5 Gaming Documentaries You Need to See After Netflix’s High Score

Netflix’s High Score was released last week to much acclaim. An irreverent, accessible documentary series that traversed gaming history, exploring the innovations that shaped the industry and the games that changed lives. It comes highly recommended.

Once you have binged your way through High Score, you may have an itch for more video game documentaries. Here are five other gaming documentaries that you need to see.

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Covering the development of several indie titles, primarily focused on FEZ and Super Meat Boy, as they grow from humble beginnings to fully-fledged gaming sensations.

Outspoken, passionate artists working outside of the corporate system. It shows the creative freedom of being an indie developer but the personal pressure and toll that being one of only a handful of names responsible for a game when the Rockstars and Naughty Dogs of the world have thousands. When an indie game receives hate, it is very specific and direct, and hurtful. The praise is similarly personal and rewarding.

The dramatic centrepiece for both stories is a botched Meat Boy launch on Xbox Live Arcade and a petulant ex-partner threatening to not authorise a FEZ demo showcase at PAX.

It’s interesting, it’s personal, it’s incredibly compelling.

Available on Amazon Prime, also available to buy or rent.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Set in the world of competitive retro gaming, King of Kong is about the battle to break the high-score world record in Donkey Kong and it centres around two players: Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. These men could not be more different; Steve is a quiet, humble family man and Billy Mitchell is a smug, mullet rocking wannabe megastar. 

The movie is full of real characters, that whole bubble is fascinating, it takes a really specific type of personality to compete and excel in this world. Some of these men are infuriating to be around, particularly those who gravitate around Mitchell and conspire to help him and hinder Wiebe. 

The odds stack against Wiebe throughout the film and you will be pulled into this story, feeling the lows of defeat and highs of victory. It may take liberties with history (it abides by the old Twin Galaxies pro-Mitchell narrative that he scored the first perfect game of Pac-Man, which is contested in some corners, although fuelled by an admittedly understandable anti-Mitchell bias) but whatever is accurate or inaccurate is immaterial because, when taken as a pure narrative experience, it is one of the most compelling and entertaining movies about video games you will find. 

This is truly the Rocky of video games.

Available to buy or rent on YouTube and other VOD services.

Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Game Story (2020)

The newest title on the list, released the same week as High Score in fact, Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Game Story tells the story of how skateboarding grew in popularity before quickly nosediving into obscurity in the early ‘00s before a video game came along and resurrected an entire sport. The documentary follows several key players in the creation of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and charts its journey from being a niche gamble into becoming a full-blown gaming phenomenon. 

It shows how a video game managed to save skating from complete oblivion, how it saved the careers of multiple skaters (most notably Tony Hawk, who provides a running commentary on the vision and development of the title) and even a few of the bands used in the now-iconic soundtrack.

This is a very entertaining, illuminating movie that shows the positive impact a video game can have on culture as a whole.

Available to buy or rent on YouTube and other VOD services.

God of War – Raising Kratos (2019)

The most in-depth documentary about the development of a major game release you will find. Sony provided incredible levels of access to the production of 2018’s seminal God of War reboot. The film follows creative director Cory Barlog’s return to the franchise after becoming a father, bringing with him new concerns and inspirations to re-shape the series into something more human and more nuanced. 

The documentary covers every aspect of production, from performance to the score to presenting the seismic E3 reveal to fixing or tweaking problems in the build, all the way to its hugely successful launch. But at the core of it all is Cory Barlog, such an endearing and personable and honest presence; a visionary artist but a dad, first and foremost.

Just as Indie Game: The Movie touches you by showing the joy of success from a small game release, Raising Kratos does the same thing with a AAA game. Barlog and the filmmakers emphasise throughout that this is a team effort of artists whose blood, sweat and tears have been poured into their work and their very livelihoods depend on success. The creatives involved, from Barlog to his cast and the artists behind the scenes are refreshingly candid about the process and what it means to them; this is far from your average promotional package. Honest, heartfelt and structured with surprising dramatic heft given we all know how the story actually ends. This is a must see.

Available for free on YouTube.

Thank You For Playing (2016)

A documentary on the making of That Dragon, Cancer following Ryan and Amy Green as they design and execute their vision for this very personal and autobiographical gaming experience while dealing with the ever-impending prospect of their five-year-old son Joel dying of terminal cancer.

Whether you have played That Dragon, Cancer or not the story being told here is deeply affecting and fascinating. A truly shattering, beautiful document that emphasises the strength of love and faith and art in processing tragedy. The art in question just happens to be a video game. It’s a film that anyone can watch and learn and feel something deeply, whether you are a gamer or not.

Available to buy or rent on YouTube and other VOD services.

andrewshaw andrewshaw

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

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