Movie Review – King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

It’s been a while since my last review of any kind, so I thought I might as well do one on this.  King of Kong is a true underdog story that follows Steve Wiebe of Redmond, Washington, as he struggles to find purpose in his real life by becoming the best in the world at something, namely Donkey Kong.  However, the man who stands in his way is the suave “Mr. Perfect” of the classic arcade game, Billy Mitchell, who will do whatever it takes to keep his name on top.

Primarily a view into the minds that populate the competitive gaming circuit, this documentary also has a strangely riveting story in it as well.  We are presented Billy Mitchell, who has changed very little in terms of his stature and gravitas since his heyday (although he does sell hot sauce for a living), and we are told of the great achievement he made in getting the score that he did in Donkey Kong.  Now, seeing his monolith of a score, we go to Redmond, where recently unemployed Steve Wiebe comes across this world record.  We take a look at Steve’s past, and we hear from his family and friends.  Steve is a person with a lot of talent, but just never had the luck to get him the opportunities he needed, nor did he have the ability to handle the clutch situations.  Thus, he is left in the loser’s circle of life, forever to be a personification of the phrase, “Nice guys finish last.”  That is, until he decides to try and beat Mitchell’s high score.

From there, we go on a journey that takes us through the intricacies of the organizations that host and validate the world records for classic arcade gaming, and we see the rivalries, the partnerships, and the inevitable dark underbelly of the world of competitive gaming.  From desperation and greed, to focus and attention-grabbing, the people who populate this community are in it to win it, and Steve is challenged from beginning to end in his quest to beat the high score.

King of Kong is a very emotional story, and at times it can make you seriously take a look at life in general.  What decisions did we make that shaped our lives?  At those moments, did we choose who we were going to become?  How has the world been affected by our decision?  Sure, it may seem like just a game, and for all intents and purposes that is true.  However, if someone devotes their life to something to the point where they become synonymous with that thing, it is no longer just a game for them.  It’s their identity.  And when people challenge your identity, it becomes more than just a matter of dropping your name down a list.  This film takes a deep and harsh look at the emotion, drive, determination and disappointment that line the floors of competitive arcades everywhere.

If you are interested in competitive gaming, or the psychology of competition in general, I’d say this is an interesting place to start, and definitely a unique angle on the idea.

That’s all for now.  I hope you enjoyed the review.  Thanks, and have a great day!

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