Brian Kuh, Hand of the King

By Thomas Adams

(I know it’s long but bear with me.)

From watching The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I found Brian Kuh to be the most interesting of all the characters in the film. In the movie, he is portrayed as the stereotypical nerdy, white male overly obsessed with video games. While these things might be true, I found that Brian Kuh’s character is actually much deeper.

I began by analyzing his role in the video game world and his relationship to others. Brian Kuh first emerged on the scene with the likes of Billy Mitchell, Steven Sanders, etc – vying for the world records at the popular arcade video games like Donkey Kong. Brian eventually befriended Mitchell, the long-time Donkey Kong world-record holder. This relationship is portrayed in the movie by Kuh being Mitchell’s “right hand man”, as he is the bearer of Mitchell’s newest world-record attempt video tape. However, Kuh has never set a world-record himself on the game. In fact, his highest score for the game (at the time of a 2008 interview) was a mere 568,400, much less than Mitchell’s old score of 874,300. Up until 2005, Brian worked as a bank comptroller in New York City. He decided to “retire” (his words) from that and move to where Fun Spot was in order to play there more often – and possibly set a world record for himself. This information is important when you consider Kuh’s motivation behind his actions and life-decisions.

In the movie, we can really see Brian’s character come to light when Steve Weibe is playing Donkey Kong at Fun Spot. Frequently, we see Kuh standing over Steve’s shoulder, commenting about the game (to him and/or the film crew). As Steve gets closer to breaking Mitchell’s world record, we see Brian start citing “luck” and “randomness” for Steve’s continued success. As Steve nears the “Kill Screen” (end of the game), Brian starts bringing many people over to Steve’s machine as he can. One could argue that Brian wanted as many people to see the kill screen as possible, as it is a extremely rare event to witness one in person. While this may be true, I feel that it is next-to-impossible for Brian to not have subconscious ulterior motives in bringing a large crowd to Steve’s machine.

Fun Spot hosted an annual arcade tournament in 2007. Kuh actually set 16 world records at that tournament. However, when you look at the list of games the records were set for, you may reconsider before getting his autograph: 1943, Final Lap, Rampage, Sprint 2, Starship 1 – just to name a few. Since all these games were less popular than something like Donkey Kong, these world records were considered easy to break. Furthermore, all 16 records were broken shortly after Kuh set them and he has not set any new ones since.

Based on my research and observations, Brian Kuh’s numerous fruitless attempts at holding world records in popular arcade games have influenced his actions and life-decisions greatly. He associated himself heavily with Mitchell, moved from a job in New York City to live near Fun Spot, and passive-aggressively attempts to belittle others’ world-record endeavors. What all this means is not for me to say – I am merely an observer. That’s up to Brian Kuh. There’s a great deal more information I found and more evidence from the movie related to this topic. I could probably write an entire social psychology dissertation on it.

Hilariously and ironically enough, Kuh’s biggest claim to fame might be his portrayal in the movie as he attempts to herd all the people at Fun Spot to see Steve Weibe’s kill screen. Here are a couple youtube videos highlighting the nerdy-ness of it (I’m a nerd so I’m allowed to say that). 10 hours version, parody

– Thomas Adams

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I’ll Pay You For Your Screwed Up Game

By A. A. BENJAMIN

 

There is a potential Donkey Kong kill screen coming up if anyone’s interested.

 

DKKillScreen

 

This, to me, was the most powerful line in the entire King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters movie. For a couple of reasons.

First, I appreciated the dorky way Brian Kuh ran around announcing this all over the arcade as if he were passive-aggressively declaring war. XD

The movie documents underdog Steve Weibe’s attempt to beat Donkey Kong “heavy-weight champ” Billy Mitchell’s high score. Brian Kuh is Billy’s hype man. At this moment in the movie, Weibe has already near-shattered Kuh’s dream of being the first at the arcade to reach kill screen, which induces Kuh into manic slump-shouldered declarations intended to knock Wiebe off his game.

Powerful indeed.

No, the power behind this phrase comes from the sense of intensity and mystery it creates. It calls up the minute existence of video games however escapist and fantastical we like them to be. When I heard the phrase “kill screen,” my ears perked and my low-lidded skeptical eyes widened. What the frack is a kill screen?

pacmankillscreen

I remember seeing this image of Pac Man earlier in the movie and it made my heart race. Oh no, the game messed up! Progress lost! A glitch! No, Game Designer, we’re not supposed to see that! Make it stop!

Those were my original reactions, until I witnessed the scene in the arcade and saw how seamlessly the gamers had made the kill screen a part of their in-game reality. The kill screen became an active level of the game, part of the experience of playing Donkey Kong, and an indication of your general game-playing awesomeness. An unwritten rule of the game solidifies: if you’re that good, you get so far in the game that it can no longer function. You die because you’re just too awesome. Game designer and theorist Jesper Juul claims “video games are real in that they consist of real rules with which players actually interact.” How does something as mechanical and real as lack of memory space become part of the fictional experience of game achievement which in turn translates back into the reality of the competitive Donkey Kong world? Makes my head spin.

Is the glitch phenomenon something in gaming that we should aim to fix or eliminate, or does the rawness and somewhat intimacy of it add to the gamer experience?

Outside of arcade games, I’ve played many console games where I discovered glitches and turned them into a narrative of my own. For instance, when I was younger I played a video game in which I had discovered a hole in the rock walls. I would use the hole to evade attackers. The game designers never intended for that hole to be there. It was a glitch that I had adopted into my game play rather than getting upset or viewing the game designers any less credible (though, I was prone to compare graphic quality to other game systems). Similar things have occurred in other games, like discovering that turning your character a certain way reveals some laughable or hilariously distorted profile of the character.

As technology advances and graphic quality advances, and as storage space advances, will we see these endearing glitches disappear? The very glitches we made a part of our real world and fictional narratives? What will we do then?

LOTRO maestro and Vanderbilt University professor Jay Clayton asks, “What do you do then? The end game is the toughest part for game designers to wrestle with.” Exactly. This question has been relevant since Donkey Kong and way beyond. But I’d like to add, what will we do when we’re perfect? When all video game glitches are gone and storage strife is over, and video games have infinite quests and everyone becomes infinitely awesome at playing video games—

Wishful thinking. However, in that time of wishing we can reflect on what basic imperfections reveal about the human inclination to mold any and everything into a meaningful experience.