Game Docs

My girlfriend recently got a Netflix account which gives us both access to a large library of movies, television shows and documentaries.  What’s the first thing I watch after diving into this wealth of information and entertainment?  Video Game documentaries or I should say documentary since I have only watched the one thus far. Which one you ask?

Behind the Fun!

A 44 minute long, History Channel produced, mini-timeline on the history of video games.  It’s basically the time-line of video games broken down for those that have never played a video game.  I know I have seen this once several years ago and I must have not noticed the dumbed down knowledge that it presents because of the sheer awesomeness of a show on television about video games.

The first thing I noticed about this documentary is how deep it gets in the true origins of video games with Space War at MIT to Ralph Baer and the Magnavox Odyssey.  This is all stuff I was kinda familiar with so it was cool to see it described in a bit more detail.  The show then goes into PONG and the rise of Atari even linking it with the rise of Apple, claiming that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak originally developed a game for Atari and using some of the things they learned there to found Apple.  I’m not sure if any of that is true (it’s the only place I’ve heard that story) but I wasn’t altogether to interested in Atari and early arcade games.  I was waiting for the mid-80’s and the beginnings of Nintendo’s legacy.  This is something they barely touched on (only mentioning Mario as part of Donkey Kong) despite Nintendo bringing back video game’s popularity after the crash.  It’s not something that’s really that important in their grand scheme of things I suppose, it’s just something I could very easily relate to.

Another one of the weird things about this documentary is the selection of games it shows, it just seem like a highlight reel from the B-grade games of each generation.  They would talk about games approaching  photo realism and show shots of the 1st Tomb Raider.  I’m not saying that Tomb Raider wasn’t a graphical powerhouse of it’s time, but I did see some shots of Dreamcast and PS2 games in there and they would seem more appropriate when talking about graphics.  I suppose this slim collection of footage has to do with with them not having the rights to show those games, I can’t imagine any other reason why they wouldn’t have some of the greats.

The whole show seemed very focused on Western games.  They showed Donkey Kong and Pac-man but after that it was slim pickings for Japanese developed games.  They did show the Final Fantasy 8 dance sequence and a few shots of Jet Grind Radio but that’s all I can remember seeing from our developers from the east.  They did show and name Shenmue however, which is kinda crazy.  This was a mainstream media television show naming only games that the mainstream media would know about (Space Invaders, PONG, etc.) and Shenmue a game I doubt the smallest fraction of those people knew about had about a 5 minute segment.  The segment was about the focus of games going more to social interactions and creating a real world and less about killing the bad guy.  This discussion lead into Ultima Online which closed the show touching on the future of online gaming.

It’s very odd seeing the hobby which you love seen through the eyes of others.  They didn’t make a bad documentary, but to someone who has their hand on the pulse of video games everyday, it’s easy to see the glaring omissions.  For instance the lack of any talk about the 16-bit generation and the 90’s console wars,  Sony and Microsoft coming into console development and Sega bowing out from it.  I guess it’s hard to take these things for what they are when you’ve had your own personal history with the subject being covered.

I’m sure I’ll watch more and hopefully will come across some that are interesting enough for me to write about again.

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