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In 1982, “Gamer of the Century” Billy Mitchell managed to score 874,300 points on the arcade classic Donkey Kong, a record many thought would never be broken. In 2003, 35-year-old family man Steve Wiebe, after losing his job at Boeing, found solace in Donkey Kong, surpassing Billy's record with a thought-to-be-impossible 1,000,000 points. Steve and Billy then engaged in a cross-country duel to see who could set the high score and become The King of Kong. Along the way, both men learned valuable lessons about what it means to be a father, a husband and a true champion. Directed by Seth Gordon.

 

 

 The King of Kong:
 A Fistful of Quarters

My producer Ed Cunningham and I did not set out to make a movie about the grand themes of heroism, justice and passion. We just wanted to make a documentary about Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong is the hardest and purest video game experience ever invented. It is a game that sends the average player packing after just a few seconds of play. We quickly learned that only two people could ever contend for the title of supreme Donkey Kong champion.

Back in 1982, when kids dumped quarters by the pound into arcade machines around the globe, Billy Mitchell was the best of the best. All of his records from those days are prized, but none more than Donkey Kong. And his records were only the beginning. He was instrumental in establishing Twin Galaxies, an organization that remains the acknowledged governing body for video game record-setters. To this day, that community worships Billy, and Billy revels in their adulation. He plays the part: from his flowing hair to his strident patriotism to his endless stream of self-empowerment platitudes, he is frozen in time, living a continuous loop of the glory days as he oversees his Ricky’s Hot Sauce empire.

Thirty-seven-year-old Steve Wiebe, on the other hand, always comes up short. While Billy was setting records, Steve was busy losing his promising baseball talent to injury, a pattern that has haunted his life. Never really a loser, he’s simply second best in everything, from music to sports to his professional career. When he was laid off from his software job, he bought a vintage Donkey Kong machine and began to play it for hours every day, eventually scaling the game’s greatest heights. In 2003, more than 20 years after Billy set his record, Steve Wiebe discovered Twin Galaxies and learned that Billy’s record was within his own reach. Steve could finally be the best at something.

This set in motion a dramatic conflict we could not have scripted in a million years. When Billy’s greatest record was threatened, he and his followers went to shocking lengths to protect it, forcing Steve to not only compete in Donkey Kong but to prove himself in the larger game of personal politics that surround the coveted crown.

Because of its subjects’ outlandish passion for their hobby, the film became an epic journey. Much more than just vintage video gamers, it is about what happens when a heroic figure and his followers face that hero’s mortality. It is about how far an underdog will go once he has the brass ring finally within his reach, and how the desire to win can overcome the most challenging of circumstances. And, of course, it is a rare glimpse into a world little seen by outsiders, a world lit by the flames of obsession and the flickering screens of obsolete dreams.