The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

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

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.

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8 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”

  1. George Cornelius says:

    great documentary!

  2. […] how little hope I have for this movie, but I’m still going to watch it. After the success of “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” a lot of documentaries popped up about nerdy competitions. Some were good, but not all. A rock, […]

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nick Rogers, The Film Yap. The Film Yap said: I wanted pretty girls to say, “Hi, I see that you’re good at ‘Centipede.’ ” #bestfilmsoftehdecade #heroesofthezeroes […]

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    mia: Countable in courics, Bono IS the record. Unforgettable.

  5. South Park did a brilliant homage to this film a few years ago, involving Bono and record-breaking excrement.

    I remember hearing about the allegations, too. However falsified, though, it’s an amazingly entertaining film. Anyone who says documentaries are boring has clearly never seen this one. (And this is coming from someone who generally hates video games.)

  6. Joe Shearer says:

    It’s been a long time since I read those, but I did so immediately after watching Kong for the first time and spent a lot of time reading it. They are very specific with their arguments and claim that the filmmakers out and out falsified things, editing together clips that were filmed on different days and in completely different contexts and presenting it as a cohesive story that happened in the moment.

    I do agree that they seem awfully high and mighty and it seems strange that the filmmakers would craft a story out of thin air painting Twin Galaxies as the puppet organization it came off as, and as you said the directing people to e-mail a guy for proof, and there’s also a newer thread rebutting some of their points that I see haven’t been responded to.

    I agree they’re probably raging buttholes also. There’s really no way of getting around that really questionable video Billy Mitchell provided either.

  7. Nick Rogers says:

    Joe: If separately filmed video exists to refute Billy’s snub of Steve at his own restaurant, the person who has it should post it. I find it hilarious that those with questions about it are directed to email the guy, rather than just a link to the video itself. (If it’s actually there, I will profess that I skimmed Walter Day’s point-by-point rebuttal.) I think Billy Mitchell and Brian Kuh are unquestionable d-bags; I’m also convinced that Twin Galaxies, by its very ramshackle, run-out-of-a-rec-room nature, is prone to flaws as a verification organization. I’ll also acknowledge some chronologies or specifics might have been twisted. But as you said, this is a fascinating film for all of those reasons.

  8. Joe Shearer says:

    There’s actually a lot of question as to the authenticity of this movie, which is to me the most interesting thing about it (and it’s really a terrific film too).

    Walter Day at the Twin Galaxies message board (Twin Galaxies is the arcade that is much of the setting of the film) has a very detailed response to the film, where he alleges the film was heavily edited to the point of being extremely inaccurate and misleading. You can find that here:

    Anyway, whether the filmmakers were in fact twisting and manipulating things, or Twin Galaxies, Mitchell and the others are just angry that they were caught being d-bags, it makes an already terrific movie a much more interesting thing to read/watch and talk about.