Chronicles of Ryebone

The King of Kong

A fistful of quarters. I remember the days well: I went to the bank, armed with loonies and a five dollar bill, and requested, literally, a fistful of quarters. Ten dollars worth, in fact. The next step was going to the mall, where a multiplayer X-Men arcade cabinet sat, and by all means, I was going to beat that game. Unfortunately, I don't recall what happened next, aside that the dream never came true. I played the game a few more times, but there was no marathon. This was when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, where the industry was in a state of decline. There were a couple of arcades around, but they weren't proper places for kids - at least, in my town.

One thing that I never tried to do was get high scores, and I think this is in due part to me not being overly competitive (or at least, trying to avoid competition) and that arcade games in the early nineties weren't focused on scores. The majority of titles were fighters, like Virtua Fighter, Mortal Kombat and of course, the Street Fighter II series. Arcade games in the eighties were focused on scores, and difficulties. Donkey Kong is noted as being one of the toughest ever made, and only a few get to see the final screen. The King of Kong documentary focuses on two players who are, arguebly, the best there is at the game. Billy Mitchell would set the record (in the eighties) that would stand for decades, only to be beaten (in a way) by Steve Wiebe. It's a story of these two, locked in eternal competition in a game that's over thirty years old.

The film focuses on the celebrity that these two achieved, which seems crazy and foreign. These days, the only gaming competition you hear about are the big Starcraft tournaments and professional players in Korea. But there does exist competition here, although this film doesn't exactly depict it in a great light. It's very amateur - the world of gaming competition - and somewhat unofficial. But it is, and we move on. The film also focuses on Billy and Steve, and basically paints Billy as an arrogant jerk who is deathly afraid of losing. He doesn't show up to competitions, and controversially mails in his winning videos at convenient times. Steve, on the other hand is the hero, who goes out of his way to play in public, and is generally the all-round nice guy.

It's almost unbelievable how fierce their competition is for one another, and how they basically hate the other. Apparently the movie is skewed, which makes sense, and that they are not entirely on unfriendly terms. Which is nice to hear, because in the end, it's just a game. I wish they had focused on the game itself a bit more; they make comments about the mechanics and certain strategies, but I don't think "Nintendo" is said even once. It's really saying something that these titles are still being played - and I'm not just referring to Donkey Kong either - and that people are improving upon one another's scores still. These games are timeless; they are difficult, and they are purely score driven. This movie acts as a good introduction to the competitive game world, and frankly, I want to see more of it. Billy and Steve are characters upon themselves, as are many of the supporting players - most notably the official referee of competitive games.

The documentary takes some dramatic license, which adds to the story of these two points champions. But I would recommend checking out the trivia section of the IMDB for this movie. They mention another player who set the record, and gives you the most up to date scores and who holds them. Who knew such an old game could be so intriguing.

Tags: Documentary

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