I’ve watched a couple of documentaries recently by a guy named Jason Scott. The first one, Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary, I had seen before. Its about text-based adventures, which is a form of interactive fiction. The genre was largely killed off with the proliferation of graphical video games, but, as you can tell from the documentary, text based adventure games are no less immersive. In fact, I’ve actually started playing one called Photopia. It was written by Adam Cadre, an IF author interviewed in the documentary. I’ll post more about that as I progress further in the game.
Prior to making Get Lamp, Jason Scott made a multi-part documentary about BBSs called BBS: The Documentary. It’s kind of long, but very very good. I have embedded part 1 in this post, to view the other parts, click here.
BBSs were popular before the World Wide Web became the de facto means of communication between computers (and between the people who used them). BBSs enabled people to communicate with other people using their computer, a modem, a telephone line, and a BBS on the other end. Since users connected to BBSs by dialing into it, and long distance phone calls were expensive, most users of a particular BBS tended to reside in a small geographic area around the BBS (the size of an area code for example, or even smaller). This created a strong sense of community among users of a BBS.
We take computer-computer communication for granted nowadays with the internet and world wide web, but there was a time when that was not the case. There were a multitude of computer companies vying for supremacy, those computers were very expensive, and their functionality was limited. Despite this, people did buy them, and they did all sorts of amazing things with them. We don’t really think about it nowadays, but at the time, the future of computers wasn’t a given; nobody was exactly sure where this whole computer thing was going to go, and you can absolutely get the sense that it was a VERY exciting time to be alive and active in that community.
I wont ruin it, but the documentary portrays a very unique culture. This culture and these communities grew out of cutting edge technology and met its demise before it reached fruition. Almost as soon as the internet came out and was accessible by the majority of the public, BBS activity plummeted. There are very few BBSs that still exist today, and had it not been for the documentary that Jason Scott made, the history of BBS culture and the communities that grew out of BBSs would be lost.
The focus of the documentary is less about the technology, and more about the people and communities that grew out of it.