Before vacation I got a chance to see the critically acclaimed documentary, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters .
It is a documentary about two modern day warriors battling it out in the arena of classic video games. The two adversaries consist of a suburban middle-school science teacher and a hot sauce mogul both vying for pride, honor, bragging rights and the Guinness World Record for the highest score on Donkey Kong.
The hot sauce mogul is Billy Mitchell. While a teenager in the 80’s, Mitchell, who held the World Record on Centipede, also became known for his unbeatable Donkey Kong score. In front of the 20 best gamers in the world, Billy scored 874,300 points, a record many thought would never be broken.
Fast forward to 2003. 35 year old family man Steve Wiebe, after losing his job at Boeing, found his only solace in Donkey Kong. Steve stumbled upon Billy Mitchell’s record online, and sought out to break it. He began perfecting his game every night after his wife and kids went to bed by playing the machine in his garage. Not only did Steve surpass Billy’s record, but ended up with a thought-to-be-impossible 1,000,000 points. But the story and the drama doesn’t end there. You’ve got to watch this fascinating documentary to see how it all plays out.
King of Kong invites you into the unknown world of competitive video gaming. Honestly, as I watched this movie, most of these gamers from the 80’s, who are now in their 40’s, look like the guys I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with in high school and are still probably living in their parent’s basement. But these are guys who love these games. They celebrate the way video games used to be. They are still obsessed with all the classics; Pac Man, Centipede, Asteroids and Donkey Kong.
But this movie is more than just a bunch of guys playing games. It is also a study of human behavior and of discovering what really matters in life.
For these competitive gamers, it seems as if their whole identity is wrapped up in their score. All they seem to live for was the high score. Their whole world is classic video games.
Billy Mitchell, considered the Gamer of the Century, had what people thought was an unbeatable score. From his interviews within the film it is clear that his whole identity and life is wrapped up in his gaming escapades. Billy comes across as an arrogant, mean jerk. And throughout his video gaming celebrity a cult of followers has grown up around him. His identity is so wrapped up in his video game accomplishments that you watch Billy scheme and plot on how to undo Steve’s attempts to accomplish a new record at every turn.
Steve comes across as a man of integrity, honor and humility in contrast to Billy’s brazen personality. Steve is the David fighting against the Goliath of Billy and the whole competitive gaming system. In the end though, it is Steve’s character, perseverance and tenacity that wins out. His efforts are redeemed and he gains the respect of the other gamers, while Billy looks more and more like a two-bit thug and bully.
Billy’s whole identity was wrapped up in his accomplishments, but like so many things we put our identity in, it was built on shifting sand. His records and accomplishments couldn’t last forever. And in the end, when stripped of all the honors and accolades, Billy is but an empty shell, with a bottle of hot sauce in one hand and his trophy wife in the other. Life has got to have more purpose than a fleeting score. I am reminded of when Jesus talked about what we build our lives upon will matter in the future (Matt. 7:24-27). When we build it on Him and His word, it is a sturdy foundation and it will last. But when we build it on scores, records and other’s acclaim, it is a foundation build on sand that will not persevere.
Unlike Billy, Steve doesn’t fall prey to wrapping up his entire identity into a video game. Even though Steve gets obsessed and tunnel focused in his attempt to beat the Donkey Kong record, he never seems to lose sight of his love for his family (except perhaps for perhaps of the most harrowing scene featuring the video footage of Steve taping an epic, record braking game of Kong, the camera is poised on the screen, and from off-screen the voice of his young son begging his dad to come wipe his butt all the while yelling, “Please Dad, stop playing Donkey Kong!”)
I recommend spending a couple of quarters yourself to rent this movie and enjoy seeing a world of gamers that you never new existed.