February 23rd, 2019

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters ***1/2


“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I play video games; which I think is a far superior addiction to all those other ones.”


-Random Video Game Nerd from “The King of Kong”


Sorry, Random Video Game Nerd from “The King of Kong,” I think you might be mistaken.


I am not recommending that you take up smoking, drinking or drug use. I am arguing, however, that becoming a serious gamer is a dreadful, destructive vice.


At least if you become a party animal, you are going to go out all the time and meet new people. That’s a big deal.


There is a tendency for some young people – especially young men – to become socially awkward wallflowers if they don’t get into the habit of going out and socializing. Being content to stay home and play video games every night is the first step down the dark road of virginal loneliness.


I am not arguing that becoming a junkie isn’t bad for you. But I’ve seen a guy who became a World of Warcraft junkie, and I am certain that gaming robbed him of his health. Night after night of inactivity, pizza delivery, and Mountain Dew transformed a healthy dude into a doughy mess.


“The King of Kong” is the best movie about gaming ever made. It shows how addictive and captivating video games can be.


The story begins back in 1982, when the world of competitive gaming was in its infancy. A teenager named Billy Mitchell was the undisputed king of the arcade. He held the all-time high score on a number of different games.


Fast forward to the present. Billy Mitchell is a 40-something guy with an over-sized ego. Apparently so many people called him The King that he started to believe it.


Mitchell has a flamboyant mullet, an impeccably groomed beard, and a worshipful trophy wife who shows way too much of her surgically enhanced cleavage during interviews.


What he no longer has are his records. The only high score he has left is Donkey Kong, and he will stop at nothing to hold onto it.


Out of nowhere (Redmond, Washington) comes Steve Wiebe. He is not what you picture when you envision a master gamer. He is kind of a jock. And he’s a normal family man with a lovely wife and two kids.


But when Steve was laid off from his job at Boeing, he decided to focus all his attention on the old Donkey Kong machine in his garage. One magical day, Steve managed to beat Billy Mitchell’s decades-old high score. He even captured it on video tape.


But not so fast, Steve! Billy Mitchell wasn’t going to give up his title without a fight. For what is he without that Donkey Kong record? Nothing but a has-been with a hoochie wife and hilarious hair.


This sets the stage for a surprisingly gripping documentary. It works as a classic good vs. evil story. And it works as an exploration of a vain, ego-driven man who is desperate to maintain his facade of greatness.


First, Billy finds a way to tarnish the validity of Steve’s video tape. Then, he sends in a dubiously edited video tape of his own with a new high score. Billy’s shenanigans are shameless, desperate, and hysterical.


If you are not a gamer, folks, I strongly recommend that you do not pick up the habit. I do, however, strongly recommend this wonderful little movie about video games.

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