For more than a half-century now, video games have been one of the most popular and influential forms of entertainment man has ever seen. Whether they're played in a crowded arcade or from the comfort of someone's house, these cabinets, consoles, and games upon games have long consumed countless quarters, space under the Christmas tree, and taken up valuable real estate in the hearts of kids and adults alike. This craze has often been covered in any number of video game documentaries, especially the recent CBS All Access film Console Wars, which detailed the fight for control of the American gaming market in the 1990s.
But those who have watched Console Wars and want to know more about the video game culture, it's creators, luminaries, and most ardent fans, there are scores of similar documentaries streaming right now Here are 10 of the best options to choose from, and best of all, a fair chunk of them don't cost anything at all, so save those quarters for your next trip to the arcade.
High Score - Netflix
Okay, High Score is technically a docuseries, but the Netflix-produced series about some of the most pivotal moments in gaming history should be at the top of the list for anyone wanting to know more about their favorite games (arcade and home console), and the driving forces behind them. Each of High Score's six episodes focuses on a different era of games starting out with arcades and the rise and fall of the early generations of consoles and going all the way to the shift from 2D to 3D gaming in the mid-90s.
High Score treads similar ground as Console Wars in the episode "This is War," about the fight between Sega and Nintendo but does touch on some topics that didn't get as much time in the CBS All Access documentary, especially the section on the birth of EA Sports' Madden series.
Stream it on Netflix.
The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters - Starz
The world of competitive arcade gaming is probably one of the most contentious and fascinating segments of the greater video game culture, and that has never been better shown than in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. This 2007 film follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to break the high score record for the 1981 arcade version of Donkey Kong, a record that, at the time, was held by gaming lightning rod, Billy Mitchell.
The documentary is even more engaging when you take into consideration the controversy that has surrounded Billy Mitchell in the years following its release, including being stripped of his Guinness World Records and the eventual reinstatement of his mark in the books. Also, the "Donkey Kong Kill Screen" section of the documentary is one of the most bizarre things you'll see.
Stream it on Starz.
Thank You For Playing - Tubi
One of the best examples of a great video game documentary is Thank You for Playing, a 2015 film following video game designer Ryan and Amy green as they create That Dragon, Cancer, a game based on the couple's experience raising a son diagnosed with terminal cancer. The documentary, much like the game on which it is based, will break your heart. I'm talking Dear Zachary levels of heartbreak, especially for anyone with a child.
The thing about Thank You for Playing is that it goes beyond the trappings of a video game documentary and instead shows two parents and video game designers at their lowest moments and still trying to create something out of it, something that will help them remember their son. This existential, powerful, and downright heartbreaking tale of love and loss is unlike anything to come before or since.
Stream it on Tubi.
Indie Game: The Movie - Amazon
Indie games have been a part of the video game industry for decades now, but in the last 10 years or so, they have become more prominent and influential. Three of these titles were included in the 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which followed the creators of Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid, as they dealt with the stresses of creating and releasing their crowning achievements to the world.
This enlightening and sometimes tense documentary sees creators at both their highest and lowest moments as they find time and resources to balance their independent game creation with their everyday lives. And while the HBO series based on the movie never came to fruition, it shouldn't detract from the brilliance of this crowdfunded and quaint documentary whose impact is still felt eight years later.
Stream it on Amazon.
Telltale: The Human Stories Behind The Games - YouTube
Noclip, a small, crowdfunded media company, has spent the past four years creating some of the most personal and in-depth documentaries about various video game companies and the people who dedicate so much of their lives to creating some of the most important games of a generation. This is best seen in the studio's 2019 documentary, Telltale: The Human Stories Behind the Games, which interviewed a number of former employees of video game developer after its abrupt closure in October 2018.
Throughout the 54-minute documentary, everyone from the members of the public relations team to developers who sacrificed everything to release games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and a number of franchises from Telltale Games. It's an eye-opening exploration of the uneasiness of the gaming world and how someone's life can be flipped upside down in an instant.
Stream it on YouTube.
The Lost Arcade - Amazon
Video games have the power to bring together people from diverse backgrounds who probably wouldn't have known each other otherwise, and this idea is very much explored in the 2015 documentary, The Lost Arcade. The film explores the rise and fall of Chinatown Fair, an iconic arcade in New York's Chinatown that became both a hub of the fighting game community in the Big Apple and a place for people to take shelter from the world around them.
Through interviews with professional players and other people connected to this once booming hub of gaming goodness, The Lost Arcade touches on the impact the arcade had on everyone who stepped through its doors. Anyone who's fascinated by the history and culture of what's becoming a lost art will certainly enjoy this love letter to a bygone era.
Stream it on Amazon.
Man Vs Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale Of Nibbler - Tubi
Watch enough video game and arcade documentaries and you'll begin to see the same characters and trappings appear time and time again. That can be said for the 2015 documentary, Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, which recounts the story of several competitive arcade enthusiasts who attempt to cross the billion-point mark in the 1982 arcade game Nibbler. The Twin Galaxies arcade and Billy Mitchell, who both appeared in The King of Kong, also take up residence in this charming film.
Through the use of archival footage, animation, and interviews, the documentary paints a detailed picture of the obsessive culture that surrounds the goal of achieving the highest possible score in a game that's nearly 40 years old now.
Stream it on Tubi.
Easy To Learn, Hard To Master: The Fate Of Atari - Amazon
Long before Nintendo and Sega were fighting for supremacy, there was Atari, a company that revolutionized video games as we know it. But while Atari is mostly known today for leading to the crash of the home console industry in the early 1980s, there is more to the story. The people who worked on the company's various products, especially founder Nolan Bushnell, tell their story in the 2017 documentary, Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari.
Throughout the documentary, the biggest names in early video games provide insight into the happenings of one of the most iconic names in gaming and paint a picture of the unorthodox methods the company used in order to make it stand out above the rest and how it provided for some of the biggest moments in home console history.
Stream it on Amazon.
Nintendo Quest - Tubi
Video game collectors are a wild bunch who will do just about anything and spend everything they have in order to complete their collection. This is seen in the 2015 documentary Nintendo Quest, which follows collector Jay Bartlett as he sets out to acquire all 678 licensed Nintendo Entertainment System games over the course of 30 days without buying any of the games online. What follows is an obsessive and frantic cross-country journey to locate and purchase nearly 700 titles before time runs out.
Anyone who has ever wanted to get into the art of collecting decades-old game cartridges that sometimes come with a large price tag should check out this exploration of that world and its trappings.
Stream it on Tubi.
Video Games: The Movie - Tubi
And then there is Video Games: The Movie, a 2014 documentary that provides viewers with a chronological retelling of the history of the medium, with each major moment getting a few minutes to shine. In addition to the focus on the consoles, games, and iconic characters over the years, the film also interviews various developers and fans who share what gaming has meant to them and helped make them into the people they are today.
And although Video Games: The Movie doesn't have an approach that is as focused or clever as some of the documentaries to come out since its release, it should be treated with the same level of respect we give those old and cumbersome early entries into the video game market.
Stream it on Tubi.
Those are just 10 of the great video game documentaries you can stream right now. Did your favorite make the list? Make sure to sound off in the comments below and let the world know.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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