Seth Gordon’s ‘The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’ (2007)

06Sep09

The King of Kong is an underdog story set in the world of competitive gaming. After being laid off from his job, Steve Wiebe, a fairly average, middle-class husband and father of two from Seattle, decided to beat the “world record” high score in Donkey Kong to pick up his spirits a bit and finally feel successful at something. After a few months, Steve did manage to beat the record, but claiming the title proved to be a little more difficult than expected.

You see, the standing record was held for 25 years by Billy Mitchell, a golden boy of competitive gaming and of Twin Galaxies, the organization that tracks high-score statistics for electronic video games. Billy had been in the competitive gaming culture from the beginning and had held the high scores for several games throughout the years. However, when Steve set out to beat his Donkey Kong score, it was one of the last records that he held. Billy was loath to see it beaten, and he had friends at Twin Galaxies to help him make sure that he held on to it.

I couldn’t help but notice while watching the movie that competitive gaming seems to be an overwhelmingly white male community. I don’t think I saw a single person of color in the movie. I also felt a little uncomfortable with the gamers tossing around that so-and-so held the highest score “in the world” because Twin Galaxies seemed very U.S.-based, especially in its beginning.

For such a simple story, The King of Kong is surprisingly compelling. The film definitely criticizes Twin Galaxies for questionable judgement of challenges to high scores, but I think it’s the sharp contrast between sensitive, earnest Steve Wiebe and cocky megalomaniac Billy Mitchell that’s so interesting. Steve obviously gets a bum rap just because he dares to challenge the great Billy Mitchell, and the audience just wants to see Mitchell knocked down a peg or two.

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