Almost every game movie Hollywood produces has sucked. From the Wizard to the newest Resident Evil, it's a wonder they keep trying. However, when gamers and game makers team up with documentarians, the results are fantastic. The following seven films, all documentaries, understood gamers and gaming culture better than any scriptwriter.
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
A loveable everyguy takes on the king of hot-sauce and douchebags, Billy Mitchell
What makes it great: Documentaries can be dry as sand. Not that that's always the worst thing in the world; some topics call for that kind of tone. You wouldn't want to watch a film about genocide in the Sudan that's constantly cracking jokes (well, most of us wouldn't.)
King of Kong avoids the dryness that plagues documentaries, not with humor, but with a simple video game-style story about a good guy and a bad guy, duking it out to see who can become the world's best Donkey Kong player. Enter Wiebe, a down-on-his-luck family man who just wanted a little validation in life. He's the Mario of the story, and his princess is the Donkey Kong score world record. The Bowser to Wiebe's Mario is Billy Mitchell, holder of several world records and all-around arrogant ass. Mitchell seemingly thwarts Wiebe's attempts at success at every move.
Even accepting that the makers of King of Kong took a few liberties with editing in order to make Mitchell look worse than he really is, we can't help rooting for Wiebe every time we watch the film, and between the hair, the ties, and the attitude, Billy Mitchell doesn't need much extra editing to make him look like a jerk.
See it on: iTunes, Netflix DVD and streaming
Spencer Halpin's Moral Kombat (2007)
The most mature and balanced look at video game violence ever
What makes it great: Let's get one thing straight; critics of violence in video games are almost always misinformed, misguided, or cynical. However, gamers themselves have often responded to these criticisms with a vitriolic reason-free rhetoric of their own. Moral Kombat takes a look at the unreasonable extremes of the Jack Thompson's of the world, while reminding the audience that games are a powerful medium of expression that can stand up to the scrutiny and attacks of their critics.
This movie wasn't made for gamers. It was made for reasonable non-gamers who are understandably concerned with violence in a medium they don't understand. It walks them through the history of game violence legislation and research and lets them make their own conclusions. Thankfully, after the balanced look Moral Kombat gives the viewer, there is really only one conclusion to be reached: video game violence isn't a problem, and parents need to be involved in the media that their children consume.
See it on: iTunes, Netflix streaming
Second Skin (2008)
A frank look at MMO players and modern life in America
What makes it great: Given the popular image of World of Warcraft players, it would have been easy to portray the seven film subjects as reclusive shut-ins, losers, or victims of an evil, addictive game. But this film doesn't go that route. Instead, it takes a hard look at their very average, American lives and asks,"why do these seemingly normal people feel the need to spend half their time pretending to be orcs and elves?"
As a result, Second Skin is almost more of an examination of contemporary American adulthood than it is of WoW, and points out that the image of the basement-dwelling, Mountain Dew-swilling RPG player isn't always accurate. True, any actual gamer knows this already, and given that over 50 million people play MMORPGs, one would think common sense would lead the rest of the world to the same conclusion. But this is America, in which people are still arguing about whether or not President Obama is a US citizen, so common sense conclusions can't exactly be taken for granted, can they? That's what makes films like this and Moral Combat even more important.
See it on: Netflix DVD and Streaming
TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball (2008)
Watch the heartbreaking demise of video game's big brother
What makes it great: Video games owe a lot to pinball. If it weren't for the distribution network established to put pinball and other amusement machines into bars, the arcade video game might never have existed. Instead, games would have remained in the realm of giant university-owned mainframes with less computing power than a high school sophomore’s calculator. How did video games repay this debt? By killing their big brother in an slow thirty-year act of fratricide.
New pinball machines were being made until the late 90's, and TILT chronicles the last major company to hang onto the dying business. Many gamers may look at pinball with apathy, but the same thing can and probably will happen to all of our favorite game genres eventually. Pinball reigned supreme for the better part of a century, point-and-click adventure games lasted less than half that time. How long does the RPG or first-person shooter have?
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