Flags of various countries show up in demos, a part of the effect or a passing graphic in a scroller.

The country might be in the group’s name. It might be how they’re identified when they stand up. There’s pride in this, not much (at least that I’ve generally seen) of saying another country’s demosceners are worse but more of saying their country (or occasionally another country) is “better”. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t descend into name-calling against certain countries or places; far from it. But even then, it’s generally nothing that would be out of place in a sports discussion. It’s friendly competition.

But notable through all this, is the absolutely dearth of comparable demoparties in my own country, the United States. Where there are literally dozens held every year in Europe, the US gets almost none, with only a dozen or so in the last 15 years.

Why are there so few Demoparties in the United States? There’s a mass of reasons that people have come up with, and I can only do what others have done, which is give my opinions. And like others, there’s no way to really prove I’m right, although perhaps it’s easy to prove me wrong. Some of these were suggested to me by others and not my original idea; I simply agree with them.

  • The US is really frigging huge and it is very expensive to do anything here. Whereas you can get away with having people sleeping over in a school or facility in other countries, in the US it’s a goddamned insurance nightmare, and most meeting locations would never allow anything like that.
  • A lot of the energy/interest in a “travel from all over to hang out and do computers” event has been supplanted by the Hacking conventions: DEFCON, HOPE, LayerOne, Shmoocon, Notacon, PhreakNIC, Toorcon, Summercon, Pumpcon… there are at least a couple dozen major-level conventions being held in this country, all of which attract the computer-involved, the audience, the attention.
  • Travel is a killer because of expense (airfares have only dropped relatively recently as potential methods of getting somewhere, and you can’t easily haul your computers) and so anything that would resemble a big demo party would be unlikely to pull in crowds from surrounding states.
  • Telephone charges are handled vastly differently in the US than in Europe, with even local calls costing significant money, so the advantages of trading of warez via telephone were greater than hauling out to parties. Or, the technological advantage of the US meant the main crackers were gone by the end of the 1980s. Or the ….

You can see how silly it gets. Whatever happened, happened, and parties in the US or North America are historically rare.

I could fill this article with descriptions of European demoparties, but it’d be all crap, all secondhand stuff I picked up from others’ work. While that might suffice for a longer-term book or article, it doesn’t make sense here. All I can say is that as someone who has only lived in the US and on top of that only two of its states, it was very easy to romanticize these faraway demo events. When you’re playing these older demos and the scroller is shouting out to someone across the room and slyly talking about the power of the group, you can get sucked in. When it mentions the beauty of the countryside or the greatness of the party or how friggin’ drunk the writer is, you can start to feel like you really missed out.

Subsequently, in 1996, I heard about a demoparty being held in Canada, called the North American International Demoparty, or NAID. I was 26, just starting out in a permanent career after being in the games industry for a while, and I had the money and the ability to get a day or two off. I brought this up with my buddy Jim, and he too had seen these demos for years, and that was a sold trip. We packed up in his Checker Marathon and drove north from Boston to Montreal, covering 300 miles and sending me into Canada for the first time since I was a child.

We didn’t have any demos to show, any things to present; we just knew we had to be at one of these things. We didn’t even know what the rules, competitions, or, really, any other detail was. We just knew we had to be there. What if it sucked? What if there was nobody there? We had simply nobody to talk to about it, no group to check with, no buddies to correlate. We were going in blind.

As it turned out, it couldn’t have ended up better. NAID was absolutely amazing, held inside a college that was on break, with most of it open to the people at the event. Like a school redone as a haunted house, every hallway, gymnasium, cafeteria and classroom within the environs of the event were transformed into labs, lairs, stages, game rooms. It was attended by hundreds of people. The main stage was well-built, had a huge screen, and a great sound system. People milled around, talking about stuff, hanging out, eating and drinking. In point of fact, I never left the building once the whole time I attended. I had a bag of clothes I changed out of and used the facilities, of course, but I was a messed-up party nut by the end. Sleeping arrangements were basically blankets on a classroom floor. Food was whatever the little cafe in the place had. It was loud, it was crazy, and it was long. And I loved it.

There was a lot of potential for the actual to collide with the ideal, for me to discover that a demoparty was no remarkable affair, but yet, NAID lived up to my expectations. I resolved to go the next year… but there was no next year. After two large parties, NAID folded up.

After that, there have been a handful throughout the country, most notably Pilgrimage, a party held in Salt Lake City Utah for three years. I went to one, had a good time, but it wasn’t the same thing as NAID for me; then again, I was nearly 10 years older.

It seems that with the cards down, the wheel stopped, and the pieces left where they fell, Demo Parties just aren’t going to be a North American thing. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any held here, quite the opposite.

I decided to put one on myself.

Next: The Blockparty

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  1. Donald P. Richards says:

    Read your “BBS Doc is CC”.
    Let me share my secret with you:
    “Sell Ad space on your CD/DVDs.”
    (Don’t tell me there’s not enough room.)
    Then you will not have to sweat $50 out of people who can not afford it.”
    email me and i’ll tell you where the real gold is.


  2. Jason Scott says:

    Hey! It’s That Guy!