The world of documentary filmmaking is full of dramatic, revealing and entertaining looks at the reality behind intriguing subjects, and it may surprise you to know that the world of video games has provided ample fuel for some of the finest factual movies going in recent times.
Not that it should be a surprise: gaming as both a hobby and an industry is overflowing with compelling stories. Here are five recent documentaries that have really got to the heart of the power and influence of the medium.
King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters
A saga following record-chasers in the world of classic retro arcade titles, this is one of the most gripping and emotionally engaging documentaries of recent years. No joke.
Directed with a smart eye for the tension, humour and tenderness in everyday life, it turns the story of one man’s mission to beat the top score in Donkey Kong into what is essentially a nail-biting underdog sports movie, complete with an endearing hero you’ll be rooting for all the way, and a hissable, mulleted villain who seems like the ultimate scheming nemesis. Funny, heart-warming and surprisingly moving in equal measure.
Indie Game: The Movie
A highly prescient and revealing film that landed just as independent game development was beginning to boom, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s doc discusses the impact of influential creation Braid with the enigmatic Jonathan Blow, and charts the (often troubled) development of Super Meat Boy and Fez, both of which would go on to become downloadable mega-hits.
It gets right to the heart of what drives some of the most talented figures in indie gaming at that time, from intellectual ambition to personal fulfillment. Highlights include intimate, poignant insights from Team Meat’s Edmund McMillen, and early signs of the rage to come from outspoken Fez creator Phil Fish.
Double Fine Adventure
Consisting of highly revealing, regular YouTube episodes chronicling the day-to-day work on Double Fine’s Kickstarter-backed project Broken Age, say hello to a pretty much unprecedented warts and all insight into how a video game actually gets made, along with all the crises, drama and highs and lows that go with it.
Frank and honest, it sheds a hell of a lot of light into the often uncharted backstage struggles at a game developer without any retrospective rose-tinted glasses, and may even help you appreciate the titanic efforts involved in creating video games much more than you otherwise would.
Free To Play
Free To Play revolves around the fast-rising world of ‘E Sports’, and an extraordinary, groundbreaking international DOTA 2 tournament in 2011 that served up a staggering $1 million prize for the winning team.
The doc highlights several key individuals who want to turn their talent for this “football meets chess” experience into a full time occupation, and the stage is set for titanic in-game clashes – as well as a few personal ruminations and revelations. You’ll care about how the central personalities fare along the way, feeling every bit of their disappointment, hubris or sheer ecstatic joy as crucial battles, both in-game and out of it, are lost and won.
How Videogames Changed The World
Featuring interviews with some of the most influential names in gaming – as well as various famous faces heavily inspired by the medium – the ever-sharp broadcaster and satirist Charlie Brooker fronts this entertaining insight into the story of video games, highlighting twenty-five of the most important creations in the process.
While some will spit feathers over what’s included (or omitted), the end result is a rather enjoyable exploration of the making, impact and legacy of numerous beloved favourites.
[Main Image: Edmund McMillen in Indie Game: The Movie]