Video games aren't just a fascination when it comes to people within the industry, fans and professionals alike. It's also a ripe topic for documentaries, and these films actually get a huge draw from general audiences, fascinated by the history and "little stories" that generate from them.
Over the years, we've gotten our fair share of video game docs that are worth checking out, but for those of you looking for a quick run-down of the best ones (or perhaps a primer in which to get started), we've got a few prime suggestions that you can go with. They vary in topic, from pinball to the historic Donkey Kong confrontation to general pieces that cover the industry in a nutshell, albeit in a humorous, enjoyable fashion.
Grab your popcorn and soda, because these are the video game documentaries you should see.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Seth Gordon's 2007 documentary started the current wave of video game-oriented films, and covers a terrific topic. It revolves around the battle between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell to become the King of Kong, the champion top scorer on the classic Nintendo arcade game Donkey Kong. The battle's a lot closer than you think, and surrounded with a certain sense of controversy, but Gordon keeps it entertaining throughout, with insightful interviews and fun little moments. Make sure you stick around till the very end.
Video Games the Movie (2014)
Now available on Video On Demand and coming to theaters this Friday, Jeremy Snead's Video Games: The Movie is a comprehensive look back at where the medium got its start, as well as various chapters in-between then and now. Subjects include the video game crash of '83, Nintendo's rise to infamy, and other fun little facts. The movie features various interviewees (including myself in a "blink and you'll miss it" moment), and Sean Astin (yes, one of the Goonies) provides a strong yet caring narration over the entire proceedings. It's well worth checking out.
100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience (2013)
Ever wonder what gaming is like overseas? Look no further than 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience. This 68-minute documentary covers the evolution of arcades and culture in Japan, from the immense fighting game scene to other hardcore draws, including "bullet hell" shooters and much more. This is a must-see for those fascinated by import games or the fighting scene in general.
The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time (2012)
The arcade scene isn't what it used to be. Back in the 80's and 90's, coin-operated machines thrived, but since that time, home consoles have rendered most of them obsolete. With The Space Invaders: in Search of Lost Time, the focus turns to the collectors who look to share their love of arcade games with others, going as far as preserving the games to their original form (which is a lot more costly than you may think). For those of you who grew up mastering high scores on Space Invaders and Pac-Man, this is a must-see.
Special When Lit (2009)
Pinballs are fascinating machines, even if they aren't thriving nearly as much as they were 20 to 30 years ago. Special When Lit examines the history of pinball, including the many bumps it went through with distribution. It also focuses heavily on fans of pinball machines, including avid collectors and designers alike. This, along with Tilt!: The Battle To Save Pinball, which focuses on Williams' short-lived Pinball 2000 line (including Revenge From Mars and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, with video displays), is required viewing for pinball nuts, and general audiences as well.
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007)
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade takes a loving look back at the origins of arcade gaming, as well as those who took part in high score competitions with Twin Galaxies in 1982. It's a fantastic piece that explores the rise of arcade gaming, as well as its eventual fall and those champions who swore that the good times would last forever. Thanks to this doc (along with the others), those who missed out on such an era can discover it for the first time, while nostalgic fans can easily embrace the "good ol'" days to their heart's content.
Indie Games: The Movie (2011)
If you ever wanted to get an idea of how indie game development works, this fun little 2011 documentary is the best way to go. In Indie Games: The Movie, you'll hear from a number of indie superstars, including Phil Fish (before his Fez 2 breakdown, anyway), Team Meat (from Super Meat Boy fame) and Braid creator Jonathan Blow. Some of the egos may be a little heavy-handed in this movie, but you'll definitely learn a thing or two.
Fans of Minecraft will definitely want to check out The Story of Mojang, a documentary that goes behind-the-scenes of the development of the hit PC/console game, as well as what more creative types are doing with it. Another recommended title is Free-To-Play, which looks at the rise of gaming culture, along with certain effects that come from it. And, finally, avid Street Fighter fans should check out Capcom's documentary I Am Street Fighter, which not only looks back upon the history of the series, but also the fans who have grown with it.
Ready up your DVD/Blu-Ray player, because you've got a lot to watch...