Jason Scott is a digital historian and archivist who specializes in early microcomputer history. With Get Lamp he produces a detailed documentary about text adventure games.
Adventure-Treff: Jason, you have been playing text adventures since you were a boy. Can you remember how it all started with this genre?
Jason Scott: I have two specific memories with the beginnings of text adventures. My parents were divorced when I was rather young, and as part of the divorce, custody was shared - I went to school and lived with my mother during the week and saw my father on occasional evenings and on some weekends. The problem for my father was that he would often have work to do but didn't want to give up an opportunity to see me. So he'd take me to work with him, at the IBM research center in Yonkers Heights, NY. There, he'd put me in front of one of their 3279 terminals (it had color and some sound!) and show me the games menu. In the games menu was a version of the original adventure. I spent a lot of time with that game, but didn't solve it.
A few years later, my cousin bought the Microsoft Adventure game, which was basically Adventure repackaged for the IBM PC. This time, we played it all the way to the end, and solved it. What really strikes you when you're young and you encounter a text adventure is how real it all feels - you type in a phrase in english and the game responds in english. For my own part, I was very amazed that this worked and how it worked. I know I wasn't alone in thinking that.
A-T: Why did you think it is necessary to bring this subject on to video? What's the interesting point about the history of adventure games?
Jason: I spent a few years on a previous documentary about bulletin board systems (www.bbsdocumentary.com) and when I finished that, I felt like I'd built up a lot of skills that could be used elsewhere.
The specific question I asked myself was "What else, besides Bulletin Board Systems, affected my childhood and growth as a person?". The answer was text adventures, I decided. These games really gave me a lot of inspiration and the puzzles and quests within them filled me with hope. So I decided that subject could be tackled next.
I believe strongly that video documentaries can add a very nice dimension to a subject; you can hear a person who has created these games speak, see how they move, and the visual editing lets you really enjoy the works in a new light. I found that was the case with my previous documentary and I hope that'll be the case here.
As for the interesting point about adventure games is that they're this wonderful, well-defined history that is being rapidly shoved into the dustbin over time, and while the people who toiled in this medium are still around, I thought it'd be nice to put a film together.
A-T: Do you also play graphic adventures and/or the recent adventure games coming out at the moment?
Jason: I rarely go too far with them, because my time is so limited. I do, when I get a chance, try a number of adventure-like games that come out for various game systems I own, or which are under the heading of "casual". So much of my time is spoken for, between my day job and all my archiving and of course this film. But I look forward to many years of these games in my future.
A-T: How do you make your documentaries? Is this your free time or do you do it as a full time job? How is the financing?
Jason: Completely self-funded, completely done in my spare time. I don't want this to be my main job because then I will make decisions based on money and deadlines instead of what's a good film.
A-T: You met a lot of important people of this era. Was it difficult to get in contact with them? What interessting things can you tell us about the production process?
Jason: My personal experience is that if you're honest, treat people well, don't barge into lives, and have lots of time on your hands, you can interview most anybody. Some people said no but they were very nice about it and some even changed their minds later. I have enjoyed the company of some really amazing people.
I think some people might be interested to know that I do the movie basically single-handledly; I drive alone to the locations and do the lights, sound and video. I then go home and do the editing. I don't take this too far, of course: others do the music. I choose the music, though...
A-T: At the moment, you're working at the post production of the documentary. Already any ideas for your next historical project?
Jason: Likely one on the history of the arcade. I expect that's another 4 years of my life gone!