Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the Wrong on Donkey Kong

Yesterday I saw the documentary about videogame championships, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which was a great portrait of elite communities of videogame players obsessed with classic arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.

Since the hero of the film is a suburban father and middle school science teacher, it obviously debunks the stereotype that videogames are for disaffected anti-social teens. It also chooses footage that suggests there may be a link between the best players and the pathology of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). However, as I indicate above, by choosing an illustration from a mid-eighties Newsweek parody, the film doesn't go far in exploring the dysfunctional gender dynamics to which it alludes. Although the movie includes an eighty-something female Q*bert challenger Doris Self, the central showdown between the two male characters takes place in the context of a multiple dramas of masculinity, including another face-off involving the electronic scoreboard organization Twin Galaxies and players affililated with its rival, the more obviously misogynistic "Mr. Awesome," Roy Shildt. (My collaborator, friend, neighbor, and fellow feminist Jenny Cool is also a former Ms Pac-Man champion in Hawaii.)

In the game studies there has been a lot of interest in classic games of late. Ian Bogost will have a new book on Atari, and at conference you often hear people like Greg Costikyan talking about the appeal of process-intensive games, where the aesthetic pleasure takes place in active and strategic game play rather than cinematically representational graphics that encourage passive reception. Among producers of content, the current vogue for virtuoso competition involving 8-bit music or 64K computer animation indicates that sometimes less can be more.

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