Various times throughout the years, filmmakers have been fascinated with either the amount of energy that goes into the development of a video game or the hold they can have over us, turning the camera to those that give a specific game or games meaning with the hope of revealing something more.
For a select portion of gamers, the idea of a video game documentary that takes an acute and original perspective and promises to delve just that little bit deeper into their favorite medium is an all too tempting prospect and one which has resulted in some of the most riveting stories ever put on film and some of the best gaming documentaries ever made.
The following is a list are our of the 10 best video game documentaries. The small few game documentaries that have been able to transcend the conventional gaming audience and reach others, delving under the hood of an intriguing tale involving video games to such a degree that no one should miss their stories, whether you know your way around a controller or not.
10. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters (2011)
Expertly investigating the various design elements and features of one of the most important and addictive video games of all time, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters recounts the development and rise of iconic puzzler Tetris by centering on various arcade gamers as they prepare to compete in 2010’s Classic Tetris World Championship.
Ecstasy of Order has everything that makes a documentary which focuses on a class game great: competition, passion, but perhaps most importantly an eclectic cast of real-life characters you can really empathize with and by the end hope to see succeed. In the run up to the championship it’s never clear which of the contestants is likely the win, making the final outcome even more nail-biting and unpredictable. Oh yeah, and you’ll learn a lot about the history of Tetris whilst watching this gaming documentary too!
9. Branching Paths (2016)
If you’re someone who has previously found the Japanese independent gaming scene somewhat impenetrable to understand, look no further than Anne Ferreri’s utterly brilliant video game documentary: Branching Paths. Tracking and shedding light on elements of the scene from Tokyo Game Show to the humble offices of a Japanese indie studio, the movie documents the struggles of what it means to be an indie developer especially in a territory trying to catch up with Western successes.
Branching Paths explains just as to why many artists, creators, programmers, and game writers take the risky but executive decision not to work for one of the world’s biggest game studios, instead hoping to make their vision profitable on the back of their own creativity and resources. With interviews featuring Japanese industry legends such as Koji Igarashi and others, Branching Paths is a video game documentary which helps shed new light on an otherwise niche area of indie game challenges.
8. Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (2012)
It was inevitable for a video game documentary that covers the modern world’s biggest video game phenomenon to surface eventually, and despite the rather generic and uninspired title, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang is a must-watch for anyone who has a passing interest in all things procedural and block-based. Whilst the main subject of the documentary initially covers the development process of Minecraft, The Story of Mojang also does a great job of highlighting the game’s impact using many insightful interviews and archived footage.
The video game documentary does a great job of appealing to both veteran players of Minecraft as well as newcomers seeking to discover and learn more about what all the fuss is about. If ever you’ve wondered how a video game with such a low focus on graphical fidelity and narrative has been able to grip the world like no other game before it, The Story of Mojang is the best video game documentary for you.
7. High Score (2006)
In a lot of ways, the precursor documentary which set the template for future movies like The King of Kong and Man Vs Snake to place focus on the idea of score-chasing and the “man vs machine” angle, High Score is an award-winning film that follows William Carlton, an average gamer from Portland Oregon on his mission to beat the score record for Missile Command, and arcade game released in 1980.
It’s revealed in High Score that in 2006 at least, the average person doesn’t play an arcade game little more than two and a half minutes. You can therefore imagine the struggle, frustration, and heartache required to achieve the new high score in Missile Command, after learning that it’ll take a thousand times that number. Riveting and engaging from start to finish, High Score is one of the best video game documentaries ever made and well worth a watch.
6. From Bedrooms to Billions (2014)
An absolute massive undertaking in video game documentary film making and by far the most ambitious entry on this list, From Bedrooms to Billions unlike most other films in its genre chooses to cover almost 25 years in video game history as opposed to a more focused subject area. By concentrating solely on how the UK’s creative and somewhat visionary contributions to the video game industry played a crucial role in its popularity, the video game documentary features various insightful interviews with major British game designers, composers, and journalists throughout the last three decades.
From Bedrooms to Billions’ bold tagline notably exclaims that “the video game industry had to start somewhere”, and the film does a great job at highlighting some of the original thinkers present during the spark of this revolution that made it all possible and into what it has become today.