Featuring Nolan Bushnell and Wil Wheaton. Rating unavailable.
If the phrase video games only brings Lana Del Rey to mind, well, you’re weird, according to this comprehensive documentary about a phenomenon that has moved millions in the last four decades. The gaming reality is so ubiquitous, and its evolution has been so steady, that in writer-director Jeremy Snead’s view (as narrated by Sean Astin) its history has practically been hiding in plain sight.
Here, filling the gap necessitates a lot of Tron-like graphics, and a virtual waterfall of statistics that keeps gushing for the film’s first half. (Two notable stats: 46 percent of all gamers are female and the average age of players is 35.) For nonplayers like me, it’s impressive to see the passionate respect shown by today’s gamers—the ones who go to conventions and trade shows, anyway—for pioneers in the field, which only started in 1962 with the first computer display screen (round, 18 inches in diameter) and an initial game called Spacewar.
Things progressed rapidly after the arrival of Atari, with cofounder Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn (creator of a little thing called Pong) among many old-timers testifying, alongside long-time enthusiasts such as Star Trek: TNG’s Wil Wheaton, plus other actor types (including Zach Braff, who’s also one of the doc’s producers) talking up the importance of gaming in their relatively young lives.
Although there’s some routine defence of the industry regarding vid-game violence (“Movies are violent,” et cetera), there’s little attempt to place the phenomenon in a broader social context. Likewise, no one expresses any thoughts about why some games, characters, or platforms become more popular than others—aside from their general awesomeness.
Repetition of visual approach and the overall rah-rah talking-head tone lead to a certain blandness that grows slightly wearying after the first hour. Still, it’s remarkable that such a huge and growing field has thus far gone undocumented.
So for now, this Movie has the whole screen to itself.