When I tell people that I enjoy watching documentaries, they laugh at me. A really good documentary though, a truthful and honest examination of a certain facet of the human condition. Its factual (or some of it is), and the skill of the documentary maker to coax a story out of the real-life events. I posted previously on my enjoyment of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but this past week I watched another, which may have overtaken Jiro. King of Kong, a fistful of change.
Anyone who is into documentaries will be aware of this one, as its widely touted as one of the best, so the fact that I enjoyed it is unsurprising. I highly recommend a watch.
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs……. I play video games”
The story is based on classic arcade games, with the Donkey Kong Jr Game being the eponymous hero so to speak. First fascinating fact; there are World Records for classic computer games. The story follows Billy Mitchell, current World Record Holder of various games and widely considered to be one of the greatest gamers of all times, and Steve Weibe, the underdog who took up gaming when he was unemployed and is now looking to break the world record. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because I highly recommend a watch, but to be honest, I was put through the emotional wringer.
Theres many twists and turns along the way, sometimes you’ll be rooting for the “hasn’t changed his style since the 80s” Billy Mitchell (what a hair and beard combo that man rocks), and sometimes your heart will weep for Weibe. My interest was not just from the parallels of the competitive world of athletics to the competitive world of games, but some of the dirty tactics and cheating fascinated me.
Now I don’t want to be snobby about this, but as pole vaulter there are very few events that I can look down on as more obscure than mine (whether this is changing now, given that current estimates say nearly 60% of the worlds population will have tried video games at some point in their lives and theres no way that many will have tried vaulting). But my thoughts were that its a computer game world record, clearly there is pride at stake, but with no big cash prize or world renowned fame to be had (maybe there is some fame), it would be more of an honest achievement type thing, honour among nerds and all that. Wow was I wrong. Gamesmanship, accusations of cheating, grey areas where you can’t even tell whether someone is cheating or not, competitive gaming has it all.
I don’t like talking about cheating in athletics, particularly the drugs, its just more publicity. Theres already far too many column inches dedicated to the misdemeanours of a few, written by people with very little understanding of the intricacies. Yes, there’s cheats, but theres also a lot of really hard training athletes who are producing amazing performances on a weekly basis.
Perhaps naively, I’d always assumed that the problems with drugs cheats in athletics stemmed from the prizes. Where there is money to be made and a chance to change your circumstance or become a household name, there was always a reason to cheat. The risk of being caught worth the possible rewards if you weren’t. However this deep examination of the video gaming community, which in a way, due to its amateur status, could be considered a truer “sport” than athletics, has opened my eyes to the fact that there are people willing to cheat no matter how meagre the rewards appear
So ultimately, I’m not sure if this is a blog post or a documentary recommendation, perhaps a bit of both, but i do highly recommend this as a watch. As an athlete I could appreciate the toil and the competitive nature. For anyone who knows they’ve had to compete against a chemically enhanced athlete there will be shared frustration with the characters. For anyone who’s ever considered purposefully cheating, hopefully this is a vivid example to you of how much of a *$%&£ you are.
*feel free to insert your own four letter expletive here, go on, use your imagination
This documentary made me think (a favourite past-time of mine), and re-assess a viewpoint that I held and was fairly certain was right. I liked it.
p.s. if you’re quick, the documentary might be on youtube