Despite some approaches and omissions, we must celebrate that High Score puts the history of the video game before so many eyes
“Dust Off Your Atari: Time to Delve into the Unexpected Stories Behind Your Favorite Video Games.” This advertising phrase does not belong to the documentary released by Netflix High Score, but to the small 2017 documentary series 8 Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games, belonging to the Great Big Story content channel. In just six episodes of just over six minutes each, common topics such as the anecdote of the mustache and the name of Mario told by Miyamoto himself or the urban legend of Polybius are dealt with, but the focus is also on less common and picturesque issues like the search for Veronika Megler, the author of the conversational adventure about The Hobbit; the also late great champion of the first Street Figther II tournaments, Tomo Ohira, who beat the greats when he was only thirteen years old; or the return to the original filming location of the actors of the terrible Mad Dog McCree, a video game recorded in real image in 1990. The Hobbit chapter could find similarities with the one in High Score that deals with the first adventures created by Roberta Williams in Sierra, the of Street Figther II with the multiple references to video game competitions and that of Mad Dog McCree with which he talks extensively about Nigth Trap. And it is no coincidence, in that modest documentary series was France Costrel, the director of High Score. It is therefore to be assumed that 8 Bit Legacy is the inspiration on which the Netflix series is built, even more so considering that that modest production came to be nominated for an EMI.
And how is the reception of High Score being? At first it seems that the gaming community is in an obvious dichotomy. On the one hand, the superficiality of the treatment is criticized, the enormous absences and the exaggerated focus on the United States, on the other, the particular stories rescued for the occasion are celebrated, such as the creation of the first cartridge machine by the African American Jerry Lawson or power see John Kirby telling shortly before his death Nintendo’s trial for the rights of King Kong, as well as the superb production that leaves in diapers previous attempts to document the history of this medium (with few exceptions such as When video games changed the world , documentary by Charlie Broker, former video game critic turned acid surgeon of today’s society with the respected television series Black Mirror).
In particular, at first it seemed to me that High Score was the result of chopping the tip of an iceberg. Not only are you leaving everything that is hidden below the waterline, but you are only scratching what is on the surface. Those who have read Console Wars will not be grateful enough when they see Tom Kalinske explaining in his own home the brilliant strategy he carried out from Sega America against Nintendo, although it will quickly seem very little with all that there is to scratch. The same will happen if you have had the opportunity to immerse yourself in Master of Doom: your eyes will turn when you see in images the result of that night of hard work in which Carmack achieved the fluid side scrolling of Super Mario 3 on a PC. Continuing with the books, High Score is more like the vision of the medium with the USA as the center of Steven L. Kent in The Great History of Video Games than the rich melting pot that Tristan Donovan exposes in his magnificent Replay. With all this I mean that times have changed around here. We have a lot of information that before the internet and the boom in video game books (promoted in Spain by a certain beloved and heroic publisher) made it very difficult to put together the pieces of a huge puzzle. High Score is clearly far from a reference representation of the history of the medium. In others like the cinema, this section is more than covered in multiple ways. And no, you don’t need an excellent 11-hour Story of Cinema, it would be enough to have a structured and fair chronicle.
However, my enthusiasm during the viewing of the High Score episodes went from less to more. I started arching my eyebrow, with a first episode that put too much focus on the mercantile environment. It didn’t fix that half of most chapters were focused on competition when competition was not nearly the most important thing in those early years. I suppose that this content is due to the fact that they want to create ties and sympathies with the powerful esports industry and therefore with its tens of millions of young followers. From the world of series and cinema, it has not yet been understood that in video games the perception of certain things is different. His own story as we are. In the cinema it is difficult for the youngest to approach, for example, black and white or silent cinema. The Codes have changed, and the rhythm, and the way the narrative is captured on screen. They are barriers that are diluted in video games.
At present, ultra-realistic graphics (A God of War, for example) coexist with pixelated video games (Celeste, Dead Cells, Blasphemous… The list is endless and full of quality), and both are successful sharing space in the hearts of many players. The young user has assimilated the retro look, a barrier is not perceived as is the case with the cinema. We might have doubts with the acceptance of the mechanics, but there are a lot of good classics that a kid could play today without problems. From Pacman to Tetris through Galaxian or Missile Command, some of them, with continuous revisions that continue to this day. A documentary about the beginnings of video games is not only enjoyable for those of us who comb gray hair. I am convinced that younger people can perfectly see High Score without feeling strange. We will have gained a lot when this idea finally reaches those who assign and direct video game projects for television and movie theaters.