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Best video game documentaries ever made

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The world of video games is lucrative and ever-expanding which is fueled by billions of revenues year after year. Its entry in the entertainment business is so welcomed, many people—regardless of the age and gender—dig it. There is simply something about gaming in general that makes it appealing to most people. The prominence of the video game industry is such, its presence is something that cannot be overlooked.

But while the industry is working hard in developing new titles or IPs—thus expanding the video game universe—and creating hype to make the scene lively, there is another side to the media aspect of video gaming industry that inevitably commemorates an otherwise contemporary events of world history: documentaries.

Unlike your typical video which just gives a glimpse of the superficial happenings in gaming, documentaries find value in being the kind of show that is not only entertaining but also informative. For the most part, documentaries reveal details that are often left out for people not to know either due to secrecy, sensitivity of the contents, or simply because of matters that do not concern the general audiences, unless they wished to. Documentaries about video games is just that—while not essential, they are very good to know for history’s sake.

The gaming industry is considered relatively young when compared to others being only conceived as early as the ‘70s. Yet, despite being a few decades old since conception, only a handful of documentaries stuck as notable tribute, a majority of which being recent creations.

Let us take a look at some of the video game documentaries that paid great homage to an industry that is based on a niche that is taking the world by storm.

Free to Play: The Movie

The popularity of video games and its subsequent transformation into e-Sport had paved way for a profession never seen before. When athletes or sports people in general are working their asses off to become the best in their chosen endeavor, e-Sports players compete in a completely different field and totally unique way—playing a video game competitively.

Free to Play: The Movie is a documentary which sees the life of three “professional” Defense of the Ancients 2 (DoTA 2) player as they embark on a journey to becoming a millionaire as they prepare and compete for the grand prize of $1 million.

Although the documentary is focused on one specific MOBA game—that is, DoTA 2—there is something about it that is ubiquitous which not only inspires present and future eSports players but also give insight at the trials in store. Before you jump into the e-Sport bandwagon, you had better see this documentary first.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Each person aspires to leave a legacy unique to his own. Typically, this involves leaving a record etched with one’s own name that transcends through time such as by doing something with excellence which other people could not contend.

While some do so through creativity, others recreate the idea in another meaningful way, yet is underpinned as remarkable because of the effort and fortitude required to attaining them. Unsurprisingly, making a groundbreaking score in video game is one of them.

The documentary called King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters features the legendary video game player, Billy Mitchell, who for so many years held an uncontended title of the highest-scoring person in the arcade game, Donkey Kong. But while highlighting on Mitchell’s success is one part of the documentary, it also tackles on the event whereby Billy Mitchell lost his legacy resulting from a blunder which invalidates his record-worthy claim.

Although not necessarily a part of the video, Mitchell subsequently tried to redeem his credibility by breaking his own 2004 record score of 933,900 points in 2018 by livestreaming a gameplay session which resorted to a 1,047,500 score in the same game.

The video is around 11 years old now since having been produced sometime around 2007, yet the content of the documentary remains relevant to this day.

The Lost Arcade

Did you think that arcades are a drying business and only thrives in Japan? Well, think again.

“The Lost Arcade” is a documentary which gives insight in the still-enduring arcade culture in New York. This infotainment film follows the lives of a few prevailing arcade gamers who simply will not give up despite a more modern offering in gaming. More importantly, however, the documentary sheds light to the reason why that is so.

Double Fine Adventure

It is not every day that a documentary is made after an indie company which starts off a project from a Kickstarter campaign. Although the development of the documentary itself—titled Double Fine Adventure—is also part of the pledge to make the game which turned out to become “Broken Age,” the indie game company kind of went overboard as to make a 20-episode documentary, each episode of which lasting between 30 minutes to 40 minutes.

Considering that most documentaries hardly even last 2 hours at most, it takes a lot of time to waste and dedication to watch each episode of Double Fine Adventure.

However, what makes this video game documentary so relevant—especially today—is its real-life show of the struggle of developing an independent intellectual property based on concepts and scratch. While the documentary may appeal mostly to just the enthusiasts, even aspiring indie game developers will surely find valuable lessons in it.

Indie Game: The Movie

Focused not only on a single indie game company like what the Double Fine Adventure did, the Indie Game: The Movie also gives an insight into the challenges that typically accompany the development of games—this time, on the viewpoint of three unique companies.

Giving viewers a closer look at the companies that made Braid, FEZ, and Meat Boy, the documentary revolves around the idea that developing games is not without its difficulties.

As a documentary by itself, the Indie Game: The Movie is not your average infotainment film about developing games, the overall impact of the film is so profound, it had received both rewards and praise from the video game community, particularly the journalists and developers.

World of Warcraft: Looking for Group

Reaching its 10th year in 2004, a documentary so-called “World of Warcraft: Looking for Group” is made to immortalize a franchise’s significant milestone. Essentially an homage to World of Warcraft’s successes, this infotainment film sees through the game’s rapid rise to popularity in the most elegant picture.

Watching the film does not ask you to fork over some cash as it is free for streaming on YouTube.

Naughty Dog 30th Anniversary Documentary

The legacy of the company behind some of video gaming’s most iconic titles like Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted, and The Last of Us—Naughty Dog—draws way back in the Apple II days. One can only imagine how seasoned this company already when it comes to making games and how it is able to maintain the same feat even to this day.

On its 30th year in the industry, Naughty Dog gave everybody an inside look into the history of the company which culminates to what it is to this day with a documentary aptly called “Naughty Dog 30th Anniversary Edition.”

Essentially a trip down memory lane by harkening to the company’s origins during the early years of gaming, the documentary pays tribute to the Naughty Dog’s accomplishments which every hardcore fan will surely enjoy.

Minecraft: The Story of Mojang

When the recent years of gaming is slowly being defined by their ultra-realistic graphics as brought about by powerful hardware, games with odd visuals and texture hardly makes the list as among the notable. Except for Minecraft.

Minecraft’s rise of popularity may come off as a surprise to some. How could, after all, a game so blocky and choppy—or rudimentary in graphics, to say the least—earn so much repute that it spawned multiple iterations across different platforms?

Well, if there is anything which this game lives by, it is that “looks can be deceiving.”

Clearing off the confusion as to what makes this title so popular, the Minecraft: Story of Mojang delves deep into the beginnings of the game as centered towards the company and the brainchild behind its creation—Mojang and Markus “Notch” Persson.

Especially curated to highlight the game’s initial success during the time when the game is taking the industry by surprise, the documentary also showcases the people behind the success and how the audiences are receiving the game, big time.

There are plenty of other documentaries based on Minecraft out there in the internet, but Minecraft: The Story of Mojang is possibly the best.

Atari: Game Over

When it comes to gaming, no other brand exemplifies a rise and fall (and rise again) of a well-established company than Atari. For a brand that initially brought gaming to every home, Atari was a fated household name. However, the success it gained from bringing entertainment at home did not come without a price.

As a business company which quite easily found fame and favor in a market hungry for entertainment, the documentary also demonstrates how easily it falters later on in its stint—which is both a surprise and shock for many.

This documentary—Titled Atari: Game Over—highlighted Atari’s achievement as a video game brand but also did not overlook of the company’s darkest chapter in gaming history as uncovered with the digging of the site where massive copies of “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” is said to be buried.

While the concept alone makes this documentary worth a watch, the overall production value of Atari: Game Over makes it also particularly outstanding as a film of its kind.

Thank You for Playing

For most companies, games are created for one and one reason only—money. After all, when you speak of making games, you would often refer to a company of people who spend their productive days developing an entertainment product that people will buy.

While the aforementioned may be a common scenario when games are indeed made, not every game is developed for for-profit reasons only—some are actually made out of sheer inspiration to real-life event. Such as the portrayal of how a serious disease like cancer can be a very serious thing, especially for a family whose youngest member is the afflicted.

“Thank You for Playing” is a documentary about a game programmer named Ryan Green who, during a moment of great difficulty in his life, had spent days and night developing a game based off of it. Taking two years to create, the game was subsequently titled “That Dragon, Cancer.” These troubled times in mention refer to Green’s sad acknowledgement that his son, Joel, had cancer as compounded by the heart-wrenching result of doctor visit.

This documentary is unique and special in that its very creation is rooted in something real and for intimate reason. It is this kind of docudrama film which will tap into your heart, more so when you put yourself in the same perspective as Ryan Green.

Video Games: The Movie

The topic of video games is a tale which spans a few decades starting from its humble roots in the ‘70s. For a concept so broad, it will take a lengthy documentary to cover everything significant in its telling. That may be the case, but not with the documentary called “Video Games: The Movie” which basically summarizes the important events that took place prior to the culmination of video gaming as we know it in the present.

From its humble beginnings as a simple niche hobby into becoming a gargantuan enterprise, Video Games: The Movie tackles the important bits and pieces of video gaming in the most entertaining way possible.

If you are therefore sometimes feeling alienated in your hobby where no one else in the family understand your passion towards gaming, there is no better time to make the rest of the household realize about why video games are a big thing than when watching this documentary.

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies

Yet another entry in the list of documentary films focused around indie companies—this time, it is not just about their struggles, but as to the reasons why independent game companies thrive.

Lasting for 90 minutes, GameLoading: Rise of the Indies revolves around a multitude of game developers as they disclose about their own personal struggles involving projects and meeting deadlines. Like other documentaries, the difficulty of being an independent game developer is the main highlight of this.

Noclip Final Fantasy Documentary

It is hard to imagine an industry where some of the big names are not covered in any documentary. Especially in Japan where role-playing games are a big thing, there has to be for the likes of Final Fantasy. Apparently, there are.
Separated into three parts as a freely-stream-able content in YouTube created by a group of film-makers and funded by the international gaming community, Noclip’s Final Fantasy Documentary brings the audiences and fans closer to the significant people behind the franchise. From concept artists, programmers, to game designers, the documentary offers an exclusive interview to these amazing people in Square Enix behind Final Fantasy.

If you are big into JRPGs or a special fan of Square Enix, especially their one successful franchise—Final Fantasy—then watching this 3-part documentary is a must.

The Art of the Game

There are not much documentaries which gives a “bird’s eye view” about video game as a career, let alone from the perspective of aspiring people who are about to embark on the field. Spanning a full 60 minutes from start to finish, the “The Art of the Game” sees the lives of San Francisco university students as they take their step towards the gaming industry.

If you yourself are passionate about gaming and is dreaming of becoming a valued member of the industry someday, there is no better material that give insight in the business at the present probably than this one. It is worth a look if you are totally clueless at what to expect.

Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us

Aside from Crash Bandicoot and the Uncharted series, The Last of Us is undeniably one of Naughty Dog’s greatest masterpiece. But like most masterpieces, a great deal of time and effort were placed in the making of The Last of Us.

Exhibiting the teams love for filming and sharing of secrets, a behind-the-scene documentary film is made meant to give an inside look during the making of the game. In this 90-minutes, viewers will get to see the painstaking process of creating a masterwork from scratch, even for a group of talented people.

Basically an officially product blessed by Sony and is made viewable at PlayStation’s YouTube channel for free, coming across this documentary is as easy as searching it on YouTube.

That’s it! In case we missed anything, or if you have any recommendations, feel free to drop a comment below and share it with us.

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