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Documentaries

The Extasy of Order :The Tetris Masters

gamerindexI’m going to come right out and say it. I am such a sucker for all of these video game documentaries. I mean seriously, I am sucking these things up as fast as they can make them!

The Tetris Masters is an interesting film. There is a universality to Tetris – even more so then games like Pac man and Mario Bros. It seems like everybody’s played Tetris at one point to another, it’s as ubiquitous at Solitaire. I skipped the whole 8-bit age, I never owned an NES, but I still played Tetris – it was the demo game on every GameBoy display at every toy store, Department store and electronics store in Ohio. Walking over to the GameBoy display and going a couple rounds of Tetris was always a great way to kill some time by your mother shopped in other parts of the store. I got okay, I never got great. I remember sitting on the floor at my friend Mike’s house, while his brother Jeff was showing me the trick to sliding in one of those pieces at the very last moment. Yeah, Tetris is pervasive in our society.

Still, it seems like a strange subject for a film – unlike other video games, it lacks a story. There are no characters, yet there is a community of Tetris players, as engaged and devoted else there is to any other video game out there. This is really what the movie really focuses on.

Unlike the King of Kong , there is a broader focus here – half a dozen main characters are really being followed through in this story. But even more so is the looming competition. The tournament was present in King Kong, but it was the McGuffin – where as in Ecstasy of Order, the tournament is almost character itself, and most definitely a driving force as well as the background. It is always present.

What’s really interesting in the Tetris Masters, is these little break-ins that they throw out once a while, describing the technical aspects of Tetris play and illustrating them for all to see. It’s always done on a classic NES – that’s considered the definitive version of the game, and obviously you need some sort of a control for uniformity. I found it surprising that the NS was the choice, for me the gameboy always felt like the definitive version, but then again perhaps that’s just because that’s the one I always saw everywhere – admit it, it’s a port and not the sort of far more colourful game that the NES version is.

The film brings us back to the old Nintendo World Championships as well, bringing in the ultimate winner. It’s an interesting twist – because you’re familiar with this idea from films like the Wizard, but to see the actual thing… It’s an almost bizarre time capsule for me.

Ecstasy of order is one of the better docs out there and I recommend getting out to see this one. You will come away with a greater appreciation for Tetris and spent some time in that wonderful retro gaming era.


Chasing Ghosts

gamerindexWhile the King of Kong maybe the video game documentary with the most notoriety, Chasing Ghosts hosts is probably the best baseline. It covers of a variety of different gamers from the golden age of video games and kind of tries to the center itself around that the fateful day when Life magazine photographed the top gamers in the world to help illustrate lifestyle in the eighties. You probably know Billy, the Pac-Man champion from the King of Kong. He served as the villain in that film, although villain might be too strong of a term. He’s really just a bit of a jerk – with an ego the size of Texas. I don’t know much of this is a character or a persona that he just kind of put on for index2publicities sake, but it was certainly in full effect during this film. He is perhaps a bit more likeable here than in King of Kong, but the jerkiness still seeps through in every one of his interviews. We’re introduced to a number of people who  held records in the 80s, but the most important, in the most interesting is Walter Day – the man who is kind of considered the official scorekeeper and curator of the world record holders. Day is a fascinating character who will inevitably show up in any video game documentaries – He’s kind of like Stan Lee to the video game world.

It was his arcade, twin galaxies, that was considered the mecca of video games – the place for people index3came to break records.

The film is a love letter to the heyday of the Arcade, and speakes to the era all of us old retro gamers so love. It’s interesting to see where these video gaming superstars have found themselves – some have had successful careers, some have a tragic lives – there is no uniformity to it, there’s nothing in common here except for love of gaming. This is one of those documentaries that will remind you index4of those days, it will remind you of how much you used to love the arcades… But it doesn’t quite have the heart to make you fall back in love with those classic video games…(No, not this film – but we’ll get to some others down the road that do).

Chasing Ghosts is a high recommend – seriously, just go and buy this one already. If you’re a fan of documentaries, Or if you’re a fan of video games, this film is an absolute must watch and must have, documenting what has become an important part of our modern pop culture history.