Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Theresa Duncan and 'Chop Suey'

This is a bit of a downer, but I wanted to point you to an article last week from New York magazine on the tragic death of a very talented early multimedia creator named Theresa Duncan (pictured below), as well as one earlier this month from L.A. Weekly.

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The articles by Kate Coe and David Amsden chronicled the circumstances that led to Duncan’s suicide this summer, almost immediately followed by that of her longtime partner and talented digital artist, Jeremy Blake, who also killed himself. It is a very sad story, to be sure, which has been actively discussed in the blogosphere.

I actually had the privilege of being inspired by Duncan’s talent early in my career in the tech reporting field, when I interviewed her for the Washington Post about a remarkable CD-ROM she created with illustrator and collaborator Monica Gesue for a small but very hot unit, based in D.C. at the time, called Magnet Interactive.

Called “Chop Suey,” it was an award-winning video game for girls, but without all the dopey princess stuff and with a ton of sophistication. The story of Lily and June Bugg, who eat too much Chinese food and drift into whimsical adventures, it was pure imagination unleashed by Duncan and Gesue and included the narration of David Sedaris (who was then not the famous author he later became).

While the CD-ROM business proved to be a bridge technology and “Chop Suey” did not endure the onslaught of the Web, after seeing it, I have never forgotten it. And it was one of the key products that made me love covering the interactive space so very much.

Thus, the story of her end was sad to read, especially the part that pointed to Duncan’s frustrating time in Los Angeles, trying to produce a movie to no avail. Noted the article:

It was Nathanael West, himself a New Yorker who settled in Hollywood, who perhaps best understood the potentially grim effects this can have on the mind of an ambitious optimist. ‘Once there, they discover the sunshine isn’t enough,’ he wrote in ‘The Day of the Locust’ of those who seek a specific paradise in Los Angeles. ‘Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time … The boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment.’ “

Well, I don’t know about that in regards to the clearly troubled Duncan, who had a subsequent up-and-down career as evidenced in the more searing Coe piece, due in part to her own complex set of personal issues.

Her own blog, called The Wit of the Staircase, now seems very ironic a name, in fact.

As it is explained on the site: “From the French phrase ‘esprit d’escalier,’ literally, it means ‘the wit of the staircase,’ and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended. ‘Esprit d’escalier,’ she replied. ‘Esprit d’escalier. The answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete till afterwards it suddenly comes to you when it is too late.’”

Too late, I also don’t know about. All I do know is she did leave behind delight with many of her creations, including “Chop Suey,” whose amazing screen shots are pictured below:

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus