Saturday, 21 January 2012

Review: The King of Kong

Having previously seen Chasing Ghosts, a documentary about a group of gamers who have broken video game records, I finally got to check out The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters today. I thank my month's trial of Netflix on my Xbox 360 for that one. Anyway, on to the review.
Seth Gordon's documentary The King of Kong follows Steve Wiebe, a family man who becomes addicted to the idea of breaking the world record for the arcade classic, Donkey Kong. Billy Mitchell has held the world record for over 20 years, and the film covers Steve's attempts to make it to number one. The idea of watching others play video games may seem boring for some, but The King of Kong manages to convey the competitive side of it, rather interestingly too

Not only does The King of Kong follow the exploits of Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, arguably the two best Donkey Kong players in America, but it also focuses on the Twin Galaxies organisation and those associated with it. For those unaware, the film quickly establishes that Twin Galaxies is the organisation that serves as the official referee and scorekeeper in the gaming world.

The film touches on how this seemingly innocent passion for gaming can quickly turn into an unhealthy obsession, which the two main competitors, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, both suffer from (Mitchell on a much larger scale than Wiebe).
The film begins with the introduction of Steve Wiebe. Judging from brief facts about his past, Wiebe is a rather talented man who cannot handle his failure to succeed within his own personal ambitions. Finding himself unemployed suddenly, Wiebe is left with a great deal of free time, which he spent earning his Donkey Kong record from his garage. 

Mitchell, being the egotistical man that he is painted to be, of course isn't happy that he's been replaced as the Donkey Kong poster boy after more than two decades, so a bit of controversy ensues over Wiebe's home-set record, and Wiebe is then challenged to embark on a 3,000 mile journey to re-claim his title on a public machine. 

Whether the claims that Mitchell's part in this documentary has been heavily edited or not is not that important. What we do gather from watching The King of Kong, if you are inclined to believe this depiction (which, gathered from Chasing Ghosts, I am) is that Mitchell is not only a egotistical, overly competitive and snide man, but he's also a bit of a coward. It is rather frustrating seeing Mitchell refuse a live Donkey Kong showdown against Wiebe every time, until eventually, we end the film on the realisation that such a showdown will never materialise. Mitchell shows his cowardice by contradicting his claim that records can only be genuinely accepted "live" in a public setting by failing to show up to Funspot, and submitting a dodgy copy of his score set at home. After slating Wiebe for setting a record at home, then going ahead and doing this himself, it just seems a little hard to actually like this man.
Perhaps just as odious as Mitchell is his right hand man, and phone-spy, the weedy Brian Kuh, who rather blatantly shows his dislike of Steve Wiebe and his record breaking ambition in a pathetic, "sore loser" fashion. 

Not only does the film show the frustrating but fascinating look at the competitive American wannabe gaming record breakers, but it also fraught with some moments of high-strung tension. The prime example of this would be the moment when Wiebe and Mitchell finally meet, after Mitchell finally makes an appearance at Funspot (and no, he doesn't play whilst he's there either). It's an awkward moment where Mitchell refuses to acknowledge that Wiebe is even there, but tries to distract him from his session. The scene is brief, ending with Mitchell sneaking away without uttering even a simple "hello" to his rival.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is an insightful and engrossing look into the competitive world of gaming. Seth Gordon has successfully portrayed Wiebe as a down-on-his luck family man who you cannot help but root for right until the ending. On the opposite end, Gordon has presented us with Mitchell, who, you guessed it, we can't help but dislike. It's a great battle between good and bad, which will hold the attention of even those who do not dabble in video gaming. In short, it's an underdog story, and a damn good one at that. 

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to read a gamer's take on this. When I watched it the first time I watched it alone and didn't laugh at all. When I showed it to people later they thought it was funny. It's something most reviews I read commented. "Uproariously funny," some said. I think you and I looked at it a little more seriously.

    I wonder if this speaks to a general public opinion of gaming. Is gaming culture breaking into the mainstream? Yes. Has the larger public opinion about gaming changed? I don't know about that.


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