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Five amazing gaming documentaries you need to watch (now)

king of chinatown

I’ve been on a bit of a documentary binge lately. As part of that binge, I’ve become obsessed with video game documentaries. There’s something endearing, exciting and completely fascinating about all the passionate subcultures within the industry.

There are a good many bad and downright boring films out there, but amongst them are some real gems; with more drama, emotion and engrossing characters than you’d ever expect. I’ve waded through a heap of them, good and bad, and managed to hammer out a top five you need to watch – right now.

5. King of Chinatown

There are a ton of Street Fighter documentaries out there; a lot of them aren’t very good. This one is.

Focusing on one of the game’s greats, Justin Wong, the documentary follows his journey from struggling gamer to big time Street Fighter celebrity.

What sets this film apart is it manages to create tension and excitement around the various matches and tournaments, while at the same time focusing on the raw emotion, challenges and strained relationships happening behind the scenes.

You’ll see a complex dynamic play out between Justin and his best friend and team manager TriForce. Justin’s internal struggle over loyalty, friendship and handling his success alongside the questions raised around TriForce’s true motives is as engrossing as it is uncomfortable to watch.

There’s a lot more than Street Fighter going on in this film, and that’s what makes it great.

4. Indie Game: The Movie

Probably the best produced film in this list, Indie Game: The Movie made waves at Sundance where it won an editing award.

The film follows four indie developers as they struggle to create the next big title. And make the next big title they did; the film features Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy), Phil Fish (Fez) and Jonathan Blow (Braid).

It’s an eye-opening look at the obsession, insane hours and emotion that go into creating these games; an insight into the sacrifices that have to be made to try and succeed in one of the most brutal and unforgiving industries in the world.

Find it here.

3. FRAG: The Movie

FRAG provides a painfully honest look at the world of professional video gaming, following the stories of the kids who want to make it their life, and the organisations who want to exploit them.

Anyone who has ever considered being a professional gamer or even dreamed about it needs to watch this movie. Behind all the lights, livestreams and gaming houses is an industry marred by drugs, corruption and exploitation.

The film showcases not only how difficult it is to make a living playing games, but also how corrupt organisations take advantage of young, vulnerable kids who are too naïve to know they’ve been conned.

At turns depressing, disturbing and exhilarating, it’s the look behind the scenes you’ll wish you hadn’t seen.

2. The Smash Brothers

This mini-series style documentary is a blast. It chronicles the history of competitive Smash Brothers Melee, covering the rise and fall of both the star players and the game itself.

It’s a fascinating look into the types of obsessive subcultures which can form around a game, and the curious, engrossing and downright weird characters which emerge from it. As the series progresses, legends of the game are dethroned and discarded, while new strategies are uncovered and refined.

Intense rivalries quickly form between areas, crews and their players, and you’ll find yourself rooting for one side or the other. Underground tournaments shape the scene as the best of the best duke it out on old televisions in someone’s living room, sitting among a sea of Nintendo GameCubes.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played the game in your life, if you’ve never so much as seen a GameCube – you cannot not have fun watching this series. The passion, excitement, tension and fierce competition between the characters will hold your attention till the very end.

1. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

I’ve mentioned this film on the site before, but this is legitimately one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever watched. Hell, it’s one of the best damn things I’ve seen, period.

King of Kong follows the story of suburban-as-can-be family man Steve Wiebe, an all-around nice guy whose life has been spent never quite being exceptional at anything. That is, of course, until he realises the Donkey Kong scores he’s been achieving in his garage are damned close to the world record.

This is where the story takes an interesting turn. The current record-holder isn’t going to give it up easily, and as we follow Wiebe attempting to do the impossible we uncover a world of age-old rivalries, conspiracies, clandestine meetings in the middle of the night and has-beens trying to hang on to their fifteen minutes of fame.

King of Kong really has everything – from the unlikely underdog hero to the slimy supervillain and all his henchman, you won’t believe how dramatic and intense Donkey Kong can be – or how much you’ll be rooting for the nice guy who always finishes last.

Note: This one is on YouTube, but two of the 9 parts are missing which means it’s probably not exactly legit. You can watch it here.

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  • Rick de Klerk

    Nice selection, Chris. Never heard of King of Chinatown, so I know what I’ll be watching this evening.

    I’d also like to make the recommendation of Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcades for anyone that got a kick out of King of Kong.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Thanks Rick, hope you enjoy it ;)

      I actually considered Chasing Ghosts, but since it had a lot of the same characters as Kong I thought I’d bump it off in the interests of diversity. But for anyone reading this, I second that recommendation – much more feel-good entertainment than drama though ;)

      • Rick de Klerk

        Interesting. I actually found Chasing Ghosts kind of melancholic, almost sad in a way.

        • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

          Haha I guess I’m a bit of a heartless bastard :D I enjoyed it and would totally recommend it, I suppose it just didn’t quite pull me in the way Kongs story did. A lot of the same characters, but a very different feel.

  • cookieman

    There should be an honourable mention of Valve’s Free to Play, if you include recent entries

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Yeah, I thought of putting it in but it’s so well-known at this point it feels like a wasted slot. it was very good though.

  • Wayne Voss

    Just watched king of kong. What a amazing documetary it is. Thanks for the artical. Gonna watch me some more game documentaries

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Awesome, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I just loved the story arc in that one and how insane things get

  • Alex Rowley

    I watched Indie game: the movie on Netflix and it was pretty damn good. It really shows how the internet hate machine can put developers down, especially if they are not backed by publishers and piles of money. Also it will most certainly dash the hopes of many who are looking into becoming game designers and haven’t done much research into it.

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