Donkey Kong and The Decline of Western Civilization
Can ego and the pursuit of the world record in Donkey Kong really be responsible for the future of an entire civilization? Oh the drama.
A while ago a friend brought over the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It’s about a different kind of talent. Video game talent. And ego, and ego and obsession. It plays out like an unintentionally almost funny Christopher Guest mockumentary, almost. It is about the video game Donkey Kong and the rivalry between the top world contender and the man who tries to take his crown.
The crown holder, Billy Mitchell, is a man who won his crown at 17 by getting the highest ever Donkey Kong score. I have read that arrested development means that you get developmentally stuck at that point in your life when something big or traumatic happens or when you start using drugs or some such thing. Then you become stuck at that point in terms of emotional and etcetera-stical development. Billy Mitchell, (said crown holder), and his hair both seem stuck at that moment when he won his title and he holds onto it with an egoistic tenacity that is so pronounced as to make one wonder if this is in fact a mockumentary after all. Throughout the film I kept wondering if his hair feathers back all by itself, but then we see him carefully blowdrying and styling his hair for the camera. He has a mustache. In the picture of him at 17 holding his trophy aloft he has a mustache. He lives in Hollywood, Florida. From wiki– “Mitchell is also noted for his cocky, self-promoting attitude; he is the self-proclaimed “most seasoned person in the hot-sauce/chicken wing industry” and owner of “Rickey’s Hot Sauce” in Hollywood, Florida.”
Then along comes Steve Wiebe (pronounced weebee) who is an affable family guy with two small kids and has just been laid off by Boeing. He lives in Redmond, Washington. He has a simple haircut and wears t-shirts and shorts. His wife says he has many hidden talents. He buys a Donkey Kong machine and spends all his time in his garage working on his score. He seems like the nice guy. But with his young son screaming tearfully for him to please stop playing Donkey Kong and pay attention to him it’s hard not to wonder about the emotional effects of this obsession on his kids and why he laughingly tells him to go inside and leave him alone.
There is the kindly referee who can’t pronounce Steve Wiebe’s name correctly (he keeps calling him steve weeb) no matter how many times he is reminded and seems partial to, and in awe of, the cocky star, Billy Mitchell. The referee wanted badly to be a star himself, at centipede – another video game. Then of course comes intrigue, allegations of cheating, underhanded tactics, snide remarks, juxtaposition of the nice guy’s nice, suburban-ey wife with the busty, provocatively-dressed wife of blowdry title-holding guy, and surprises, twists and turns.
I felt it merited a Christopher Guest treatment but it appears that South park beat them to it in an episode titled “”More Crap”
Thinking back on the movie I wonder if it was as bizarre as served up by my memory and then on IMDB I found the following quotes which are such that no further words are needed:
Quotes from Billy Mitchell –
“Not even Helen of Troy got this much attention.”
“No matter what what I say, it draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.”
“I’ve pointed out to Steve that he’s the person he is today because he came under the wrath of Bill Mitchell.”
“Well, maybe they’d like it if I lose. I gotta try losing sometime.”
“…but competitive gaming, when you wanna attach your name to a world-record, when you want your name written into history, you have to pay the price!”
From Steve Wiebe’s daughter Jillian; “Work is for people who can’t play video games”. and, “[while directly looking at Steve, her father] Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.”
From Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies and kindly referee of the film (which oversees the championship games and awards titles and validates the scores); “I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted the glory, I wanted the fame. I wanted the pretty girls to come up and say, “Hi, I see that you’re good at Centipede.”
From the critics-
via Wikipedia — Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, wondering “Who would have guessed that a documentary about gamers obsessed with scoring a world record at Donkey Kong would not only be roaringly funny but serve as a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization?”
Among critics who gave the film negative reviews, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said “Is there anything more tiresome than watching people play video games?” and “The competition is so vicious because the stakes are so low.”
More quotes from the movie (thanks to IMDB):
Brian Kuh: You know, he’s gonna have to play it perfectly, he’s at the hardest part of Donkey Kong, and it’s not gonna get any easier. So we may have an exciting moment here, or you know, the pressure may get to him, one of those random elements might happen. Sounds like he just cleared another board, but we could have a wild barrel, or some aggressive fireballs. I thought I was gonna be the first FunSpot kill screen, and then I had three fireballs trap me, I had the hammer in my hand, they still got me. So anything can happen in Donkey Kong. So for someone else to beat me to the kill screen would be a letdown, but lets see what happens, maybe he’ll crack under the pressure and maybe I’ll get my chance to do it first.
Mr. Awesome: Everything would’ve fell right into place, but he forgot about one thing: About me convincing Steve Wiebe not to be a chump, talking him out of chumpatizing himself.
Robert Mruczek: When I have to watch that pile of eight tapes over there for Dwayne Richards’ two-day Nibbler performance, that’s 48 straight hours of paying attention and making sure he’s doing everything correctly.
Adam Wood: I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I play video games, which I think is a far superior addiction to any of those other ones.
Mike Thompson: I’ve heard a lot of talk of Billy Mitchell, and I’ve heard a lot of talk of strange videos and things. But I haven’t heard much in the way of him getting in front of a camera crew with people and getting a record in front of people. I haven’t heard about that yet. Maybe he did that 25 years ago. But I haven’t heard of him doing it lately, and it makes you wonder why not.
Jillian Wiebe: I never knew that the Guinness World Record Book was so… I never knew it was so important.
Steve Wiebe: I guess a lot of people are… yeah, a lot of people read that book.
Brian Kuh: If anybody wants to see, there’s a Donkey Kong kill screen coming up.
Mr. Awesome: [on video, as George C. Scott in “Patton”] I want you to remember that no punk bastard ever got a gnarly piece of poontang by being sensitive and considerate!
Derek Wiebe: [crying] Stop playin’ Donkey Kongggggg!