Spudmonkey’s take on: Being the Best

Monday was one wild night.  Or, perhaps it would be equally appropriate to say that Tuesday morning was crazy.  Those who have class with me no doubt realised that I was nowhere to be found all of Tuesday, and I’m sure I don’t need to give them three guesses as to why.  It started with a trip to the cinema, where I saw the hi-larious movie, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.  It was a documentary about the world record of Donkey Kong.  As I’m sure at least some other people who saw the movie would agree, I did not even realise that it was a legitimate documentary for the mere fact that it featured characters who so vividly portrayed good vs. evil, just vs. unjust.

It probably isn’t surprising that the person I found most entertaining and intriguing in the film was the antagonist or the “bad guy,” if you will (and you probably should, because he really was despicable).  That was Billy Mitchell. Billy had held the Donkey Kong world record score since the early 80’s, and as such, had grown to become the face of the competitive video gaming world… all the while growing more cocky and arrogant.  And one of my favorite parts of the movie, was when Billy was talking about how no one remembers anyone but he who is the very best at any given thing, comparing himself to monumental figures in society whose ranks he thought he was a part of.  He was basically trying to put down Steve Wiebe because he was always a shadow to someone only marginally better than him.

I discuss this idea, because I know that later on the night of Monday I fell into the ignorant and idiotic thinking that Billy did.  Usually I’m not one for midnight launches of, well, anything.  I didn’t wait for an i-Phone, a X-box 360, a PS3, or a Wii.  I prefer to wait for a time when I can get things comfortably and without waiting.  Not so on Monday.  There was something inside me that made me have to get Halo 3 the absolute first moment that I could.  Maybe it was the ridiculous un-conclusion of Halo 2’s plot, maybe it was my former addiction to Halo multi-player resurfacing – all I know is that I waited in an hour and a half long line to buy the most hyped of game of this decade.

When I got back, I thought, I have to beat this before tomorrow – I have to know what happens before anyone else!  Somehow, I thought that I would be elevated by being the first person, locally or otherwise, to finish the fight with Masterchief.  And so I played for a marathon 7 hours, right up until my first class the next morning, in order to see the campaign through to its end.  I was Billy Mitchell, bullheadedly doing something stupid and insane, in order to achieve something I thought I needed.  Only my game took quite a bit longer than even the longest possible Donkey Kong game and, when taken in one chunk, causes serious sleep deprivation.  I was so tired on Tuesday that by the time I got back to my dorm room after Calculus, and started reading the material for my later class, I passed out and slept until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Billy may have been a bit more mischievous and underhanded… but I was no less moronic and had my values no closer to being in the right places.  Being the best or the fastest at something so trivial is just plain absurd.

I think that this might all tie back into the old adage about the tortoise and the hare.  Steve Wiebe, the tortoise, moved slowly and kept his head up even when Billy, the cocky hare, was miles ahead, playing video games and getting girls while he was back trying to… oh, who am I kidding?  I’m going to go back and play Halo 3.


Silly Billy


Whether you are a fan of Billy Mitchell or Steve Wiebe, you can’t doubt Billy’s mischievousness, cockiness, and overall lack of integrity.  Everything he does and everything he says is simply despicable.  If I was running Twin Galaxies, I would not want him to be involved with my corporation, let alone be the face of it.  But despite all this, Billy was named one of the top 10 most influential gamers of all time by MTV last year, not because he was the most skilled gamer of his time, but because of his Machiavellian personality.  He knows how to play the game of gaming, if you know what I mean.  As an ardent Wiebe fan, I have to admit that Steve was the protagonist of the movie “King of Kong” but Billy was definitely the star of it.


I know many Billy supporters are going to argue that I only believe negative things of him because the movie producers chose to portray him that way.  But how do you explain all those quotes and footage of Billy, himself?  Regardless of how the producers wanted to portray Billy, let these pieces of evidence speak for themselves.  No producer has the influence to manipulate what Billy says or does; only Billy has.  Therefore, the power the movie makers have to control the light in which we view Billy is not as significant as most are led to believe.

Here are the stone cold facts the way I see them.  Billy is an egocentric idiot and, at times, a coward, as shown by his attempts to avoid meeting Steve Wiebe face-to-face whenever he could. Everything he does is for his own benefit in the long run.  You don’t think he gave the old lady that arcade for free out of the kindness of his heart, do you?  Billy also thinks that being a gaming star is the equivalent of being a rock star, so he grows his hair past shoulder length and buys his wife a pair of balloons for her birthday.  He controls Minions all over the world of Twin Galaxies and it seems that even Walter, the founder, is cast under his evil spell.

Wiebe, on the other hand, is a Donkey Kong hero who journeyed off onto his own gaming quest and succeeded.  He has great manners and treats everyone who he comes into contact with respect.  He shattered the Donkey Kong world record while his kid was screaming a distraction and he reached the first kill screen in public at Funspot while literally dozens of people watched over his shoulder (which I think we can all agree is unbelievably annoying).  Although Billy is back atop with the Donkey Kong world record, I know that a champion like Steve Wiebe is not going to let a villain like Mitchell have the last word.  And when I say villain, I make reference to Billy, as he is quoted saying, “I don’t have a problem with being a villain.” Well, we do Billy, we do.


Steve Wiebe: Classic Underdog Story

One would assume that a documentary based on video games would be very limited, both in substance and possible audience. However, King Kong: Fistful of Quarters, manages to be a witty and clever comedy that also encompasses the classic drama of a battle between good and evil, making it a likeable film for all ages. Its story is centered on the classic arcade game Donkey Kong and the competitors who vie for the title of the game’s best player.

The main characters of the documentary are Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, near-perfect caricatures of the notions of being good and being evil, respectively. Billy Mitchell, the “bad guy”, has been the record holder of Donkey Kong since 1982. Steve Wiebe, a family man from Washington, is the challenger that no one has heard of before. A classic struggle between David and Goliath is born, only this time the arena is that of an arcade machine. At first glance, the idea of two adult men on a quest to capture the world record of Donkey Kong seems like an absolutely absurd and pathetic plot. Even Steve’s daughter puts the story in its place: “The Guinness Book. Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.” But director Seth Gordon does a tremendous job of introducing the viewer to the competitive video gaming sub-culture and making the story meaningful.

He also uses the character Steve as someone who people can relate to and someone that everyone wants to see succeed. In the end, in fact, it’s not important what Steve is fighting to achieve, but the way he goes about it and the challenges he must overcome along the way. The movie’s plot is really unimportant as the story’s essence is its characters.  Steve is on a quest to dethrone the “evil” Billy Mitchell from his placed atop the Twin Galaxies leaderboards. Along the way, Steve trains and prepares for the competition, akin to the way Rocky Balboa does in the Rocky series. Yet time and time again, Steve is cheated out of victory and forced to continue his quest. By the end, Steve has gone through so many trials and failures that you literally need to see him finally win, regardless of whether the highscore of Donkey Kong has any meaning to you.

The Grind

Grind: A word used in any MMO representing the repetitive actions taken in order to make the character stronger. The grind is also a substitute for normal life functions. Sleeping, eating, drinking and being social are not important, when it comes to grinding.


The word Grind can be used in a variety of ways; dictionary.com even has 19 separate definitions for the word grind. In gaming and daily life this word has just as many uses. One could say, “I am so tired of the daily Grind” or “I’m going to grind some mobs today” or “that kid has an axe to grind.” As it is defined above, “to grind” in MMORPGs means to do any repetitive action that helps your character. The most common grind in the World of Warcraft is that of grinding for experience. In certain cases straight up grinding with a well geared character can net a higher experience per hour ratio than questing, especially when one has a level and a half of rested experience (the character receives twice as much experience from killing a mob as they normally would). In these cases grinding can be an effective way to level a character.

But the grind is NOT fun, although games in essence are repetitive because of the finite rules and variables within the game, the cyclic and hours long sessions of pressing ctrl+1, 4, 1, and shift+4 become quite obnoxious. Because I have chosen to grind, instead of enjoying the game as I should with questing, I have turned the game into a job, into the simplistic goal of reaching the next bar or level rather than seeing the whole picture, that of reaching level 70.

One perk that I have noticed about LOTRO is that the grind is NOT an effective way to level a character. Although rested experience is gained pretty quickly, without even having to log in an inn, killing mobs is not an efficient way of gaining experience. The game designers have ingeniously taken the emphasis off mindlessly killing mobs and putting emphasis on doing quests. Since questing is the most efficient way to level, the game designers have essentially forced the gamer to pay attention to what he is doing. It is quite hard to do a quest without reading it or having an understanding of your general area, and so much more importance is placed on the storylines and geography of each zone. In WoW, a player can easily grind 10 levels and spend all of their time in just 3 or 4 small areas with quickly spawning mobs and never do a quest. This is essence takes away from the game experience and replaces the fun elements of role playing games with a repetitive task that although sometimes efficient, is not fulfilling.

The grind can also be used in reference to the daily tasks that a person has to do to just exist. It is not uncommon to hear someone complain about “the daily grind” and they are referring to the seemingly useless tasks that we do everyday such as school, doing chores, shopping, etc. In reference to the myth of Sisyphus, the week is the stone and as the week progresses we push the stone up the hill. The weekend is when we get to take a break, but that is when the rock rolls back down the hill and we have to start all over again at the beginning of the next week. This becomes an endless cycle that can be viewed as hell on earth. As each year passes, another begins and the rock just rolls back down the mountain. Not only does the game become a grind, but life itself does. But this is a purely pessimistic view of the world and is not a true representation of all that life offers. Although life may be a grind, it is an interesting one.


Wii Love Balance

For some reason, remediation hit me as a far more interesting blog topic than an epic battle between the titans of Donkey Kong. Remediation, this idea that we want to eliminate all interface in media in the name of immediacy, while at same time improve and play with the interface itself as almost an art form in the name of hypermediacy, sounded to me like a load of garbage that a guy (or I guess in this case two guys) just decided they would write a hundred or so pages about. At least, that’s what I thought when I read the first paragraph about remediation. Then I read two more. Then I spaced out and thought about…I don’t even know, and then I glanced down at the paper, and then I thought about it.

And then I realized it made a lot of sense.

And then I realized almost nothing portrayed the “double logic” of remediation better than the Wii, XBox 360, and Play Station 3.

Now maybe one could say that I got a little carried away with periodic sentences just then, but let’s keep focused on the consoles. Each system portrays this paradox by focusing certain aspects of itself in one direction and others in the entirely opposite direction. Let’s start with immediacy. The XBox and the PS3 have upgraded the realm of graphics rendering to a never-before seen level, at least in the public sphere. They are the newest additions in the long road beginning with atari, the system famous for simple arcade games such as pac-man and frogger, 2-dimensional games with a distinct lack of color, texture, and resolution, at least by today’s standards.

Now today’s standards, set by the Xbox and PS3, is the amazing textures and graphics of games such as Fifa and Resident Evil 5, where the people and buildings rendered in the game look almost like the real thing. Sure, faces and crowds in the stands and other finite details look a little off, but if you give the screen nothing but a cursory look, it’s pretty hard to tell. Now for the Wii: the Wii decided to go for a different route and revolutionize the way players interface with the game by changing the controller. Separate accelerometers within the Wiimote and its smaller connecting cousin the nunchuck allow for players to feel like they’re boxing, or throwing a bowling ball, or (in the case of metroid prime 3) aiming a gun, pulling a trigger, and pulling out, twisting, and reinserting memory matrices. Just as the 360 and PS3 allow for players to feel the immediacy in a visual sense, the Wii allows a player to feel the immediacy in a tactile sense.

So, if these systems are striving so much to attain the affect of immediacy, how do they complete the paradox of remediation? The truth is that the Xbox and PS3 achieve hypermediacy in just the way that the Wii achieves immediacy, and visa versa. The PS3 and Xbox have maintained almost the same controllers as their previous versions. While the graphics are very real, buttons and thumb-controlled joysticks still control everything. To throw the football, you press a button, hardly a real experience. Now with the Wii, while it does have the interesting tactile interface, it still has it’s cartoony fantasy characters. Monkeys with ties, and plumbers with ridiculous mustaches have worked for Nintendo for a long time, and they do provide reoccurring characters that fans have become attached to, but they aren’t very realistic. On top of this, Nintendo has concentrated more on the Wii’s controller interface than upgrading the computing power of it’s graphics rendering capabilities. That is, even on games such as sports games where there is no unrealistic concept to take away from the reality of the game, the Wii does not look nearly as realistic as the Xbox 360 or PS3.

But here’s the kicker: I don’t think that Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo really made an error in judgment. I think they are perfectly fine with how their systems turned out. And that is because, when it comes to media, we want to have our cake and eat it too. The immediacy adds a nice touch that we enjoy, but at the same time we like to play around with completely artificial interfaces such as the controller or monkeys with ties. There is something intriguing about learning and mastering a human creation rather than just doing things intuitively, but at the same time we do love realism to a certain extent. Maybe the console companies realized this facet of human existence, or perhaps they just lucked out, but either way, they have created a line of systems that epitomizes the paradox of remediation.

-PChis (Melocotones)

P.S.  The reason the character name has changed is because I have given up my burglar for a minstrel.

Billy vs Steve: The Real Winner


Let me start off by saying that I really enjoyed the movie and it was a pleasant diversion from the numerous books that I normally don’t understand (for the most part). I thought the movie was actually pretty funny, especially for being a true story, though I think the directors could have done a lot more with it to spice it up a bit. Of course many will argue that the movie just followed the stereotypical rivalry formula (from popular movies such as Rocky) and it wasn’t that interesting, but I enjoyed it.

One question I would like to raise though is who was the real winner in this movie and afterwards? On one hand, we have Billy Mitchell: videogame legend who has his name in more videogame high score books than anyone around. Although he ended up being defeated, he still has second place in Donkey Kong, first place in a couple other games, and is on the record for numerous other games. Plus, at the end of the day who’s more recognizable as a household name: Billy Mitchell or Steve “no-name” Wiebe? I think the answer is clear especially since Billy has a smokin’ hot suga momma. In the aftermath of  the movie, Steve didn’t even have his Donkey Kong title as Billy Mitchell wrenched it from his hands by only a couple thousand points.

The director clearly had other ideas for this movie, as Billy Mitchell was portrayed in a negative light. Throughout the movie, Billy was captured in his worst (or best depending on how you look at it) moments. Quotes such as “Whatever I say is going to be controversial, kind of like the abortion issue” come to mind. After a movie like that, who could like Billy Mitchell? Especially in America where many movies are based on the classic “come from behind victory” theme.

However, that’s not to say Steve Wiebe was a bad guy. In fact, he was a nice guy with a family and kids. Steve fulfilled the role of the average joe who had the courage to challenge one of the biggest names in competitive videogaming. And to top it all off, in the end he won! Through sweat, tears, and wiping his kids’ bottoms Steve Wiebe prevailed and was immortalized in videogaming history. Before Steve’s record, no one was within hundreds of thousands of points of Billy Mitchell, but now someone actually chumpitized him. This is no small feat for anyone, but to see it be done by an average person really helps people relate. This is one of the main reasons people tended to side with Steve over Billy.

Who is the real winner in the competition? Well I can’t make that call because it really depends on how you look at it. Steve Wiebe is a nice guy with a family, who played his heart out, and still holds the second place record for Donkey Kong. Billy Mitchell on the other hand, holds more competitive videogaming records than anyone in history (and still has his smokin’ hott suga momma). So whether you’re looking for a deep movie about an intense rivalry, or just so cheap laughs, I’d recommend King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

Billy Mitchell is Coming to Vanderbilt?

As we touched on in class, point of view is a crucial element of any story, fictional or not. It has the ability to shape the audience’s emotions and understanding of events. In all forms of media, the audience gets most of their information second hand; they are never in a book or in a TV news show to witness events in person. Therefore, all of the information they receive has always been skewed, even when it has been related by the most faithful of narrators.

The director of King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was hardly the most reliable and unbiased narrator. The film portrayed Billy Mitchell in an unfair, clearly biased light, so that the director could set up an obvious adversary for Steve Wiebe to beat. Mitchell was portrayed as stupid, immature, arrogant, and sneaky. From what we saw in the movie, he never received Steve Wiebe’s calls, and would never meet him face to face until the final showdown for the Guinness Book of World Records. They filmed him saying stupid things, such as, “Everything I say sparks controversy, just like the abortion issue.” They also hint that his submitted Donkey Kong high score tape was doctored, and the referees looked the other way when reviewing and verifying it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Moore and the director of King of Kong were good friends, because their one-sided approach to portraying the opposition is remarkably similar. What the audience has to remember in order to judge the situation as accurately as possible is that there is always more than one way to view a situation, even if it is not presented that way.

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that Billy Mitchell couldn’t be as bad as they portrayed him. He appeared to be well-liked among his community, was shown giving an old lady a QBert arcade game, and was apparently likable enough to run his own hot sauce company. I watched a video clip of Billy Mitchell being interviewed on the X-Show, in February of 2000, and he wasn’t at all as ridiculous as King of Kong made him seem.

I can’t help relating this to the highly controversial visit that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently paid to Columbia University. Although his speech has been dismissed by both sides as a failed attempt to ease U.S.-Iran tensions, it was still one of those rare opportunities when people could hear what the man had to say from his own perspective, without any biases of the media. The audience at Columbia had a unique insight into the Iranian conflict, as they got to see the issue from both the American point of view and Ahmadinejad’s own, although extreme, point of view. I’m not saying that Ahmadinejad has been represented poorly in the past by the media, as I suspect Billy Mitchell has been in King of Kong. I am also not calling Billy Mitchell a dictator, or passing any judgments on Ahmadinejad. I simply believe that further attempts to experience opposing points of view across conflicts could have many benefits. In fact, Ahmadinejad invited President Bush to speak at a University in Iran. Maybe Vanderbilt should host Billy Mitchell so that he can share his side of the story with us.