Rainy Day Pile: King of Kong and Chasing Ghosts
King of Kong and Chasing Ghosts
Director: (KoK) Seth Gordon (Ghosts) Lincoln Ruchti
Producers: Ed Cunningham, Ross Tuttle, Luis Lopez, Beau Bauman, J. Clay Tweel (Ghosts) Michael Verrechia
Production: (KoK) Picturehouse (Ghosts) Men At Work LLC
Release: (KoK) Dendy Cinemas (Ghosts) Men At Work LLC
This might be the first time I’m covering two films in the same review, but I think that to appreciate one, the other has to compliment it. I also think these two documentaries are great examples of curating the early years of the video game culture, the games that are important, and the people who spent their youth exploring them. It’s also a great cautionary tale about not making your life about one thing and the lengths people will go to ensure their place in history.
In Chasing Ghosts we meet Walter Day, owner of Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1981 he volunteered to keep records of all records set or broken, founding the Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard. We also meet many of the people who made the Arcade Era; Joel West, who teamed up with another player to find the fastest way to play Berzerk. Billy Mitchell, who claimed to have the first perfect Pac-Man score. Steve Sanders was another the fist Pac-Man champion whom Billy Mitchell beat, Sanders later became a Mitchell super-fan. Roy Schildt, Missile Command champion and all time obnoxious douche, and many more. It also gets into their lives after gaming passed most of them by.
King of Kong follows unemployed engineer Steve Wiebe as he attempts to follow his dream of beating Billy Mitchell’s record breaking score on the original Donkey Kong , and Billy Mitchells attempts to keep the records through any means necessary.
I have mixed feelings about the subjects of these two documentaries. On the one hand I have a profound respect for people like Joel West, who teamed with another player to find the fastest way to double tap buttons and increase there score in Berzerk (a game historians reaction to their carving knife experiment is priceless), or the many who stayed at the cabinets for up to sixty hours. I also respect that most of the featured players recognized after Walter Day’s competitive gaming tour failed that competitive gaming was a thing of the future that they wouldn’t be part of, and moved on with their lives. It’s the ones that haven’t moved on that make me feel embarrassed.
First you have Billy Mitchell, who can’t stand not being champion to the point that two people (Steve Sanders and Roy Schildt) have had their records erased by Mitchell accusing them of cheating. In fact a large portion of Kong is Wiebe beat Mitchells score, so Mitchell sends Twin Galaxies referees to inspect his cabinet. They find out that the motherboard was supplied by the odious “Mr. Awesome” Roy Schildt (one of the most toxic people in either documentary, and both have Billy Mitchell!), who has a grudge against Billy Mitchell. Wiebe’s record is disqualified, and the rest of the movie is Wiebe challenging Mitchell to a Kong off and Mitchell ducking him or trying to one up him. It’s not like Wiebe is any less pathetic, though he is the most sympathetic.
It’s kind of poetic that in these two documentaries you find out that Mitchell’s thing is accusing other record holders of cheating, but twelve years after these films all of his records have been disqualified because there is evidence he used MAME and tampered with the videos he sent in.
I could point out many more scenes that were fascinating; Todd Rogers explaining his horrifying life story (he also was stripped of his records), the ’82 Life Magazine cover shoot, the That’s Incredible Tournament, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. There is a segment where the featured gamers talk about games today that will make you roll your eyes, but I would highly recommend both. Also, make sure you see the Chasing Ghosts workprint to see a hillarious extra scene where Robert Mruczek shows the filmmakers his “hobby”.
King of Kong and Chasing Ghosts