Last year there was a documentary released entitled The King of King: A Fistful of Quarters (Tagline: “Don’t get chumpatized”) about the world of competitive videogaming. Many of you, I suspect, weren’t aware there was a world of competitive videogaming until just this moment. Not only is there, but it’s a booming business and full of drama and intrigue, apparently.
The documentary follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to break the official worldwide high score in Donkey Kong. The score he was attempting to break was 874,300, set in 1982 by Billy Mitchell , who also held records in Pac-Man and Centipede. I won’t give away the rest of the movie, as it is strangely fascinating, even if you don’t play videogames yourself. (Note: if you live near me and would like to borrow it at some time, just let me know!)
Donkey Kong is a particularly hard classic game, and anyone who has even gotten to the elevator-filled third screen is even now shaking their head at the remembrance of it. Games have changed significantly since then, and many modern games don’t even have a point system. In the early days of videogames, though, the points were the thing – indicators of skill, bragging points, and goals to be reached. Twin Galaxies has, since 1981, been the “official” keeper of gaming records, and as the documentary revealed, the process of submitting a score is quite rigorous. One referee talked about the eight hours of videotape he was needing to watch to verify someone’s attempt a breaking the record for Nibbler, a game I was only just barely aware of.
While I loved videogames from the first time I ever saw one, I’ve never been all that good at them. The idea of breaking any sort of record for Q*Bert or Defender is so foreign to me that it passes into the realm of the laughable. I found out somewhere along the way that there’s always someone you’re better than… but there is also always someone else who’s better than you. My ability to finish Guitar Hero in Medium might be impressive to someone who struggles with Easy, but someone who can play a song flawlessly in Expert puts me to shame.
That mindset has filtered into the rest of my life, for better or for worse. I don’t have a desire to compete for the most part because of it – I know the chances of me ever being the best at something are so ridiculously slim that I’ve learned to get to a “happiness level,” a place where I enjoy what I’m doing but am not stretched to push myself further. It doesn’t take a very sharp eye to see where the problem lies in that outlook. While it has, for the most part, removed certain stress causers, it has made me complacent and even stagnant.
These days I play through videogames for the stories. I want to enjoy them like I enjoy movies, and even fighting games have a layer of storytelling to them. I want to beat a level so I can see the next part of the story. A really engaging game can be a 10-, 25-, 0r 100-hour movie, and I want to see what happens next. That’s carried over into other areas, too. I enjoy what’s going on right now, and I’m curious to see what happens next.
I’m just hoping against hope that I don’t get chumpatized.