The King of Kong

"Very Good"

The King of Kong Review


Video games, especially the old ones, are machines that challenge pattern recognition and memory. As a sport, there isn't enough movement or prowess for video gaming to be marketed correctly, let alone be widely accepted. There's also the matter of the players being, by-and-large, our worst nightmare: geeks. That's right, I said our worst nightmare. We know that we're just like them, just a bit more covert about our obsessions. Geeks and nerds may know the name of every breed of alien on Star Trek, but then 85 percent of Yankees fans could tell you the ERA of every pitcher to grace the mound since they were born.

The documentary The King of Kong saunters into the theater with this information already pre-packed in its microchips, and that's what makes it such a fascinating film. The grand poobah of the gaming elite is a dark-haired devil named Billy Mitchell, who has owned the top scores for Pac-Man and Donkey Kong since Walter Day, founder of gaming scorekeepers Twin Galaxies, began tabulating in the early 1980s. Mitchell owns the identity of the athlete in the gaming pantheon. In almost every sense, Billy is every gamer's fantasy: a celebrity based solely on his video game talents. He also markets and sells his own brand of hot sauce, Rickey's.

A nemesis arrives in the guise of Steve Wiebe, a straight-laced family man from Washington. Wiebe, a casualty of a mass firing at Boeing, found distraction and relief in a vintage Donkey Kong arcade game and quickly garnered a professional habit for it. When Wiebe claimed he had trumped Mitchell's score, it was deemed unconvincing for an assortment of reasons, including internal squabbling over a Missile Command score that led to bad blood between Mitchell and a gamer known as Mister Awesome. What follows is an ideological thrust-and-parry between Wiebe and Mitchell that (perhaps unfairly) paints Mitchell as a manipulator in the Twin Galaxies society and Wiebe as a jaded talent.

Part of the intrigue of a film like Kong comes from a distanced holiness; a distracted disbelief that someone would devote so much time to something as (subjectively) inconsequential as Centipede, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man or a few hundred other pixilated playthings. Wiebe didn't start out as a gamer and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't see it as his only claim to fame (he is a father, after all). This gives Wiebe a perceived air of alienation from someone like Billy, who is also a father, husband, and entrepreneur, but is shown as much more interested in his visage of a "never surrender" winner. His drones follow suit.

In the same vein as Michael Moore's SiCKO, Mitchell's appearance in the film seems to be an act of omission rather than straight-up demonizing. Mitchell, for all intents and purposes, is probably a great father and a faithful husband but he also seems to be a bit of a coward in a realm where he's supposedly a warrior. The film points this out ad nauseum but not without due cause, as Mitchell pontificates on the importance of "proving one's self when it counts." A big mouth and inflated ego? He sure sounds like a professional-sports athlete.

Donkey garage.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Ed Cunningham

Starring: Merian C. Cooper as Self, as Narrator

Also starring:

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