Jason Scott Hates “The King of Kong”

Oh no. Jason Scott is spittle-angry about the fantastic movie King of Kong. Jason has some skin in this game, he made BBS: The Documentary (which I have watched and enjoyed in it’s entirety. If you think you would like to watch, for instance, an entire hour of footage of people who used to make ASCII art talking about the ASCII art scene, you would probably love it it too), is now working on GET LAMP, a documentary about text adventure games, and has plans to move onto arcade games as his next Ken Burns triumph. The guy knows geek, the guy loves geek, the guy is geek. And King of Kong is about geek.

I don’t have time to find out if his factual challenges to the film are on the money. My own recollection of the film seems a little at odds with his claims (doesn’t the film’s introduction of Steve Weibe start with the fact that he held the Donkey Kong high score for a time?), but clearly Mr. Scott is more familiar with the movie than I am. Regardless, I’m not inclined to immediately repudiate my appreciation for King of Kong. Scott clearly thinks the movie is a two-trick pony who’s two tricks are making fun of geeks for being geeks, and for Billy Mitchell for being a cardboard villain. I don’t think either charge is entirely fair. Part of what I loved about the movie is that you learned enough about Billy to feel such pain at his transformation into a insidious bully when his personal mythos is challenged by a better player. Part of what I loved about the movie is that the characters are presented as both really really geeky (which, c’mon Jason, aren’t they in real life?) and also really really human.


Yes, I have successfully purchased for my self a nice big headache in trashing a film so many people happen to like. Also, I’ve started getting the requests for more backups of the facts, and standing up for my accusations. I had to, ironically, buy a copy of the final DVD that’s come out and had it sent to my home, and I’ll be comparing the screener and the DVD for editing changes and talking about what I don’t like. I hope I’m wrong, I really do.

In a recent conversation I felt obliged to take the side of Jesse Thorn (host of The Sound of Young America) for his minor-key crusade against This American Life. His take on the show is that it distorts the stories it tells in order to make them more like “stories”, with plot arcs and suspense and reveals in an orderly and compelling sequence. He figures there’s a significant number of cases wherein the stories get distorted to the point of misrepresentation. And that’s a bit dubious for a show that’s supposed to be about the real reality of American lived experience. You know, it’s about *this* American life.

Point being I’m sympathetic for your desire for verisimilitude. Farley Mowat used to say (probably still does) “don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth” but there’s got to be a limit on that right?

Anyhow, I can’t stop loving that movie. And Steve Weibe is still my man.

Also, I’m pumped that the Jason Scott is commenting on my comments re: Jason Scott.

I appreciate the respect, Hugh.

The problem in all this is that I’m a documentary filmmaker. You’d think that would make it even better that I’m talking, since I’ve actually done this crap. But in point of fact, that then leads to accusations of professional jealousy or being angry that “my” movie was made a different way or I was cheated out of cash or funds. This is why I made it clear I had selfish as well as ethical reasons.

An example of how this could all go would be a chef making a big stink because another chef is claiming he “invented” a recipe that all chefs knew of, and yet now they all have to deal with being asked for that chef’s dish, or even worse, being accused of stealing that chef’s recipe. At the end of the day, people are going to go “yeah, but does the sandwich taste good???”. The rest of it is just background noise and ethics, honor, misrepresentation are side issues, unrelated and irrelevant. I feel a little like the chef making the big stink, and a bunch of people are going “but the sandwich tastes good”.

Personally, I have no issue with This American Life or even King of Kong remixing items into dramatic form, as one would use the pacing of language or paragraphs to portray information. I expect as such.

The Fidonet episode of my BBS Documentary is, essentially, a massive narrative structure applied to a 15 year period of history that encompassed tens of thousands of players. Tom Jennings said of this, “As one of the victims of this horrible plot, I have to admit it’s pretty good. OK it makes me look good, which is probably an accident or mistake; but it does present some of FidoNet’s complexities in a realistic, non-trivial-making light. Which is not easy. For better or worse, things are NOT oversimplified to make a digestable story, which probably took a lot of nerve on Jason’s part. Simple linear stories probably sell better :-)”

What he’s getting at is the issue with trying to compose narrative form from reality, which is often not narrative. In fact, sometimes things come along which needlessly complicate matters. A filmmaker has to choose which way they’re going to go with this, if they include complicating but accurate information, or leave it out for “simplicity” even though minimal studying or research will betray these shortcuts.

And then we get into whether the shortcuts are fatal, like how Michael Moore did in fact “meet” Roger Smith before he went to make “Roger and Me”. He wasn’t a filmmaker at that point, wasn’t shooting his film, but he did meet the guy. The core of “Roger and Me” appears to be an attempt to meet Roger and being thwarted. You see how much of a mess this can become.

“This American Life” also tends to obscure the identities of people, and they’re just kind of little puppets. I haven’t given it enough thought, really, but I would be annoyed if the stories being told were being mixed around timeline wise and not revealing this. But, for example, if they are talking about a mother and daughter and the daughter wants to be a in a rock band and we’re not told until late in the story that, oh, by the way, Mom was in a punk band when she was 18 and toured the country, I just consider that weaving a narrative, not being dishonest.

It’s a long, sticky road, isn’t it.

I noticed your review of “The King of Kong”. We are distributing a very similar gaming documentary, “E-Athletes”, which releases on DVD, January 27th, 2009.
Attached is a sell sheet.

We would love to send you a screener for review.

Would you be of interest? If so, what would be the best address to send you a copy?

Thank you so much and look forward to hearing from you.


Jacob Ripley
Public Relations Representative
Passion River Films
732-321-0711 x135
[email protected]

416 Main Street
Metuchen, NJ 08840
Discover unique films at: http://www.PassionRiver.com

[…] back, Jason Scott — the computing documentarian who hughstimson.org readers may remember from King of Kong controversy — “got angry like a fire gets burning” because AOL hometown […]

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