Kong Kings

Dec 15 2008

A few weeks ago, I watched The King of Kong, a documentary about competitive Donkey Kong players. Which sounds geeky, until you watch it.

It’s about guys who take on these classic arcade games as a challenge. A test of skill. Those old games, like Pac-Man, Q-Bert, and Donkey Kong, were very hard; one group claims that the average Donkey Kong player will never progress past the third level (out of 22).

It’s fascinating to watch grown men—very smart grown men—take on that sort of challenge. Sure, it takes a certain kind of person, but not the introverted nerd you might expect. The documentary focuses on two men, one of whom is a successful independent business man, and the other who looks like a middle manager at Microsoft. They each have a full-time job (well, one got inerested in Donkey Kong during a period between jobs), and a wife (and, in one case, kids).

They’re just fascinated. It’s a puzzle. A very hard puzzle that requires quick reflexes as well as a quick mind; the enemies move according to both complex patterns and random directions. Plus, the game has only four different screens; higher levels repeat the same screen, with more enemies that move faster and in more complicated patterns.

Not only is there nothing wrong with their fascination, it’s noble. They’re bettering themselves: their brains, their hand-eye coordination. They actively seek out new challenges and new frontiers to explore.

May we all do the same.

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