Masters of Donkey Kong

So my friend Adrian acquired free passes to an advanced screening of a new documentary called "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". It was a fun Wednesday night out with Adrian and my girlfriend Megan.

The film is a light-hearted look at the world of competitive gaming on classic arcade machines, namely the mother of classic games- Donkey Kong. It focuses on the emerging duel between the established champion Billy Mitchell and newcomer Steve Wiebe. This amusing film lets the reality of such a subculture and its machinations generate the humour naturally, giving enough screen time to some to allow them to hang themselves with their own rope so to speak. Using this technique, and Im sure some selective editing, allows the film’s two main protagonists to paint themselves into their own respective corners of – ‘good guy’ (Steve Wiebe) and ‘bad guy’ (Billy Mitchell). From the beginning you get a sense of who the filmmakers want you to root for and why. This is no nuanced study of the various aspects of complex personalities, but a surprisingly touching, funny and revealing underdog story.

So underdog Steve, recently laid-off (by Boeing) and perpetual runner-up, seeks to claim the title of World’s Best Donkey Kong champion, a record held for the last 25 years by Mitchell.

What I personally found interesting, apart from the bizarre insular world of competitive classic arcade game players, was how the story and the events in it, mirrored in many ways activist struggles. While I wont go into more plot details, Billy has built up over 25 years a dedicated following of disciples and business that are invested in his image and status as the World’s Best Arcade player.-


Enter never heard of before Steve Wiebe-

His arrival, and World Record Beating score, threaten the establishment of Classic Arcade Games and the cult of Machiavellian Billy. What ensues infuriates, and sparks one’s sense of justice and fairness. I had to keep reminding myself that no matter how angry I was at the situation, it was all just about a Donkey Kong score. At the end of the film the crowd even applauded when some sort of justice was achieved. Afterwards I wished that we could spark that same desire for social justice that this little story of Donkey Kong instilled in the audience.

Another observation was that in the movie I could see exactly the same tricks and reactions the establishment do to powerful movements from below. The use of power and status to exclude, to marginalise Steve, to force him to play the game (literally) on their terms. While all Steve wants to do is play a good game, the powers that be, worried that their 25 year empire and status are under serious threat, or at very least shaken, keep changing the rules of the game. Steve is at a loss because no matter how hard he tries, no matter what he achieves, the bar keeps being shifted, tricks and manipulation keeps occurring. So while that stirs one’s indignation and desire to scream at these game players (literally and metaphorically) and tear their little world to shreds, is also shows what makes Steve the hero of the film with his quiet never say die attitude and consistent work at chipping away and proving himself and winning these people over. Impressing them with what he can do, until he finally is recognised.

So the story I felt had many parallels of what we here at ZNet and the progressive Left are trying to do, and while we seek more than recognition by the system, I think we encounter many of the same tactics and responses that Steve did from the Billy-ophiles. I think we can also take Steve’s example of keeping at, of picking himself up after a set back and trying for it again, winning people over and even making some of the Billy-ophiles to reconsider their past actions. That’s what we need to do as a general movement, to keep working at it, confident that we have the ability, skills and desire to win in the end. To win people over by our actions and how we conduct ourselves. So going with the analogy- we as a movement must seek to be like Steve Wiebe and become Masters (in a participatory and non hierarchical sense) of Donkey Kong! It may take time, sacrifice, set backs, lots of quarters and Billy Mitchell but in the end we can do it.

So check the movie out and root for our fellow underdogs


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