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Heroes of the Zeroes: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

by on June 10, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”
Rated PG-13

Watching others play video games is boring, but that’s because most people are recreational button-mashers. Competitive gaming demands savant-level skills — recognizing and memorizing patterns in a cognitive minefield of pixels and bleeps.

As a lifelong gamer notes in 2007’s “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” “Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.” Right there, what seems like a paradise only for the pale and pasty becomes like any other pursuit where competition curdles into compulsion and passion becomes unhealthy obsession.

Seth Gordon’s unexpectedly engrossing documentary — about two men trading blows to get the highest-ever “Donkey Kong” arcade-game score — engaged and enraged.

After engineer Steve Wiebe lost his job, he turned his mathematical mind on “Donkey Kong” — earning the record from his garage while his son bellowed in the house to have his butt wiped.

Wiebe unseated Billy Mitchell — competitive gaming’s poster boy, who parlayed popularity into a chicken-joint chain. Now likening his controversial nature to “the abortion issue,” Mitchell casts aspersions on Wiebe, leading Wiebe on a 3,000-mile journey to an officially sanctioned machine.

A showdown never materializes, for reasons that will make you want to punch Mitchell and Brian Kuh, a sycophantic Smee to Mitchell’s odious Captain Hook.

But the moment when Wiebe and Mitchell meet is fraught with unbearable tension — a boiling point of pressure-cooker therapy for Wiebe’s expectations of himself in an arena that champions viciousness. “King” offered a fascinating, infuriating look at the bleakly funny morass of American social expectations.