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February 20, 2010 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Chasing Ghosts is a terrific documentary that follows the fates of the winners of the 1982 arcade world championships and the short lived era when coin operated Video Arcades boomed and then busted coming to a crashing end shortly after 1984. It focuses primarily on the first player to play a perfect game of Pac Man, meaning going 256 levels, on one man and eating four ghosts on every powerpellet (in the first 19 screens after that the ghosts don't turn) and ending up on the kill screen and finding all the hidden dots there. (Warning lots of Youtube.)
posted by ExitPursuedByBear (50 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:33 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


God I hate that Billy Mitchell guy.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:36 PM on February 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


wow.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:37 PM on February 20, 2010


After seeing King of Kong, I don't know if I WANT to watch Chasing Ghosts. *shudder*
posted by sheena is a sock puppet at 7:54 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the olden days they used to copy Bibles.

Then it was Pac-Man.

Now, there is memorizing influences of indie rock bands.

What will our kids do in order to feel incredibly accomplished while accomplishing nothing?
posted by gurple at 8:00 PM on February 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


...paramilitary associations... phallic imagery... not a girls game like Pac Man... really tough games like Missile Command.

This is some wacky shit, man. Have they been working on these personas since the 80s, back in their hey-day?

They're awful.
posted by defenestration at 8:09 PM on February 20, 2010


A fascinating subculture. Maybe it was the youtube presentation, but I felt that this lacked the narrative arc that made King of Kong so great.

Also, King of Kong didn't make quite so explicit just how big a role pornography plays in these men's sad, sad lives.
posted by sy at 8:11 PM on February 20, 2010


"This is Christopher Lambert."
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:15 PM on February 20, 2010


This film fits right in with the Rock-A-Fire Explosion and RealDoll documentaries in the "Now I Feel Better About Myself Film Festival".
posted by dr_dank at 8:16 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Guy from Brooklyn: I've been gaming since 1969.
posted by defenestration at 8:18 PM on February 20, 2010


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZfITj0166w#t=0m22s
posted by defenestration at 8:21 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back around that time, I bought a Pac-Man pattern book and memorized, like, the first eight levels. Came back to the arcade a few days later and just blew my friends minds.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:48 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


A few of them escaped the obsession to become healthy adults, a few of them though have just absolutely destroyed their lives over this obsession. The man in his parents house with only his cat is heartbreaking.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 9:12 PM on February 20, 2010


Well, it's either Pac-Man or the Alamo.
posted by ooga_booga at 9:23 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, King of Kong didn't make quite so explicit just how big a role pornography plays in these men's sad, sad lives.

I don't think it's fair to pick out the saddest guy in the movie and extrapolate that his habits reflect those of the entirety of video gaming.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:17 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Billy Mitchell isn't as much of a dick as King of Kong made him seem to be.

I used to make yearly pilgrimages to Funspot and have several times seen people filing themselves play games.

Damn I love that place.
posted by herodotus at 10:27 PM on February 20, 2010


> Billy Mitchell isn't as much of a dick as King of Kong made him seem to be.

There was an article three or four years ago in Harper's that acted as a sort of companion piece to King of Kong (although it was mostly about Pac-Man). It included a bit about how selectively King of Kong was edited in order to make Mitchell look as bad as possible.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:33 PM on February 20, 2010


Also, most of these guys don't have "sad sad" lives. They have lives they are quite happy with even if you and others think they're lame. They do their things, they don't hurt anyone, and that's cool.

I hate was happened to the terms "nerd" and "geek" in the last decade, but if people support those cultures I don't see how they can fail to support the happy guys in those videos.
posted by herodotus at 10:36 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


YOU DIDN'T TELL ME THERE'D BE SPIDERS!!!!!
posted by LordSludge at 10:47 PM on February 20, 2010


I'm gonna watch it just because Billy Mitchell is such a douche. I also disagree to some extent that King of Kong was unfair to him... it showed some of his redeeming qualities so he never came across as an outright villain or anything -- the realism was one of the things I liked best about King of Kong -- but the flair for dramatics and pettiness isn't something you can create by mere editing. You have to be a special kind of douchebag to sit around plotting the best time to send a video tape of your beating someone's newly-set record, for example, and he actually said all those smarmy things he said in the interviews. I don't know how one could edit that to show Mitchell in any other light, really, even if you wanted to. You'd have to just leave out everything except his being nice to the QBert (was that her game? can't remember) lady.

In other words, I'm willing to buy that Mitchell has all sorts of positive qualities since he's a human being and most people do, and some of them were evident in King of Kong. But that doesn't make his negative qualities any less negative or grating.
posted by Nattie at 11:08 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


A couple years too late, but at least I have a perfect game of Dragon's Lair behind me.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:13 PM on February 20, 2010


Salon had an interview with Mitchell after King of Kong came out, and he really came off as just as big a douche as the documentary showed him to be.
posted by KGMoney at 11:18 PM on February 20, 2010


There was an article three or four years ago in Harper's that acted as a sort of companion piece to King of Kong (although it was mostly about Pac-Man). It included a bit about how selectively King of Kong was edited in order to make Mitchell look as bad as possible.

The film makers publicly said that they edited out much worse behavior.
posted by mecran01 at 11:33 PM on February 20, 2010


Nattie, i'm not going to defend Billy (I don't know the guy), but what I took from those scenes was that Billy wanted to respond to the new record and his friends up in New England were douches.
posted by herodotus at 11:48 PM on February 20, 2010


The film makers publicly said that they edited out much worse behavior.

I would like to see this. I totally believe it's true but I haven't seen it.
posted by herodotus at 11:51 PM on February 20, 2010


Why hello.

Some time ago, I made a terrible, terrible mistake. Allow me to make it again, but I first let me give context on the first mistake.

I was up in NH visiting Funspot, and they had posters of King of Kong on a counter. I'd totally forgotten about King of Kong, having not been to the film festivals it was showing at and not watching movies at the time due to working on one of my own. I took the poster home and decided to go pick up (read: torrent) the movie and go look it over.

It was appalling, for the very reasons some people here laud it: I found it an edited-for-freakdom attempt to turn a high score contest into a life or death battle. I did some research. I talked to people. I didn't like what I found out and what I noticed after watching a couple more times.

I ended up writing an essay about it. Then another one, then another one. This was a huge mistake. While I do make documentaries and I certainly have my own approach to them, it turned out that this just made everything worse. Yes, I stand by everything I said in the essays, and I haven't recanted, or whatever, but it was just way too much bother. The producers, or at least one of them, started contacting people who were linking to my essays and saying that I had planned a similar documentary and was merely bitter about them scooping me. (This is untrue.) They never discussed things with me directly. This fits in perfectly with the personalities of people who would do their best to screw other human beings to "tell a good story" even if the story isn't true, so there you go.

My main issue with the movie (in case your interest in reading the essays is minimal, and you'd be justified in having that opinion) is not that they make Mitchell out to be a douche. Mitchell says awful things all the time, it's kind of his thing. My issue is that they make him out to be a dishonest, cheating douche punishing perceived enemies through subterfuge and chicanery, which is simply not accurate. I'm sure, when they say they edited out much worse behavior, they mean he said awful things, I am positive he said more awful things. But good luck finding footage of Mitchell cheating. He's obsessive, he's involved, and is obviously intent in the realm of videogaming, like a person who works at Best Buy might be intent in his local D&D game. But a cheater? A dishonest destroyer of anyone who might pretend to his throne? No, there's not any evidence of that. He's had other records broken before (he has records on a number of games) and he's personally called various record-breakers to congratulate him.

Like a person being told that salt in their diet is leading to heart disease but they still pile on the TV dinners, people can be told until you're blue in the face how much editing can do to an event, how much you can put together dubbed sound, carefully placed shots, and combined months-apart events to generate a new reality, but they buy in, and in, and in. I think that problem's terminal. This movie has more of that.

I watched Chasing Ghosts, I really liked Chasing Ghosts. I loved the vintage footage they got from so many sources, the discussions of in-the-time events, the arrangements of basically everything. Sure, people judge the lives of the folks in the movie, and decide they're better than them or they don't approve of the life choices or read it all as some sort of advantage to snark off on others' lives, but I don't think they're doing a distinct, vicious disserve like King of Kong did. You don't watch Chasing Ghosts going "these people are dishonest". So I am a fan of the film.

I am sorry, however, that I ever got into this discussion in the first place. But I like Metafilter and wanted to weigh in. When my film premieres next month, be sure to judge the interviewees, the lifestyle, the subject and the meaning. I'd expect no less of this place.
posted by jscott at 12:51 AM on February 21, 2010 [27 favorites]


I just watched Chasing Ghosts and liked it. (I have no gaming abilities and didn't spend much time in arcades, just as a point of reference.)

My only real dislike about the film was a couple of editing choices were made that underlined points that didn't need underlining, namely a couple of "two part" title screens.

Still, when people talk about old-school geeks, these are the type of guys I think of. Nice to see one of them turned into a modern-day hipster, though!

(I don't know what was squickier, the porn art collection or the spiders.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:36 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok. Whoah. Not that it matters any more but I agree with jscott. Billy is an asshole dude but not a cheating or a douchenozzle-type asshole dude.
posted by herodotus at 1:38 AM on February 21, 2010


I saw the That's Incredible version on TV. They didn't have to pay for their games! That was my young mind's main thought the whole time.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:00 AM on February 21, 2010


Billy Mitchell may be an asshole, but he wasn't the one spending hours playing Donkey Kong instead of playing with his kids.

Hey Kong Dude! How about you get off your goddamn stool and, I don't know, form some kind of relationship with your children? I'm not saying you have to be Superdad, but everyone heard your unattended daughter screaming in the background of that videotape you made of your Greatest Moment Ever.
posted by Ritchie at 2:42 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


yes, because you play a lot of DK you ignore your babies.

No. That's stupid.

Amazingly so.

Chill.
posted by herodotus at 3:17 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


'Kong Dude' does not automatically translate to 'everyone who plays a lot of Donkey Kong'.
posted by Ritchie at 3:30 AM on February 21, 2010


Hey Kong Dude! How about you get off your goddamn stool

I thought he seemed like a great dad. His family obviously loved and supported his efforts. I can't recall if they said he stuck to a regime of X hours a day (like being away at work) or not, but not once watching the film did I feel he was a bad dad.

But a cheater?

SPOILERS FOR KING OF KONG

I don't recall the filmmaker's saying Billy cheats. I recall this turn of events:

- New Guy films his game and submits it with new high score.

- Judges, Billy's friends, determine it's not eligible because they didn't witness it and it wasn't on a machine they know. Even know Porn Guy spends 72 hours a day watching videos and recording the high scores as official.

- New Guy comes to their machine. Gets high score.

- Billy submits a very suspicious video tape (with the score being blacked out at points) of him playing on his own machine. Judges, Billy's friends, accept it without issue. Tell new guy, "Sorry, dude. It's Billy Mitchell and he doesn't cheat."

Now, unless you're suggesting that the filmmaker's re-arranged the order of those events, I don't see how editing has anything to do with it (and I've edited documentaries, myself).

I also distinctly remember the New Guy asking Billy to come play at Billy's local arcade. NG goes there and plays for hours. Billy and his family show up, walk around, don't interact with NG in any way (or even introduce themselves or, as you suggest, congratulate him for his new record), then leave. Are you saying they edited out an interaction and cooked it in the voice over?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:07 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


the porn art collection or the spiders

Perhaps we all would spend $300,000 on porn art if we lived rent-free in Mom and Dad's house and had never had a girlfriend?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:09 AM on February 21, 2010


In the olden days they used to copy Bibles.
...
What will our kids do in order to feel incredibly accomplished while accomplishing nothing?


Create the equivalent of the Book of Kells?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:21 AM on February 21, 2010


Also, King of Kong didn't make quite so explicit just how big a role pornography plays in these men's sad, sad lives.,

I think you can say that about pretty much any randomly selected group of guys.
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I feel bad for these guys and their pointless existence. These Pac Man and Donkey Kong high scores are so meaningless compared to the callsigns and emblems that can be earned today on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer.
posted by Slap Factory at 6:28 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


"You should never run out of people to be." - Genesis P-Orridge.

These clips reminded me to not hold on to old grudges or old loves too long.
posted by eccnineten at 6:37 AM on February 21, 2010


"Are you saying they edited out an interaction and cooked it in the voice over?"

That's what Mitchell claimed. He claimed the quote "sometime you just don't want to talk to certain people" was actually the end of a conversation and that he was referring to not wanting to interrupt Steve Wiebe. The producters deny it and I have yet to find Steve Wiebe stating which side is true.

The filmakers also never mentioned that Mitchell and Wiebe had ALREADY played head to head before at a classic games expo.
posted by PenDevil at 8:02 AM on February 21, 2010


Most of these guys seem to be doing OK.

The porn potrait guy though, yeah, kind of a cry for help.
posted by bardic at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2010


What will our kids do in order to feel incredibly accomplished while accomplishing nothing?

Get MBAs?
posted by vibrotronica at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


BEN GOLD is a great guy.
posted by Senator at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2010


Are you saying they edited out an interaction and cooked it in the voice over?

As PenDevil said, but I wanted to make clear: yes.

You haven't read the essays, and I am totally cool with that because they're dreary discussions of reality vs. clever editing and using human beings like paper towels, but there's two examples of "not what you saw in the film" I'd point to.

There's a sequence where it looks like Billy won't come into a restaurant to talk to Wiebe, instead driving by and then away in his car. In fact, Mitchell came in, chatted with everyone and paid for lunch. Mitchell and Wiebe had known each other for years before this point; they make a huge deal in the film of how Mitchell won't play the coveted/honorable two-player game of Kong with Wiebe - he'd in fact done this a year earlier with him at some event.

The other minor point is at the time of this movie, Mitchell did not have the King of Kong record. Tim Sczerby did. Later Mitchell reclaimed it, but this big rivalry thing was, fundamentally, based on an untrue premise, that it was some sort of 2-man battle. The producers, at the time (I'm sure they've moved on to greener pastures, especially after the director has ascended to creating crap like Four Christmases) claimed that they couldn't find Sczerby and he wasn't ultimately an important figure. Sczerby wrote a message saying, essentially, "so, where were you guys?". He wasn't doing "the circuit" so they didn't want him. He got a record and was doing other things, a reality they didn't want and couldn't move into the "and they never grew up or had other lives" narrative.

Honestly, I think Sczerby got the best deal.

They had all the people in the movie sign away their life rights (I refuse to do this in my release forms). As a result, a "fictionalized" version of King of Kong has been in development for some time.
posted by jscott at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


Great documentary, thanks for the post. The footage of Buckner and Garcia performing "Pac-Man Fever" on Solid Gold is a little too good for words.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2010


These Pac Man and Donkey Kong high scores are so meaningless compared to the callsigns and emblems that can be earned today on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer.

goddamned Care Package glitchers ruining the integrity of the game...
posted by empath at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2010


What will our kids do in order to feel incredibly accomplished while accomplishing nothing?

Well, I'm on Metafilter.
posted by bam at 1:25 AM on February 22, 2010


The other minor point is at the time of this movie, Mitchell did not have the King of Kong record. Tim Sczerby did.

Regardless of whether Sczerby's 2000ad score of 879,200 was contested or not, what is probably more damning of the King of Kong record of events is that the score of 9.x hundred thousand that Steve got pn screeb before the delivery of the video in the movie was, in fact, held to be the official high score two days later after Mitchell failed to provide a better copy of his video. When you see Twin Galaxies putting Mitchell's high score up, they don't mention the fact that they took it down two days later as an unverifiable score, admitted their mistake and Steve actually held the official high score for three years, until beaten by Mitchell on the 25th anniversay of his original win.

Apperently, both players are on record as saying the documentary was wrong in many of its details
posted by Sparx at 3:50 AM on February 22, 2010


pn screeb</em

By which I pbviously meab "on screen"

posted by Sparx at 3:52 AM on February 22, 2010


pn screeb</em

Oh FFS, just write a greasemonkey script that attaches "epic typing fail" to my name. Or provide an edit window! In exchange I could look winsome!
posted by Sparx at 4:02 AM on February 22, 2010


The documentary also leaves out how Steve later got his revenge on Billy.
posted by straight at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2010


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