Video games and movies have a rough history together. Hollywood has cranked out flop after flop, giving the impression that games and movies mix about as well as water and oil. If you look beyond Hollywood, however, you’ll find one area where the two mediums can make something amazing: the documentary. Video game documentaries can show how far the medium has come, the effort that goes into making a game, and just how much games have affected the lives of people around the world. Here’s our Top 10 Video Game Documentaries.
10. Pixels and Polygons: An Indie Game Developer Story
One man’s self shot documentary of his experience making a game while on the cusp of success in the industry. This is one stressful watch; the starving artist reality is too real. But that’s what makes it worth the watch. To me, the strength of this documentary is how in depth it goes on the process. It’s repetitive, stressful, and can feel utterly hopeless–an unfortunately relatable film. This video diary documents the real struggles of game development and attempting to get your “big break.” A must watch for anyone interested in, or intrigued by, the game development process. Just don’t let it discourage you.
The documentary is only a little over an hour and can be watched on youtube. The entire thing is shot on a phone so the visuals aren’t the best but it feels fitting for something so intimate; at the end of the day, Pixels and Polygons gets the job done and the message across.
9. From Bedrooms to Billions
From Bedrooms to Billions is a dense, dense movie. Clocking in at around two and a half hours, Billions goes into immense detail on the rise of the video game industry in the UK and how their games and developers helped shape the industry around the world. Hearing programmers and developers reminisce about the early days of the industry is genuinely interesting, with their wide range of different experiences and successes occurring in parallel to similar industry evolutions throughout the world. It definitely helps that Billions oozes with style, with classic British rock playing over interviews and stock footage. As well, the introductory sequence shows a simplified version of the film’s basic “story” (the UK’s industry rising up before the U.S. and Japanese industries take the stage, leaving UK developers to slowly build back up) and it’s an extremely strong piece of visual storytelling. It may be a long tale to tell, but the UK games industry was built up over years and years. Two and a half hours isn’t that bad in comparison, right?
8. Free to Play
Free To Play follows three professional gamers and their teams as they compete to win the top spot and a million dollars in the first Dota2 International Tournament. A glance into the world of eSports and its colossal leap in popularity, the documentary shows the drive and passion these young gamers hold whilst simultaneously struggling to fight the pressures of a sport that their family and the rest of the world has yet to completely understand. A unique aspect of this documentary is that there are animation sequences of the player’s in-game tactics and moves. These cinematics make it clear the strategies and level of professionalism these players are at. Even if you don’t play Dota, Free to Play is a fascinating insight into the transition of video games being played alone, inside a bedroom to being out in the open as a professional sport. Since it was produced by Valve, it’s free and available to watch via Steam.
7. The Art of the Game
The Art of the Game is an unabashed and unapologetic celebration of video games. Initially released by Machinima back in 2014, the film delves into what people love about games by interviewing people whose lives have been changed by the medium. From game designers to museum directors to even senior citizens playing Wii Bowling, the film revels in the joy, fun, and hope that gaming can bring to people of all ages. Intercut with these interviews is the story of students from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco dueling for a potential job in the industry via a 2K Games-sponsored Borderlands animated short film competition. It’s definitely easy to connect with the students, especially if you work/aim to work in a creative industry. Seeing the effort they put in and the quality of the final products can definitely boost the morale of any struggling artist. Unfortunately, the film is no longer available on Machinima’s page (which is a serious shame), but the shorts from the competition can be seen on YouTube under the blanket title “Tales from the HQ.”
6. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters
Many video game documentaries dive into a specific game, but Ecstasy of Order: Tetris Masters does this particularly well. Additionally, the subject matter is highly accessible because most people have played (some form of) Tetris. This film highlights the background and current experience of several gamers around the country as they prepare for the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship–a tournament created to legitimize the competitiveness of Tetris and to finally crown an official Tetris Master. To me, the most interesting aspect of the film was exploring the different ways one might be considered a true Tetris Master (for example, reading level 30, maxing out the score, etc) and hearing the strategies behind that success. Hearing these pros talk about Tetris was both impressive and disturbing in the best way possible. This definitely becomes a stressful documentary to watch but that’s a testament to what a good job the film does at getting you invested in the story.