Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but I can easily recall when Pong, the original video game sensation, became a hit, and the Atari 2600 shortly thereafter. And on and on and on. I am a member of the first video game generation and plenty of my life (up to the end college at least) has been consumed by playing, a pastime I have since passed along to my two sons, ages 7 and 9 much to the chagrin of my wife who never played them and fails to see their point. But one can’t deny how pervasive that video games have become in our culture and that’s where a film like writer-director Jeremy Snead‘s fantastic documentary Video Games: The Movie helps show how and why this all came about.
Starting out with a history of video games and giving us a tour of the evolution of the systems and their consumption, Snead and the many industry giants and some famous fans of video games (including narrator Sean Astin) help paint the broader picture of video game culture and its effects on society. While there are several aspects of the culture tackled in this film, nerd (I use that term lightly, because who’s to judge who is a nerd and who isn’t?) inclusion and community creation seems to ring the heaviest with nearly all parties interviewed. That many people wouldn’t have anywhere near the number of friends, wouldn’t meet their significant other/life partners, etc., without video games is hammered home quite nicely in this film. All too often, gamers are perceived as socially awkward and incapable of creating and maintaining normal relationships. This film is quick to counter that, asking “what is normal?” and gives multiple examples of how, yes, these relationships that are forged in battle or head-to-head while gaming are the norm and are becoming more so as more people plug in and play.
The film also tackles the many intricacies that it takes to create, develop and market video games. The multi-year dedication before many games even enter the testing phase to see if they can somehow make the grade with gamers, who are demanding more out of their gaming experience, is incredible and pretty much unfathomable to those outside the industry. As details are shown from various video games over time, from Pong to Halo for example, it is truly incredible how far they’ve come and how far yet they will go.
With interviews from everyone from Nolan Bushnell (creator of the Atari system) to Al Alcorn (creator of Pong) to Nerdist creator Chris Hardwick to actor Wil Wheaton, there is a real relevance to what the great bulk of these people have to say about the culture and the games themselves (well, maybe not Zach Braff…). Structurally, it is segmented and designed to relay specific points, but it is interwoven so well, that these segments feed off of one another building a complete story. If you are into video games at all, I can’t help but to think this would interest you. This film follows in the footsteps of great video game documentaries such as Indie Game: The Movie, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and Second Skin. The scope of Video Games: The Movie is much wider and covers far more area than these other docs. And it’s a shame that Snead was unable to incorporate the news that the infamous Atari E.T. cartridges were recently unearthed in that New Mexico dump back in May.
I really enjoyed this film and of course, as my nature is, became quite nostalgic for my old videogaming days. Perhaps I can locate my old Atari 5200 and crank up some Jungle Hunt in the hear future. This is a fine addition to the growing number of docs about video games and I imagine that those who see it will fall in love with it. To Mr. Snead, from one Jeremy to another…thanks for making this.