Of all the video game documentaries out there, this one has probably become the most famous. It creates an underdog story of Steve Wiebe– the man who wants to prove he holds the record for the highest Donkey Kong score ever, versus Billy Mitchell – the reigning champion of Pac-Man and a contender for the very same score.
Mitchell is part of the video game establishment – one of the elites, one of the crowd. He’s been a part of that world where video game champions reign for a very long time. Wiebe on the other hand is an outsider, driven by a singular passion for Donkey Kong.
Where as in another doc – Chasing Ghosts, we saw some of the intrigue and in-fighting that happens within the world of video game champions, it’s brought into sharp focus here. Steve Wiebe is in some ways, ostracized in the community, there is a genuine desire it seems for Mitchell to clinch the championship – a desire that is juxtaposed against the skepticism of Weibe’s own skill. It’s hard to say how much of this rivalry was true and how much was the result of judicious editing – the point of a documentary is to craft a story using interviews and documented footage. In many interviews it seems to me that the rivalry is been overstated, but there is definitely a sort of exclusionary feel from what we see with Weibe. We also see how certain game champions are frowned upon and look at with suspicion All in all the filmmakers have managed to create a riveting story here and one that will absolutely take you beyond just nostalgia. It’s a film that actually makesyou fall in love with video games all over again.
While 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 publicities 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.
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 of 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.