A Fistfull of Quarters

“I guess it’s not even about Donkey Kong anymore.”

That pretty much sums it up perfectly. You may think The King of Kong is a silly documentary about the tiny subculture of competitive gaming, specifically old school arcade games like Pac Man and Donkey Kong. That’s exactly what I was expecting when I walked into the theater. I was hoping to spend a couple hours watching a bunch of nerds acting nerdy but I was treated to something much more dramatic. This is an epic battle between good and evil and an intimate look into one man’s internal struggle to finally be the best at something. I say this without a shred of irony.

Steve Wiebe & Billy MitchellEvery legendary story needs a clearly defined good guy and bad guy and King of Kong has just that. Our good guy is the lovable Steve Wiebe. Steve is a middle school teacher with two cute kids and possibly the most loving, supportive wife on the planet. You just want to hug this guy! He has decided to break the world record for Donkey Kong and hunkers down in the garage practicing the game for hours.

Our bad guy comes in the form of Billy Mitchell the man who has held the Donkey Kong high score for over 20 years. Billy is the perfect arch rival with his sunken eyes, tight black jeans, long “flowing” hair and an ego large enough to block the sun. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for a guy who’s whole identity is wrapped around video game records he set in the 80’s. In many ways he’s a tragic figure when you cut through all the hair and sleaziness. In the world of classic arcade games Billy Mitchell is king, he’s Mohammed Ali, he’s Michael Jordan, he’s GOD!

The real drama that unfolds is not really about Steve vs. Billy rather it’s Steve vs. Steve and it is endlessly fascinating to watch. I’m not kidding about the amount of drama packed into this story, the audience I saw it with was cheering, booing, groaning, laughing and even crying. I feel very comfortable calling this a must see. Lucky for you it’s out on DVD now!