Perhaps since almost immediately after the beginning of athletic competition there have been stories of great competitors, those who fought the odds and overcame great obstacles to become champion in their chosen field. Even so, it may come as a bit of a surprise to find out that even in today’s environment where something as basic as Rock, Paper, Scissors has an official governing body, that there exists an organization and an entire sub-culture devoted to video game record keeping. It’s into this world that The King Of Kong takes us, detailing a recent struggle for the world record of the classic video arcade game Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong is described by its adherents in the film as one of the most brutal of arcade games, where the average game runs less than a minute. The player controls a construction worker who must climb a series of girders and ladders to rescue a fair maiden from the game’s titular giant monkey. Along the way, the player must dodge rolling barrels, fire balls and, on the more advance levels, deadly, bouncing springs. The world’s record for high score on the game was set back during the initial video arcade boom of the early 1980s by Billy Mitchell, a record which remained unbroken for a solid two decades.
Enter challenger Steve Wiebe, a laid off Boeing engineer who decided to break the world record for the Donkey Kong game as a way to pass his new found free time. In his Washington state garage, Wiebe applies a keen analytic mind – his wife thinks he may have a touch of autism when it comes to his concentration for problem solving – and eye-hand coordination developed as a student athlete and drummer to the point where he becomes a serious contender to break Mitchell’s record.
The King Of Kong starts off presenting both competitors in a positive light. Wiebe is an easy going family man while we see Mitchell securing a Q-Bert machine for an 80-year old woman so she can continue to practice to defend her record. However, as the film progresses and the various people in record keeping organization Twin Galaxies’ rather closed community begin to react to Wiebe’s seeming intrusion into their world, it is hard not to shift sympathies to underdog Wiebe. The end result leaves one to not help but wonder if their due diligence in verifying or debunking Wiebe’s record breaking attempts is more than a little fueled by their friendship with Mitchell. King Of Kong never belittles or looks down on its subjects and any negative impressions anyone makes is strictly their own doing.