Saturday, 24 April 2010

CHASING GHOSTS: BEYOND THE ARCADE (USA/2007/LINCOLN RUCHTI)

Looking back on the ‘golden era’ of arcade games, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade champions the video gamers of yesteryear, who saved up their quarters to play endless sessions on Pacman and Donkey Kong machines. Relying on the ‘talking head’ approach to documentary filmmaking, director Lincoln Ruchti allows his subjects to narrate their own histories. Flamboyant characters, such as smug ‘gamer of the century’ Billy Mitchell and the self-proclaimed Mr. Awesome, recall how they achieved their record-breaking scores, while retrospectively taking the wind out of their competitors’ sails.

Chasing Ghosts shares a lot in common with another documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, as they both more or less cover the same subject and interviewees. However, while the latter contrives a lot of drama for the sake of entertainment, it definitely comes off as the better film of the two. The unacknowledged irony in Chasing Ghosts is that it lionises its subjects in a manner afforded to rock stars by allowing them to wallow in conceit, but doesn’t place any particular value on their achievements. Furthermore, its subjects walk the line between nobility and humiliation as they opine on the importance of gaming. Mr. Awesome’s assertion that his record on Missile Command is worth the most because it is the manliest game only serves to prove his enduring insecurity which arcade games have evidently perpetuated. Ruchti has clearly done his research, and the interviewees provide ample insight, but Chasing Ghosts struggles to achieve more than unnecessary aggrandisement.





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