I had expected this movie to be vaguely about Donkey Kong, period. What I got was an in-depth account of arcade-gaming history, a view of a subculture I'd never even bothered to think existed, and a story of personal drama and achievement. As well as some players *cough*-Billy Mitchell-*cough* who, to my disbelief acted like high school mean girls even though they had to be well over thirty years old. I laughed, I groaned, I rooted for Steve Wiebe who just wanted a "best at" achievement to call his own and a sort of reprieve from his achingly normal suburban life.
One of my favorite characters was the referee, Walter Day. Where both Wiebe and Mitchell appear to have personal motives that just happen to lie in the realm of gaming, Walter appeared to love the games themselves enough to dedicate his life to their preservation and score-keeping. He really seemed like a fair and honest guy who wanted to see what the outcome of this would be. The intensity at which many of the people around him played, and their seriousness about it all, cracked me up. Life is kind of something to be laughed at, and if you can't laugh at whether or not you win a video game, you have some very serious problems indeed. Still, I felt myself slide to the edge of my seat as I watched Steve Wiebe sit down at FunSpot and play Donkey Kong in front of all those people. During these scenes Brian Kuh really pissed me off when he went around to announce that a "kill screen" (where the game simply runs out of memory and automatically kills of Donkey Kong in order to finish itself) was coming up. Way to go, man - sabotage humble Wiebe here by making him crack under the pressure of everyone watching. Thankfully, Wiebe does his best despite this all and pulls off the kill screen that time. He blows it, however, in what we expect to be the climax of the movie. No amount of "you're an alright guy!" congratulating after that could cut it for me - I wanted him to really earn their praise and smoldered beneath all their pats on his back.
Right when we least expect it, though, is when Steve actually makes it. The movie shows this happening at midnight, when he least expects it, with his children watching. (oh yeah, some of that footage with his children was great - his daughter offhandedly saying "you could ruin your life to get in there" referring to the World Records as her dad repeatedly busts his ass and loses sleep to get his coveted High Score.)
It is sad that Wiebe no longer holds this high score currently. Billy Mitchell, I believe, now holds the title once again. Still, not many people can claim they ever received any cinematic fame by playing. He can now tell his kids and grandkids that he starred in a documentary about a subculture he now really cares about.
This movie is wonderful. Great for gamers and non-gamers alike, watching a 2-D screen of a plumber jumping over barrels to get to a cartoon gorilla has never been so exhilarating. You will find yourself immersed in an interesting pocket of American subculture and emotionally invested whether you want to be or not.