Pac-man was conceived in a pizza shop. Interchangeable game console cartridges were created by a black man. These facts and more I discovered after spending a good part of my 8-hour sleep requirement watching Netflix’s game documentary, High Score. A limited six episode series of ~40 minutes each.
From the second the Netflix documentary starts, it is almost a race to the end. Fast paced. Thrilling. Leaving you wanting more. Just like a well developed game would.
A beautifully narrated story is woven in each story with insanely fluid art direction and animation revealing the lives and times of some of the most famous game creators and the roles they have played in the now bustling, cult-like gaming culture of the world. From the legendary arcade game, Pac-Man’s random conception by Toru Iwatani- in a pizza shop- to dispelling preconceptions of violent games being a millennial phenomenon, the documentary is Mario on Nat Geo Wild in a Tesla.
Back to Pac-Man. When its founder Iwatani was served a full Pizza on a random day, he took out a slice, and what remained was the idea of the Yellow circle with an open mouth. Iwatani goes ahead to explain that Pac-Man was also designed because he wanted a game that women could enjoy. According to him, the only popular games then were all about shooting and pong (tennis arcade games); mainly games that men enjoyed. And he thought food was in no way violent, and sought out to create Pac-Man.
Beautiful history is retold and documented in the episode about Jerry Lawson. The one black man who created interchangeable cartridges. While Lawson’s personal inventions weren’t so commercially successful, he and his team at Fairchild Semiconductor created the first ever game console to use swappable game cartridges. This invention has to be one of the greatest ever in tech & video game history. There’s also the Nintendo episode where game company, Nintendo defended itself in court by having the Judge of a case analyze their legendary game “Donkey Kong.” In an interesting turn of events, the American lawyer who won the case for Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES), John Kirby, had a game created in appreciation of his efforts in court. This game is known as Kirbys Adventures. Sweet!
This documentary explores the golden age of Arcade games- the 80s but still succeeds greatly in making me, a gen Z lad, enjoy it thoroughly. The storytelling, the quality of production, in depth interviews with game developers, game tournament champions, legendary figures like the founder of the Atari Systems, Nolan Bushnell & the Art designer, Yoshitaka Amano, for a game even I have played in recent years, Final Fantasy – double score!
Bonus: The documentary reveals that one of the best selling video game franchises of all time; Super Mario Brothers, was created by Japanese Video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. I always thought Mario, given his name, attire and his brother Luigi, had Italian roots. Boy, was I wrong! Watch it here!