Billy Mitchell and Dolores Umbridge.

Once every so often a person or literary person will come along that absolutely gets under your skin. They have the ability to make the reader/watcher absurdly angry, without meeting the observer, or possibly being real! I believe these previous statements apply to both Billy Mitchell and Dolores Umbridge in my experience. While watching King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, there where probably ten to fifteen times when I just wanted to punch Billy Mitchell. Understand I’m not an angry person normally, but the amount of pure disrespect and pride that was radiating from Billy’s attitude made me want to rage. I don’t believe I’ve ever met or observed a more arrogant person. However,I’m not sure what provoked me more, Billy’s complete lack of humility, or when most everyone in the movie tries extremely hard just to suck up to him. Fortunately, Billy’s personality was somewhat equaled out by Steve Wiebe.

Speaking of Steve Wiebe, my feelings toward him changed throughout the movie. I believe it went something like this (bear with me):

“Oh cool, a guy who is looking for a hobby since in he got laid off.”

“There’s no way he’s taking it this seriously.”

“WHAT? THEY DIDN’T TAKE HIS SCORE?”

“Ok, he’s ruining his family.”

“I hate Billy Mitchel so much I’m going to root for Steve Wiebe, if only to see Billy get taken down.”

I believe my like of Steve is proportionately inverse to my amicability towards Billy. However, after finishing the movie and letting my emotions settle down, I feel almost depressed for Steve Wiebe. I really think he could have been happier if he would have just let go of the Donkey Kong ambition and spent more time with his kids. Steve illustrates perfectly that success requires sacrifice. In this case he lost time with his children and wife. Hopefully after getting the high score he settled down and reordered his priorities.

I suppose one of the main things I’ve learned from this movie is never let gaming  grow to be so important that I disregard my family and friends. Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe really did give us a perfect difference between gaming and playing video games.

An Ugly Competition

Usually in documentaries, you don’t see a true definitive “good” or “bad” guy; however, in The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters, the two main subjects are clearly defined, clashing in a battle of good and evil. The good is embodied by Steve Wiebe, the perpetually down-on-his-luck family man who just needs the world record score on Donkey Kong. The evil is none other than Billy Mitchell, a self-promoting, narcissistic, apparent hypocrite who has held the record for 20+ years. Rather than an epic war between these two rivals, or even a battle, we are presented with Steve Wiebe playing Donkey Kong, while Billy Mitchell stands back and talk to his minions, who are interspersed in the main game score company? Honestly I wouldn’t even know what to call Twin Galaxies, the self-proclaimed “main scoreboard” for all of video games; the supposed pure intentioned organization that basically ruins the movie by exposing the cultish bureaucracy behind “official” video game scores. Instead of what would seem to be the easy task of putting two men in front of an arcade machine and saying “play”, the entirety of this 90 minute movie is a struggle to get the two men to play each other.

Unfortunately for our hero Steve Wiebe, his nemesis Billy “Helen of Troy” Mitchell dodges every attempt at an actual competition, and in this, really exposes how weird and exclusive hardcore gamers can and will be. Even after supposedly winning the heart and respect of the rather creepy “Master Referee” Walter Day, Wiebe can’t catch a break on anything when it comes to competitive gaming (just like the rest of his life, apparently. We are treated to a rather large slew of Steve Wiebe’s life problems throughout this film, making it almost impossible not to root for him). The cryptic, cult-like behavior of the rest of the 30something professional gamers stops Wiebe at every turn, whether it be breaking into his garage to take apart his arcade machine or disqualifying his video taped world record Donkey Kong run.

Evenetually the movie does end unceremoniously with Steve Wiebe “officially” breaking Mitchell’s record, but it almost seems an afterthought, considering after this entire movie, I really just didn’t care that much anymore. After witnessing odd and weird injustices to poor Wiebe occur throughout the entire movie, including the intentional mispronouncing of his name by the old and creepily immature super nerds that run the classic gaming community, I just wanted out of this particular subculture. It’s not something for normal people, and personally it makes me glad to stick to my Xbox and not feel like wandering into the realm of classic arcade games.

-Spencer Smith

Competing with Kong

Competitive gaming remains a niche market. Tournaments held for games now have prize pools of millions of dollars, but this is nothing compared to the stakes of athletic competitions where professional players make millions yearly regardless of whether their team wins. This is the result of a huge number of factors, but several very important ones are illuminated in King of Kong.

The competitors in King of Kong are not the most charismatic: compare them to an athlete and anyone could tell which is which. This is a small part of the problem: society at large pays athletes so well partially because the athletes are admired. It is much easier to admire an athletic and charismatic athlete than a socially awkward gamer whose athletic skill lay largely in his (her?) fingers.

Another noteworthy obstacle to competitive gaming that exists in King of Kong but is not focused on is variety. There are so many games (even 20+ year old arcade games!) that interest in gaming is far too divided for gamers skilled in only a couple games to make any serious money. There are many high-paying competitive sports: maybe 10 that make a lot of money. In King of Kong a tournament held at Funspot has competitors playing in over thirty games. It would take an impossible number of competitors to fund professional gamers (people who play games for a living) for all these games, and nowadays there are far more games in which to compete.

A final problem is time. This problem will obviously solve itself, but in King of Kong it is obvious that more time was needed for a true competitive environment. Needing to show up in person to compete, for example, is a problem that has now been mainly solved: final rounds are still often done in LAN settings, but at least qualifiers can be done through the internet. Cheating  through hacked gameboards is long gone: games are too complex now for that, and cheats are usually incredibly obvious.

Finally there’s the problem of making the games interesting to watch. Donkey Kong is clearly a competitive game, and the intensity with which it was played was interesting to watch in King of Kong, but only a select group of people could sustain interest in watching every second of every playthrough in the movie: it would be grueling. Games need to be appealing even to those not especially familiar to the game itself, just as anyone can watch and be amused by a game of soccer.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the day is not far away when professional gamers will garner as much attention and money as athletes. It will just take time and a shift of the industry, with lessons taken from sports and even, perhaps (but unlikely), from King of Kong.

~HungryRug

What King of Kong Taught Me

In King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the gamers devote their entire lives to the games they love. They spend long hours at the arcades and in their homes, constantly trying to achieve higher and higher scores. From this documentary, I learned about a whole new perspective about competitive gaming that I had never experienced before. By this I mean I gained a whole new appreciation for the world of competitive gaming and those who participate in it. Although I would not devote my life in this manner, I now don’t view this world as had previously seen it.

The world of competitive gaming is very similar to the world of competitive sports, even though they appear to be very different. For instance, in both worlds, the participants train long hours, memorize complex patterns, and must master certain skills in order to be successful. The difference simply lies in which skills and traits must be exercised in order to succeed. In sports these traits typically include strength, agility, and other athletic attributes. On the other hand, in gaming, these traits include hand-eye coordination, pattern recognition, speed of thought, and other attributes. None of the traits, whether in gaming or in sports, are easily obtainable, and they can only be attained through hard work and practice. Even though because sports are typically more popular and better thought of than games, this fact should not undermine a game’s intrinsic worth or the accomplishments of gamers.

Furthermore, after viewing the movie, I now understand the true competitiveness in the gaming world. The gamers devote much of their lives to these games, thereby linking them emotionally to the outcomes of their games. This devotion leads to the competitive spirit between the gamers as they have spent so much time and effort in order to succeed in their respective games. Herein lies another connection to the world of sports, a world with which I am much more familiar. In both worlds, the competitive spirit drives the participants to new heights and previously unachievable accomplishments, thereby creating impressive and sometimes spectacular performances.

The last things the movie taught me about the competitive gaming world were the difficulties present in judging. Before seeing the movie, I hadn’t even considered that referees and judges for gaming would exist. I also hadn’t considered the possibilities of cheating that occur in the gaming world. Again, in this aspect sports and gaming become very similar. In both worlds, different types of cheating occur and must be discovered in order to preserve the competitive integrity of the worlds.

In all, the movie simply taught me a new appreciation for the world of competitive gaming and a hatred for Billy Mitchell. It also taught me about the similarities between gaming and sports which are not always clear. Gamers deserve similar recognition for their accomplishments as many athletes do, and it was satisfying to see the Guinness Book of World Records taking note of this opinion.

-Juancarlos284, John Shula