Video Game Documentaries – [Alice] Geeks Out

I started playing video games back when the only option was the arcade. I spend most of my allowance at the putt-putt golf arcade behind the Tallahassee mall. I had moved on by the time consoles became popular. I would occasionally play with friends but we never bought a console for our house. I got re-interested in my late 20s. At that time, I played mostly on my computer and only occasionally.

One the things I become interested in after arcade video games was film. One of my favorite types of films are documentaries. I love documentaries because I love people — with all their foibles, passions, inconsistencies, sadness, etc. I find people fascinating (myself included) and documentary films are a wonderful showcase for personalities.

These two interests came together in 2011 when I was the film festival coordinator for Phoenix Comicon. Part of my job was to search the internet for quality films that I thought would appeal to Phoenix Comicon attendees. Video game documentaries. Why not? I have watched quite a few since then –  here are some of my favorites (for various reasons). I would love to hear about your favorites in the comments. And, if you haven’t, I totally recommend that you watch these whether or not you love video games.

1. King of Chinatown

This is the first video game documentary I ever watched. I was amazed at how invested I was in Wong winning the championship. It is also an interesting study in the relationship between two people tied together with a common goal. Or at least what they think is a common goal.

2. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Movie

The opening to this movie is one of the my top 10 favorite movie openings EVER. I was so happy that this film came to Phoenix Comicon. If you haven’t seen it, you really should take the time. I was so invested in all of the competitors but Thor was completely compelling for me. I so want to give spoilers – GO WATCH THE MOVIE.



3. Indie Game The Movie

I had never heard of, nor played any of these games — Meat boy, Braid or Fez. That said, I loved the characters behind each game and the personal side of the investment and sacrifice each made the in the creation of their game. Plus, I like to support Indie in general. With an excellent Indie film about excellent indie games you can’t go wrong.



4. Race to World First

This film looks at raiding in The World of Warcarft. This film also came Phoenix Comicon and I had the pleasure of meeting the filmmakers. Lovely Gentlemen. Again, you get introduced to some fascinating characters – a closet player for example, and I mean that literally. It was fascinating to hear people describe why they are so invested in this game and how they feel after successfully participating in raiding campaigns was fascinating. It was interesting to see that WOW teams are the same as any other, they’re just found in a place some of us wouldn’t expect.



5. Free to Play

I was in a hacker lab once where some of the guys where watching a Starcraft tourney. I watched over their shoulders and listened to the commentary and thought to myself … that’s crazy… why would anyone want to sit there and just watch other people play a video game. Then I thought, DUH, people do it with football all the time. That was eye-opening for me. I truly enjoyed this film which follows various players as they head to the Dota 2 world championships.  My son likes to spend a lot of time playing video games, and I spend a lot of time trying to get him to do other things — this movie made me think twice about that. The International Dota 2 Championship just happened in Seattle over the weekend of July 18th. The winners took home $4,979,889.



6. The Story of Mojang

I don’t know about you but my 8-yr old can’t get enough of this game. He loves to play it. Plus it has motivated him to learn to code and I am down with that. Of course it means he has also purchased books, foam swords, plushes, and more as Minecraft has become a sales juggernaut. I will confess that I have lost myself in Minecraft for several hours at a time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not gonna lie, The Story of Mjoang is a bit slow for me in a couple of parts, but overall I still enjoyed learning about the genesis of the game and the individual behind it. Even my son watched it.



7. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

This documentary took me back to my video game roots. The games featured in this film are the ones I grew up on. To be clear I was never ever even close to a high score on anything, especially Donkey Kong. Watching this film made me feel a lot better about sucking at Donkey Kong. For me this almost turns into an David and Goliath story. I don’t know that the film needed to be quite as long as it is, but I enjoyed the arc of the story nonetheless. I will give a shout out to the only video game I ever beat — Cliff Hanger based on the Hayao Miyazaki‘s The Castle of Cagliostro just to make myself feel a little better.


8. IRL and IRL 2

These two short documentaries are personal stories about one young man’s relationship with World of Warcraft. In addition to being well put together I love that they are so personnel. I feel like the flimmaker took a big  risk by putting himself out there in such a personal way and I admire him for that. The second film almost made me cry at the end (but ask anyone, I’m a crier). Definitely worth the 20 mins of your life it will take to watch them.


9. Video Games: The Movie

I just saw this at my local Indie film house, The Film Bar, here in Phoenix. It is well heeled with money behind it and features many well known names in the industry. It’s mostly a history lesson with some mild preaching thrown in for good measure. The fact that it’s narrated by Samwise Gamgee, I mean Sean Astin, features interviews with Will Wheaton and Chris Hardwick, and discussions with CEOs of major development houses makes it is hard to ignore this film. But, I gotta say I do prefer the more indie homegrown stuff.



You know what is missing from this list? A video game documentary that prominently features female gamers. Anyone what to make that movie with me?

No seriously.