Welcome to the very first of what I hope to be a long series of articles spotlighting the best in retro video game media. In future instalments, myself and the rest of the team here at FunStock.co.uk want to open up the floor to you, the retro gaming community; we want to know what you love and what you don’t in order to bring you the most engaging and entertaining content we can.
For the first of our articles, tentatively titled “Top 5 Tuesday”, I’ve chosen a topic that is one that I find extremely engaging and representative of what the retro community is all about: Video Game Documentaries. What we have for you here is a selection of five of the very best Video Game documentary films that the internet has to offer. From the history of the industry, recounting it’s humble beginnings. To bitter rivalries, the best players in the world battling it out to be declared World Champion.
Note: as this is the very first article in the series, we have not taken a poll to determine what appears in the list. This list is a product of the subjective opinion of the writer and may not reflect the opinions of FunStock.co.uk and it’s community.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
5. Second Skin (2008, dir. Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza)
Having just sneaked into this list due to the age of the games it is based on, Second Skin delves into the depths of online dungeons and digital adventuring. It follows several groups of hardcore MMORPG fans, specifically World of Warcraft and Everquest players. Most of this film’s time is dedicated to covering what these players do in their every day lives; it just so happens that most of that is questing in the digital realm of Azeroth and not much else. We follow a raiding party on their way to a midnight launch of the (at the time) latest expansion pack of WoW and spend some time with two players who have made an ultimate leap of faith, meeting someone they have met in an MMO for the first time. The documentary also covers the very real dangers of video game addiction and the effects it can have on one’s mental wellbeing and even financial status.
What I love about this film is the sense of community, inclusivity and belonging it imparts. Whether we are joining our raiders, battling our way to the new level cap, or witnessing nerd love blossom as our two MMO lovers meet in person for the very first time; Second Skin offers insight into the lives of the real people behind the Orcs and Elves of the digital realms and it a must see for MMO fans and retro gamers alike.
4. High Score (2006, dir. Jeremy Mack)
It’s man vs. machine, locked in a battle over 20 years in the making. No, it’s not another bad Terminator sequel, but the story of Bill Carlton as he attempts to break the world record high score for Atari’s Missile Command. Arguably one of the most difficult coin-op games of all time, Missile Command gives you control over the earths missile defence system. You are the last line and all that stands between the earth and total devastation!
Bill’s task is this: Play Missile Command and attempt to post a high score. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG! Bill must attempt to break the 80 million points mark in order to secure the world record, something that had yet to be done for decades! As if this wasn’t a daunting enough feat, Bill must only use one quarter to play his game. Just thinking about playing a game for two days straight, starting with one credit, in an attempt to beat a decades old record would make any arcade gamer quake in their boots. Bill steps up to the challenge, but does he achieve his record breaking high score? You’ll have to check out the film to find out!
3. Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007, dir. Lincoln Ruchti)
Journey back with me to the gold age of video games, everybody had Pac Man fever and the American Arcade industry was raking in billions, parting the young and the old alike from their quarters. In Chasing Ghosts, we journey to Ottumwa, Iowa, one time “Video Game Capitol of the World” and visit the legends and memories surround the Twin Galaxies video arcade.
This is a fun look at arcade gaming history and just how monumentally huge the industry was in the 1980’s. It focuses on the nationwide obsession with video games and the claiming of high scores than ran rampant at the time, introducing us to such now familiar names such as Walter Day, Robert Mruczek and the infamous Billy Mitchell.
This is definitely a favourite of mine, an absolute must watch for any gamer. This film documents the roots of competitive gaming and the first instance of gaming and gamers breaking into the mainstream.
2. Video Games: The Movie (2014 dir. Jeremy Snead)
The most recent and certainly the most flashy entry in our list, Video Games: The Movie takes us right back to the beginning, to the humble starts of Space War and Tennis for Two straight through to a pretty nifty current gen montage towards the end of the film. Covering almost everything in between now and then, this documentary has something for everybody and goes into some detail about gamer demographics, history and technological advance and more!
Featuring interviews from prominent gaming and entertainment professionals, this really engages with it’s viewers with slick editing and flashy motion graphics when it wants to get technical. It is incredibly enjoyable to watch and it is obvious that it is aimed at the broadest audience possible with something for everyone to enjoy from the golden age of the 8-bit era to the 3D revolution and beyond!
1. The King of Kong: A First Full of Quarters (2007, dir. Seth Gordon)
What can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? I’ll make this last entry short and sweet as a result. King of Kong is THE go-to video game documentary for a hell of a lot of people. It has everything in a classic David and Goliath grudge match and more stuffed inside a 1981 Donkey Kong cabinet.
Billy Mitchell, self-professed “Gamer of the Century” takes on Steve Wiebe, the quiet and unassuming Science teacher from Seattle, Washington for the title of Donkey Kong World Champion. A story that spans many months and several states, Steve manages to battle his way up the Twin Galaxies rankings ladder and attempt to knock Billy from the top spot, which he occupied for over 20 years.
There you have my Top 5 Retro Video Game Documentaries! What did you think of my choices? Have I grossly overlooked one of your own personal favourites? Sound off in the comments section and let me know!
(Editor’s note: we would like to give an honourable mention for a modern day classic – “From Bedrooms To Billions”. You can get more information on the inspiring true story of the UK games industry here!)