The King of Kong at the Alamo Drafthouse

This past weekend, Qyandri and I had the opportunity to see a fascinating documentary called the King of Kong: A fistful of quarters at our favorite venue, the Alamo Drafthouse. The Drafthouse held a Donkey Kong competition beforehand, and showed classic gaming shows and commercials as they are wont to do. And of course, there were special guests.

When I first saw the preview for the movie a few weeks ago, I thought it was a Christopher-Guest-type fake documentary. The setup was so perfect for that kind of tongue-in-cheek seriousness: for the last twenty years or so, a group of people have been obsessed with classic arcade games. This is their story.

In one corner, we have Billy Mitchell, the successful and seemingly arrogant title-holder of the record for Donkey Kong as well as other games.

“No matter what what I say, it draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.” – Billy Mitchell

In the other corner, we have an everyman searching to triumph in *something* – Steve Wiebe, an all-around nice guy and father who seemed to be getting some rough treatment from the good ol’ boy insiders of the classic arcade world.

Steve is gunning for the title and to be in the Guiness Book of World Records, which has started accepting game scores.

“Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in it.” – words of wisdom from Steve Wiebe’s young daughter.

But the film is a real documentary, and an excellent one. In attendance at the Drafthouse were Steve Wiebe himself and Walter Day, the founder and head judge from Twin Galaxies, the organization responsible for verifying high scores. Also in attendance was one of the insiders unhappy with the film, Dwayne Richard from Canada, who frankly behaved like kind of a jerk by throwing in snide comments as people asked questions and not letting Wiebe answer a few during the Q&A period. In other words, he behaved sort of like the stereotypical gamer who feels that he and/or his friends have been wronged, and actually reinforced some of the criticisms implied by the movie. :P To some extent, I can sympathize a little bit with Richard’s frustration- some members of Twin Galaxies were not at all portrayed favorably, and *some* of that was probably due to editing and musical selection. At the same time, selective editing simply could not be responsible for many of the recorded statements and actions, and some of the implied criticism really does seem to be justified- even when looking beyond the film.

The film didn’t include everything. When Wiebe was initially robbed of his new title by Mitchell by a questionable videotaped entry acceptance by Twin Galaxies, Twin Galaxies gave the title back to Wiebe after a couple of days had passed, acknowledging that they erred in their procedure. The return of the record to Wiebe as Mitchell’s tape was being verified wasn’t in the film- only Wiebe’s utter frustration and “feeling like a total loser” as he went home from the competition (Wiebe’s words from the Q&A). On the other hand, although Walter Day was rather apologetic about the whole thing during the Q&A, the Twin Galaxies people weren’t quite so accepting of those concerns on their forums, which are a fascinating read for those of you interested in looking at past views of Steve Wiebe and current views of the documentary. ^_^ The absolute seriousness that the community portrays in the film portrays is dead on.

The film looks at that seriousness and examines obsession, self-worth, adversity, personal costs, and other subjects all in the context of the world of competitive classic arcade gaming. During Q&A, someone asked – “How many of you here could not relate to someone in this film?” No one in the sold-out audience raised their hand.

Just last week, Mitchell reclaimed the Donkey Kong title. Wiebe tried to top that after the two evening screenings at the Drafthouse, unsuccessfully- but I’m sure he’ll try again. ^_^

And rumor has it that the story is so much like a fictional narrative, well, people want to make it into a Hollywood movie. :P

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