I love a good documentary almost as much as I love a good nerd movie. The problem with modern documentaries, though, is that more often than not, the film makers are twisting something here or altering something there to make a more engaging movie at best, or push some specific point of view at worst. That would be all well and good if they were dramatizing that which they wished to expose or put on display, but they’re not. A documentary, by its nature, implies that the film maker is telling you the truth about what they caught on camera. When they do anything else, they’re lying. And it’s so common, it makes me sick. This is the first of a few posts I’m going to do on those documentaries that lied to your face.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
This is the story of the little-seen world of competitive, old-school video game playing, and of the rivalry between two men: Billy Mitchell, hot sauce guru, restaurant owner, and long-celebrated as an arcade game master; and Steve Wiebe, a former Boeing engineer-turned-high school science teacher that took on Mitchell’s decades-standing world record on the game Donkey Kong as a pastime. Wiebe beats the score multiple times, but is continually underminded by the organization in charge of video game score record keeping, Twin Galaxies, and by Mitchell and his vast army of cronies.
They’re too many to list here, but the over-all feel you get from watching the movie is that Mitchell is a slimy, arrogant, coniving man who will stop at nothing to defend his title. In addition to that, the staff of Twin Galaxies and those closely associated with them are a long line of Mitchell-worshippers who do not like outsiders poking their noses in to their competitions.
The movie implies that Mitchell’s 1982 Donkey Kong score of 874,300 was beaten by Steve Wiebe’s video-taped score of 1,006,600.
But in reality Mitchell’s 1982 score was beaten in 2000 by a never-mentioned guy named Tim Sczerby. Wiebe beat Sczerby’s score in 2003, but it wasn’t the 1,006,600 score. It was 947,200. The 1,006,600 score was meant to beat Wiebe’s own, standing record.
The movie shows that when Wiebe beat Mitchell’s score in person in New Hampshire in 2005, a mysterious tape from Mitchell showed up at the arcade, allegedly showing Mitchell getting 1,047,200. Wiebe therefore only officially held the title for a few minutes when, in one of the biggest acts of hipocracy since Phillip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials, Twin Galaxies gave the title back to Mitchell.
But in reality Twin Galaxies DID immediately give the title back to Mitchell in 2005, they took it down and gave it back to Wiebe after 48 hours, apologizing. Mitchell’s tape was verified months later.
The movie shows Billy Mitchell’s level of arrogance as he refuses to even associate with Wiebe, insofar as he won’t even enter a restaurant where Wiebe is sitting, nor will he oblige Wiebe’s request to play the game head-to-head.
But in reality . . . Mitchell is kind of a prick. There’s no denying it; you can’t edit a guy walking like that or talking that proudly about himself. However, Mitchell has claimed over and over that his cold attitude with Wiebe had to do with Wiebe’s perceived association with a guy named Roy Schildt, who has a decades-long dispute with Twin Galaxies and Mitchell over some scores he claims to have. Schildt actually bought Wiebe his Donkey Kong game, though Wiebe was allegedly ignorant to Schildt’s conflict with Twin Galaxies. Also, according to Walter Day, Twin Galaxies’ founder, Mitchell called and congratulated both Sczerby and Wiebe when they beat his old records. On Mitchell’s refusal to play head-to-head with Wiebe, they actually did in 2004. It wasn’t until after that when the whole controversy with Schildt started that the coldness set in.
The movie shows that two guys from Twin Galaxies busted into Wiebe’s house like mafia thugs, demanding to inspect the Donkey Kong game board on which Wiebe got is 1,006,600 score.
But in reality Wiebe admits himself that the encounter was anything but hostile. They actually all sat down and played the game together and talked games for a while.
There are many more . . . but this post is long enough.
Why it matters
I get that in the zeitgeist of modern society, something like this movie is considered no big deal because “at least the film makers didn’t hurt anybody.” When we have reality TV available 24/7 that does this exact thing, day in and day out, and the premise of the movie is interesting but not world-changing, what’s the fuss? Well, there’s two things. Respect for the audience and principle.
When I found out that a vast majority of the events in this movie were either twisted or fabricated, I felt betrayed. I was booing Mitchell and cheering Wiebe, and what made it more fun was the thought that these guys are real. Well, turns out it’s not. Wiebe might be an honest enough guy, but Mitchell has concerned himself with things other than video game scores for a very long time. I certainly doubt I’d buddy up with Mitchell had I the chance to meet him, but I don’t like some guy with a camera manipulating me to hate him because that fits the fiction he’s trying to sell, either. That’s called exploitation
The filmmakers here broke a trust, and they justify it to the bitter end. And I’m bitter as a result.