After seeing Indie Game, I was really interested in following that particular rabbit hole (thanks iTunes Genius) and watch more documentaries like that. That is, documentaries about things that a lot of people in the world would say are pointless, but I love.
What a great piece of work! A perfect blend of documentary, editorial storycraft and humor. The story centers around two guys with the desire to be the best in the world at something. And for these guys, that ‘something’ is Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong, often heralded as the world’s hardest game (translate: world’s hardest game that people actually want to play), was the world’s introduction to Mario in 1981. The machine I played was at the Pappy’s Pizza of Milltown Shopping Center in Delaware. My mom took me there regularly for the half price pizza night (I think it was Tuesdays). Pappy’s had two machines located in an open area where you could also watch pizzas being made. For a long time, one of these was Donkey Kong.
Once we ordered, I had until the pizza came to drop a couple quarters into the machine (or watch other kids who got there earlier). -This was back in the days that you would put your quarter on the glass just above the controls to call the next game.-
I remember being an ‘OK’ player. As the film states, it’s really hard. Most players would lose at least one man on the first screen, and possibly all three depending on whether or not they were ‘real’ players, or just dilettantes.
Just so you know, there’s a possible kill screen coming up…
The questions this film asks relate to the meaning of one’s life. Billy is a winner, he always has been and always will be. At least in Billy’s eyes he is, and he has his fans. Billy Mitchell held the Donkey Kong world record for 25 years and spent each of those 25 years prizing his title and feeling pretty darn good about how life was working out. -How could he feel any other way with that rockin’ mullet?
The challenger is Steve Weibe (playing the good guy who is always a bride’s maid and never a bride). Steve is dying to be the best at something. Everyone knows it, we see it, his wife sees it. Hell, the Twin Galaxy Arcade Referee sees it. But Steve never looks that truth in the face, instead, he keeps his head down and his nose to the grindstone to earn his place among the gods. Steve plays night and day on the machine in his garage, learning the tricks of each level by careful analysis while his wife and kids try in vain to get a fraction of is attention.
Steve is sisyphus, who is sure that he can get this boulder up the hill if he only keeps at it. Billy is Narcissus, who hasn’t noticed yet that he’s been turned into a flower. (have I mentioned that I love Greek Mythology? No? Then go check out my books, The Thirteenth Labor of Heracles (to learn the Gas Laws) and The Curse of Sisyphus (to learn about gravity and motion)).
This documentary is so good because it touches on other people obsessed with video games and how they gain their identities from gameplay. Mostly we stick to Steve and Billy, but there’s enough other material to fill in the gaps and remind us that these people don’t live in a bubble.
I think Steve’s wife was pitifully embarrassed for him. She trudged along and gave interviews, but there was always a touch of remorse in her eye, wishing that 1) Steve would get a real job and quit playing video games 24/7 and 2) That he would see that he was actually remarkably successful in so many areas of his life (Baseball, Drums, Piano…) and didn’t need this Donkey Kong business.
Rotten Tomatoes hit the nail on the head.
17 Down, 83 to go