« Urbanity, modernity, identity, and Grand Theft Auto IV | “Playing God” at Threadless »

Remembering Theresa Duncan

I am going to tell you what I just told them.

I was waiting to blog later, but I just dropped everything. It fell out of my hands. I have been punched in the heart and brain.

Last night—yesterday—my friend MJ and I were hanging out. I don’t know how I got on the subject of my favorite game designer, actually. But I was showing MJ one of the greatest, most important games I’ve ever owned, Chop Suey, which actually I’ve told you about before. And then I was showing MJ this interview in an issue of Shift, probably Fall 2000, “Theresa Duncan: Silicon Valley’s ‘It Girl’.” And I was like, isn’t she beautiful? Can you believe she made this game? Because it was a little like holding up War and Peace and then revealing that it was written by, I don’t know, just someone really unexpectedly pretty, instead of Tolstoy.

Do people know who this is? Theresa Duncan? Why don’t more people know who she is?

I’d looked everywhere for that game. I’d been trying to locate a copy, if you can believe this, since I was 15, when I first read in a then-new magazine that it was the greatest videogame you could ever give a girl. And I found a copy ten years later, and I downgraded my QuickTime and ultimately discovered that Chop Suey—a storybook game with painted scenes, hilarious characters, and a narrative driven by the warm, twee crack of David Sedaris’ voice—was maybe one of the most enthralling and meaningful game experiences of my adult life.

And there was absolutely no goal of the game at all but to explore at your own pace and see as much as you want. I have never seen so many kinds of art, or so much of it, in one place. And it’s for kids! This incredible game is for little girls! Because people used to remember that making something for the consumption of children is noble and formative and important!

And I had this idea pent up inside me when I was 15 that I wouldn’t be Roberta Williams, I wouldn’t be Jane Jensen, someday I could fashion myself into a Theresa Duncan, and make unbelievably edgy punkass art games, every one a love letter to my own younger self and to the things I had loved and to the things that, in my own childhood, I’d missed out on.

Thirteen days ago, Theresa Duncan went missing, which I did not know. Today they’re starting to report on what’s happened, but really there’s no explanation at all. I cannot tell you what it is like to come to work and read this. And then this. How is it that, somewhere between the eye and the mind, things stick in the throat?

When people remember and mourn Ms Duncan, and if they remember her for her trailblazing and important computer games at all, you are going to hear them say surreal, gibberish phrases like Chop Suey and Mimi Smartypants a lot, because these words signify mysterious, important things, which are things that Ms Duncan threw herself into, and things that meant so, so much to people and to children and to me and to some of my loved ones.

I am sorry that this is tacked-on, but I am wrong to omit Jeremy Blake. He created the art and style that have always made the games so immediate and feel so much like home. I am so, so affected by this because we are living in a world where people can just slip through like that.

Leave a comment

Psst... This site supports gravatars and OpenIDs. You may also format your comment using Textile markup, if you'd like. Comments may not immediately appear.