The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
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For some of us, arcade games were just a way to pass the time on Saturday afternoons when we were kids. We kept feeding the games quarters because it was a good way to scope out the cute boys at the mall. But while many of us eventually grew out of it, some people are still there, middle-aged guys (and a few girls) hanging out at the arcade, working toward that record-breaking score.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is about one man’s quest to beat the world record Donkey Kong score. After getting laid off from his job, Steve Wiebe, a married father of two from Washington, needed something to lift his spirits—so he set up an old Donkey Kong arcade game in his garage and started working toward a new world record. To do so, he’d have to beat the previous record, set back in 1982 by Florida restaurant owner and Video Game Player of the [20th] Century, Billy Mitchell.

The film follows Wiebe (now a science teacher) through the ups and downs of his journey. He breaks the record, only to have the title taken away by Twin Galaxies, the organization that tracks the official video game records. So he travels to New Hampshire—and later to Florida—to try to break the record in public, always hoping for a face-off against Mitchell, who seems reluctant to make an appearance to publicly defend his title.

The King of Kong is every bit as entertaining as it is disturbing. I have to admit that I’d never previously given a though to the fact that this bizarre parallel universe existed—one in which grown men join in mob-like alliances to battle each other in video arcades. In which a delusional, mullet-sporting megalomaniac (who announces to the camera that he’s controversial “like the abortion issue”) rules godfather-style over a vast network of toadies. But here it is—in full color, on the big screen.

This may be a documentary, but it definitely has its hero and its villain. It tells an age-old story—the sweet, mild-mannered underdog battling the over-confident bully. And it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. It’s simply fascinating—but it’s also absolutely hilarious. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard a theater full of film critics (who, in general, tend to be pretty reserved) howling the way they (okay…we) did while watching The King of Kong. And that says a lot—especially for a documentary.

Of course, since this is a documentary, there has to be some kind of a lesson, right? There’s always some kind of wisdom to take away, right? In this case, that wisdom comes from Wiebe’s young daughter, who has the most surprising—and, by far, the most insightful—line in the whole movie.

No matter how unsettling the story may be, though, this hilarious documentary is sure to have you racing out of the theater and heading for the nearest arcade, to relive a little bit of those golden days at the mall. Just be careful not to play too much—or get too good—or you may end up facing the wrath of Billy Mitchell.

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