King of Kong – Can a Fistful of Quarters Buy Friends Too?

At the very beginning of the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the characters and the world of the movie come off as absurd. How can the lives of these grown men revolve around something as juvenile as arcade games? Isn’t that a bit pathetic? But after the film takes us further inside this social sphere of competitive gaming, we can see that their social circles and the people in them don’t operate that much differently than any other sects of society. Sure, their interest and focus might be far outside what mainstream adult society would deem “normal”; however, the players make up a community that–like any community–place a certain social value on their achievements, judging and accepting each other based on this value.

In the world of competitive gaming, we see that high scores operate as their central “social currency”, if you will. When the players gather, they are known for their best scores at each of their respective games. The most elite players are those with the world records of each game, and we can see in the movie how they tend to congregate and form a rather exclusive social circle.

Steve Wiebe, however, is an outsider trying to break his way in. We see this very clearly at the scene in the restaurant when Steve and one of his friends show up to dinner and are pretty openly excluded by the group of veteran world record holders. He is the challenger, trying to attain his own social value, or “currency”, by gaining the new high score in Donkey Kong. Billy Mitchell, the current record holder of the game, is portrayed throughout the movie as willing to do anything to keep his title. This title is his primary source of value. It’s what gives him a sense of fulfillment and belonging, as it is the foremost judgement of worth within this social sphere of competitive gaming.

So while the obsession of attaining a high score in such a juvenile game as Donkey Kong might seem absurd on the surface, we really have to consider the incredibly different social setting in which these players live and socialize. We must take into account the fact that these high scores are what give these players worth and value when they might not be able to attain that in any other aspects of their life. So while mainstream society chases more traditional symbols of achievement, such nice cars or houses, those in the world of competitive gaming chase high scores and world records. With King of Kong, we can see that on the most basic level, the rivalries between these players is really not that much different than, say, rivalries between athletes or between bankers on Wall Street.

– Logan W

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1 thought on “King of Kong – Can a Fistful of Quarters Buy Friends Too?”

  1. I liked this discussion of “social currency” and how the gamers are not the only group that becomes very competitive. I thought it was a unique approach to the topic, and it definitely helped me not condemn the competitive gamers as much. I think it is important to identify gaming as a type of subculture, even though the filmmakers seemed to stereotype the community and make it seem much smaller than it actually is.

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