Category Archives: Video games

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

The real star: Walter Day of TwinGalaxies. Taken at MagFest VII in January 2009 by Chris Duglosz. Click image for his Flickr page.

Last week I watched King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters after a friend recommended it. I was told it was a documentary about guys competing against each other for the world record score on the arcade classic Donkey Kong. That’s true, but I will say that description was hardly the most appealing and I wasn’t really expecting anything genuinely interesting. This opinion had changed hugely within the first 10 minutes of watching the film.

The subject matter of dank, dark arcades, sweaty middle-aged men and constantly irritating beeps might put off non-gamers, but you definitely don’t need to have an interest in the gaming world to enjoy King of  Kong – it’s a massively entertaining documentary in its own right. The film uses gaming culture as the backdrop that binds the film together and tells a story and once you meet the people in the documentary you realise that it’s all about them and their lives and not gaming. Billy Mitchell (think Damon Hill with longer hair and an infinite collection of shit ties) holds the world record high score for Donkey Kong at the beginning of the film and is, well, a proper twat. Steve Wiebe is the man challenging the world record score, a very likeable bloke who is excellent at nearly everything he turns his hand to but has “come up short at a lot of things in life” according to his wife, letting the world sneakily know that Steve might have erectile dysfunction. He’s the guy you want to knock Mitchell off the top spot. Actually, I wanted anyone to knock Mitchell off the top spot. His words, his bullish and cocky attitude, his dress sense and his cowardice make him as much of a villain as any bad guy in a film. He even LOOKS like the villain of the piece thanks to a face that is completely incapable of relaying a single emotion. Wiebe might be the man everyone is rooting for throughout the film, but he isn’t the true star of King of Kong: Walter Day is.

If you’ve seen Old School you’ll probably laugh the first time you see Walter Day. He is Blue. An aging man wearing a referee’s shirt  who has devoted his life to building a community-based organisation that is the definitive source of world record video game and pinball scores. He’s passionate, friendly and committed, and by the end of the film I found myself wishing Walter was my uncle. Walter and the staff of Twin Galaxies spend day after day watching videos mailed to them by prospective world record champions to make sure the record is genuine and there is no foul play.  Stacks and stacks of videos sit in a pile in one corner of the office as head Twin Galaxies referee Robert Mruczek (Dwight Schrute, anyone?) comments about the next videos he’ll need to watch and verify: 48 hours worth of game footage submitted by one person. Billy Mitchell says that no one at the organisation gets paid for their work and Mruczek counters this by saying that he gets to watch world records being set every day, which not many people can boast about. He’s right, though I’m not sure how many passionate gamers would gladly devote their life to watching hours of recorded game footage to check for cheating.

It’s difficult to talk about King of Kong properly without spoiling it and I don’t want to give away anything because the documentary goes through more than a few twists and turns during it’s  83 minute duration and all of them make the film more gripping as they happen. There’s frustration, sadness, joy, anger and much more as grown men, who’ve arguably dedicated their life to achieving a high score, battle with each other to become the champion.

Regardless of whether you have an interest in video games, King of Kong is very much worth watching.  It uses the subject matter of classic video games as a canvas for a much more fascinating focus: the length that some people will go to to be the best in the world at something.  After the film has finished and you know who the world record holder is, you still can’t help wondering about what it has cost them.




Commitment issues

When I don't finish games I get angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I love video games for many different reasons. They’re social, they’re an art form (Ebert, this is one more person that disagrees with you) and most of all, they’re a distraction. I remember when I was 8-years-old, playing Tetris on my Game Boy (you know, those things you slot your debit card into to pay for your meal at a restaurant) under the duvet of my bed with that quality light/magnifying glass attachment that meant you could play while your folks just thought you were sleeping. I remember popping 19 AA batteries into my Game Gear a few years later to power the chunky handheld for around 13 minutes as I was sword-molested by a skeleton in the original Prince of Persia. I have lots and lots of fond gaming memories, but I also have something that plagues my thumb-twiddling fun and haunts me as I jump from console to console: I rarely complete the games I buy.

I probably don’t finish 70% of the games I purchase, which is a pretty shit statistic when you think about it. When I say ‘complete’ I mean just getting to the end of the single player campaign, I don’t mean netting all the achievement points and unlocking everything there is because I don’t think many gamers manage that these days. So, why do I not finish the games I buy? Well, I think I’ve found a few reasons. Sorry, excuses.

Excuse #1: There are too many good games and too little time to play them.

I work full time, I go to the gym, I spend an hour cooking some fancy-dan bastard pasta dish because I’m scared the narrator of Come Dine with Me will mock me for eating something very simple. By the time I sit down on a weeknight to play a game, and this is presuming the missus doesn’t want to watch something on the TV or we have a new Love Film disc, it’s probably 9pm.  This means I have less hours to play and by the time I’ve got myself in the middle of one game I’ve had it for ages and another game I like the look of has been released.

Excuse #2: I buy games I probably won’t like because I want to like them.

Another excuse is that I often buy games that get great review scores, regardless of the genre and whether I actually have a history of liking those kind of games. I don’t like games that feature fairies and potions and Japanese teens with over-sized pets, but I’ll read a glowing review of a game and end up buying it because it will be the one that I think will convert me. I don’t like to trade games in so I just leave it on the shelf and tell myself I’ll try it again soon. This, I realise, makes me sound like some flash twat who walks around buying whatever he likes because he can. Trust me, I  don’t have the cash to be buying games foolishly. Unfortunately the internet is (kind of) free and the people writing the good reviews can still reach me. I wish they’d leave me alone.

Excuse #3: I get hooked on one game and don’t bother playing anything else

I’m very guilty of this one. When I get my paws into a game I love for its multiplayer I can play it for a very long time and ignore anything else because I’m a habitual creature. When Halo 3 came out I played it for a solid 2 years online, pretty much every other night. That was replaced with Modern Warfare 2 a few months ago, which I’m doing the same thing with now. I have a couple of mates who influence my gaming habits and these mates just so happen to be into the same games and we end up playing them together online a hell of a lot. I’m honing my talents in one game and disowning everything else. The simple solution here would be move cities, not tell anyone my new contact details, board my windows up, never leave the house and effectively rid myself of any and all social contact with my mates. Or just stop paying for Xbox Live.

So those are my excuses for not completing the majority of games I buy. Maybe I’ll revisit a lot of these games and sort that though (I’m just saying this to make myself feel better and probably won’t do that at all.)

Am I the only person to not finish games? Anyone else that would care to ‘fess up and lead some of the pointing fingers away from my guilt-ridden hands?