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Videogame-themed movies that actually got it right

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?

See it on: Netflix DVD, or iTunes

 

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36 comments

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  • magnetoelectric - March 19, 2011 6:18 a.m.

    WarGames Forever!
  • masenjo - March 19, 2011 2:07 a.m.

    King of Kong is phenomenal.
  • PipBowl420 - March 19, 2011 12:27 a.m.

    Mortal Kombar 1 & 2 were both great, and stuck with the games plot.. well.. what ever plot the game had. lol but in my opinion.. Tumb Raider 1 was alright, and Resident Evil Apocalypse (2) stuck with the plots pretty good
  • Justheretowinshit - March 19, 2011 12:01 a.m.

    Noticed that the "Playing Columbine" doc was made by the creator of the titular game. If you're going to point out KoK's biased editing then I think the same should be said of it.
  • VigotheCarpathian - March 18, 2011 10:31 p.m.

    what about Zangief in the Street Fighter movie, he couldn't even give a thumbs up!!!
  • thesilentassassin - March 18, 2011 8:34 p.m.

    scott pilgrim shouldbe on this list greatest game based movie ever
  • NightCrawler_358 - March 18, 2011 6:30 p.m.

    I was looking at King of Kong on Netflix, I'm gonna have to check it out now. Thanks GR, alot of these look really interesting.
  • FauxFurry - March 18, 2011 6:17 p.m.

    I just had to comment on a line from 'Moral Kombat': "We are what we pretend to be." So, all of those people role-playing as robots in another galaxy, busty fox ladies, 40 year old 'school girls' and super heroes really are what they play they are on the other side of the screen? Does that mean that the obsessive fans are the ones who are the most keyed in to Reality? I guess that means that I'm the crazy one...on account of the fact that I often play crazy in videogames and the Internet. I'd best watch how I play around in videogames from now on lest I nuke a city off of the map for a pocketfull of bottle caps or roll up all of Japan into a wad to turn into a star. They have enough troubles right now without my contributing to them with Katamari catastrophe craziness.
  • bass88 - March 18, 2011 2:58 p.m.

    Crank. Best video-game themed movie ever. It did what Scott Pilgrim did before Scott Pilgrim. And it was funnier as it relied on telling jokes instead of references to get its audience laughing. Crank 2 is also most definitely worth watching.
  • flang - March 18, 2011 2:39 p.m.

    I would also add Life 2.0 to the list, which examined the lives of several people who are heavily involved in the game Second Life. It's similar in style to Second Skin, but somewhat more serious in tone. Hasn't been released yet but I would expect it on Netflix before too long. I saw it at the SXSW festival last year. http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Life_2.0/70129457?trkid=2361637
  • WelcomeGhosts10 - March 18, 2011 1:27 p.m.

    The King of Kong is an excellent movie, but Monster Camp is far and away my favorite out of the movies listed above. It is not well known, but deserves all the credit that it can get!
  • Darkhawk - March 18, 2011 12:59 p.m.

    All indie productions? At least KoK gets the respect it deserves here. Wiebe for the Win!
  • philipshaw - March 18, 2011 12:56 p.m.

    I have only seen King of Kong which is so good but I will have to go and get the other ones in this article
  • nomnom52 - March 18, 2011 6:39 a.m.

    Dammit! Moral Kombat isn't on Netflix Streaming anymore... Might want to fix that, Mr. Winterhalter.
  • soranamineforever - March 18, 2011 6:34 a.m.

    You forgot Scott Pilgrim vs. The World... because Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is fucking awesome.
  • austincharlesbond - March 18, 2011 6:08 a.m.

    The King of Kong is fantastic (only one I've heard of). But there are (maybe 2) good video game movies that were fiction: Scott Pilgrim & Professor Layton movie
  • Furyspittles - March 18, 2011 5:36 a.m.

    .......No Scott Pilgrim? I'm confused.
  • Crimmy - March 18, 2011 5:22 a.m.

    The Pinball one makes me sad.
  • Jacko415 - March 18, 2011 4:46 a.m.

    SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT VIDEO GAME MOVIES! IF THEY FOLLOWED THE SAME PLOT AS THIER GAMES THEN THEY'D BE BORING. UNLESS THEY'RE MADE BY UWE BOLL OR HOWEVER YOU FUCKING SPELL HIS UNHOLY NAME, THEN THEY'RE CRAP OR IF ITS MAX PAYNE.

Showing 1-20 of 36 comments

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