I was chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while and we moved onto the subject of a documentary about Doctor Who fans which we’d both taken part in.called Fanz. (You can find it on Youtube) My friend remarked that he feared that because of the general niceness of our mutual friend the film-maker, the forthcoming film would present too rose-tinted a picture. I thought about this when I was watching this documentary about vintage arcade game enthusiasts. This is one those interesting documentaries that lifts the lid on a subject I hadn’t thought much about. But sadly it proves that when it comes to personalities and petty politics, fandom is pretty much the same regardless of the subject. I am afraid I could certainly recognise types of characters I’ve encountered over the years of conventions and social events.
Steve Weebie has been a nearly man most of his life. Despite showing teenage promise as a sportsman and rock musician, he never made a break-though, whilst his ambition to follow his father as a Boeing engineer only ended with him being laid off after a few years. Unemployed and depressed, he became obsessed with an old Donkey Kong arcade game in his garage and he proved to be wonderful at it, achieving a new world record, recorded on VHS tape.
The current world record holder is minor celebrity Billy Mitchell, the star of the Twin Galaxies arcade game fan club. He’s surrounded by friends who insist that Weebie couldn’t possibly beat Mitchell’s score and accuse Weebie of cheating with a modified machine. Mitchell himself says that if Weebie’s so good he should prove it at his local arcade. So Weebie travels 3000 miles to play live in front of Twin Galaxies’ judge Walter May. He sets a new record, hooray! An hour later Mitchell’s friend produces a video tape showing Mitchell achieving an even higher score and Twin Galaxies agrees to authorise it, despite suspicions about the tape’s genuineness.
Depressed, Steve Weebie returns home, but is encouraged to have another attempt, especially when he learns that Twin Galaxies’ high scores are going to be submitted to the next edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Over the four days of the competition, tensions rise and the nagging question is, why won’t Billy Mitchell take part?
I haven’t really conveyed the strengths of this documentary in that synopsis, because they are all in the character moments. Despite the film definitely being partial to Steve Weebie and its David versus Goliath sports storyline, there’s plenty of examples of the Twin Galaxies in-crowd being given enough rope and almost invariably hanging themselves. They are frequently rude, aggressive and unbelievably puffed up with self-importance. I can understand obsessing over a hobby, but when they start talking about mind games and virtually breaking into a stranger’s house in order to dismantle his property, it’s clear their priorities have become skewed. I was going to detail them individually but I looked at what I’d typed and decided it might be libellous on a comparison shopping site.
Not that Weebie is entirely innocent either, there are a couple of moments involving his young children that made me worry what effect his devotion to Donkey Kong is having on them. His wife is perceptive and understanding of what drives her husband, but it is clear she’s hoping for a conclusion to his quest.
There is an element of manipulation in this documentary that I’m slightly suspicious of and aside from Weebie, the director doesn’t dig too deeply into what drives these dedicated games players. It might have been interesting for example to have seen more of elderly Q*Bert champion Doris Self, she hardly fits the gamer stereotype that most of the other men do so neatly. (The film is dedicated to her memory) Ulitmately this isn’t a movie about Donkey Kong, it is a story of male egos, cliques and adults behaving as if they never left high school.