In a recent New York Times profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the writers point out that Kalanick “once held the world’s second-highest score for the Nintendo Wii Tennis video game.” This factoid about Kalanick has actually appeared in the media many times before — I first learned about it on an episode of the StartUp podcast.
But according to Ars Technica writer Kyle Orland, this stat is non-sensical. Why?
The line baffled me for a number of reasons, not least of which was that the concept of a “high score” in “Wii Tennis” didn’t make much sense. Claiming the “world’s second-highest score” in Wii Sports tennis is like claiming the second-highest score in Pong based on nothing but playing against the computer and your friends. Absent some sort of sanctioned tournament or logical third-party ranking system, the claim just doesn’t parse.
And yet, the boast is oddly specific. Kalanick hadn’t earned the best “Wii Tennis” score in the world according to TheNew York Times. He achieved the second best. If this was just a fabulist boast, why limit yourself to number two? And if it wasn’t just puffery, who was number one?
What’s more, the paper of record doesn’t hedge its declaration with a “he said” or “he claimed.” Kalanick’s “Wii Tennis” high score is stated as a fact, and one that piece author Mike Isaac said on Twitter was “triple sourced.” (Isaac didn’t respond to further request for comment on his basis for the line.)
I’ve spent an admittedly ridiculous amount of time looking into this one sentence over the past few days. As it turns out, getting to the bottom of Kalanick’s Wii Sports skill requires delving into the vagaries of human memory, reverse engineered asymptotic leveling systems, and the semantic meaning of video game achievement itself.
Orland’s investigation is delightful and worth reading in its entirety. It’s a testament to sweating the details and getting the facts right whenever possible.