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

A Fistful of Nothing

When I first started watching the movie King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I was cringing. An entire movie about two guys duking it out over the title of Donkey Kong champion? Somebody needs a life here. 
 
And well, by the end, that was still true. But that said, the movie did draw me in by the human conflict which it portrayed, even if it was in a strange setting. 
 
The movie’s main pull was that it was very easy to decide who to cheer on and who to hate. Black and white terms like that are not very common in movies or documentaries in general; having Billy Mitchell, an arrogant man, pitted against the underdog, Steve Wiebe made it extremely easy to pick a side.  (Granted, It is true that the movie makers were biased and attempted to show Steve Wiebe in the best light while illuminating the nasty side of Billy Mitchell, but even so, most of the reasons for disliking Mitchell were pretty clear).
 
In the end, though, the movie left me aghast. How could people spend so much time just playing these games? Only for a chance at getting first place on a list of people? Though both of the main characters did have jobs (and Wiebe only half-way through) they spent countless hours playing one game, and that’s not even mentioning the other people who were in charge of Twin Galaxies and spent their lives focused on video games and rankings. It’s hard to come up with an argument that says they weren’t wasting their time. 
 
One could return that well, isn’t that what pro-sports players do? And that argument could have some weight, if it weren’t for the fact that in sports, people are still interacting, and not shutting themselves away. 
 
Preserving culture, following tradition, having fun . . . none of the excuses fit. I love video games, I love movies, and I love countless other forms of entertainment. But in my opinion, people should focus on living life, instead of playing games 24/7. 
 
-JKH

King of Kong: But Why?

After watching King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, it appears to me that the culture of arcade gaming provides people with an opportunity to attain a sense of achievement, or self-worth. The primary example of this in the film is Steve Wiebe. Throughout his life, Wiebe always came close to reaching his goals, but would then fall just short. He had talent in many of things he did, but he continuously struggled to reach his pinnacle. Most notably, the film discussed his baseball career in high school. He was a skillful pitcher, and his team had reached the state finals. The ball was in his hands for the game, yet he failed to bring his team to victory, bringing him great sadness. Much of his life seemed to repeat this script, so when he realized he may be able to beat Billy Mitchell’s Donkey Kong score, he saw a chance to be the top dog for once. He worked at it, and eventually did what he sought out to do, defeating Billy’s score to be the game’s record high-scorer. That sense of achievement had finally been acquired.

The other character I feel uses the world of arcade gaming to his personal benefit is Walter Day. Walter Day founded Twin Galaxies and became the chief scorekeeper for the video gaming world. By doing so, Walter had found something that made him feel valuable. Thousands and thousands of gamers trusted him to ensure that there was an ordered and reliable system that kept track of the top gamers around the world. Thus, Walter was able to realize his self-worth and be of use to people all over.

Of course, the gaming world seemed to be able to help many of the others as well. Billy Mitchell and Roy Shildt gained (or at least tried to gain) fame and popularity through arcade gaming, and Brian Kuh wished to do the same. Generally, the world of arcade gaming appears to be yet another way people can realize their talents and gain a sense of pride.

 

Matt R

Late than never?

Completely slipped my mind, but here it is.

Excluding only Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a visceral reaction to a movie.  My heart sunk when Steve’s score was rejected, my skin crawled when Billy sent in his doctored tapes, and I cheered when Wiebe finally took the record.  All this from a documentary about Donkey Kong.  Who knew…

The movie ultimately has an interesting message.  Nothing corny like “cheaters never prosper,” don’t worry.  It serves as an example for how important gaming is.  It can be a haven during dark times, as it was for Steve Wiebe.  It can be our entire sense of being, as it was for Billy Mitchell.  Essentially, gaming can be whatever you need it to be.  A shape shifting, never stationary entity that can serve as either a sword or a pillow.  And that’s why I love gaming.

Until next time.

-Deathly Hallowed

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

You really don’t get as much attention as Helen of Troy Billy.

When I first realized exactly what the movie King of King: A Fistful of Quarters was all about (a documentary about the Donkey Kong arcade game’s world record), I’ll say that I was thinking to myself: “Wow, this is going to be a LONG class”.  Despite my foolish pessimism, however, I soon realized that this was no ordinary documentary.  At least, in most documentaries I’ve seen there aren’t people who I end up actually hating by the end of the movie.  Not so in King of Kong.  How can anyone who has seen this movie not completely despise Billy Mitchell, self proclaimed video game hall of famer who to me seems like he never really matured past the age of seven.  At one point he even says: “Not even Helen of Troy had that much attention” when he hears how many people are in attendance to watch his video taped world record (see video at end).  A more important question may be how anyone would possibly want to be portrayed as a complete jerk in a movie, basically ensuring that anyone who watches the film will dislike you.

Unbeknownst to me, competitive old school video gaming is a cut-throat world filled with endless manipulation and backstabbing.  This is why I was incredibly happy to see someone like Steve Wiebe who plays by the rules (apparently), and isn’t a complete jerk to everyone around him.  The ending to the movie absolutely made my day as I got to see Billy Mitchell’s ego squashed by the high school science teacher who took the record for highest taped score of Donkey Kong.

Unfortunately, later in the week I looked online and found that Steve Wiebe is no longer the King of Kong.  The distinction is now held by Hank Chien…all I can say is I’m glad it’s not Billy Mitchell.

Stumpy367