Last night, Danny and I grabbed some leftover pizza out of the fridge and settled into the couch to watch The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Not our first choice, but sometimes the pickins are slim on instant Netflix. The short documentary follows middle school math teacher Steven Wiebe (pronounced wee-bee), a Donkey Kong aficionado from Redmond, Washington, who spends a lot of time parked in front of a classic arcade machine in his garage, vying for the all-time top score against a shady and off-putting man with Pantene hair named Billy Mitchell.
Mitchell does not come off well in the documentary, cruising around in his not-very-impressive sedan like some sort of Atari mobster while a host of minions in ironic 80s tee-shirts cater to his every whim. Mitchell and his groupies are completely undone by the prospect of upstart Wiebe. The very idea that some intruder would surpass Mitchell’s long-held Donkey Kong record has them pacing frantically along the aisles of obnoxious video arcades. These arcades certainly smell of stale popcorn and desperation.
As the credits roll, Danny and I slump on the couch cushions, dazed by too much pizza and too much nerd.
“This game. It’s all they have.” While Wiebe’s arcading obsession is tempered by his teaching gig and adorable children — who, admittedly, seem to stare too frequently themselves into pixelated screens — the documentary features a number of arcade referees who rarely come up for fresh air. Some moved to New Jersey to live near a particularly well-known arcade.
Admittedly, I was feeling a little snarky and superior about the whole thing. I have nothing against video games in moderation — my marriage would certainly collapse if I was opposed to Halo — and, as a graduate student, I am well acquainted with the subtle nuances of geekdom. But this crossed the line, right? Hours upon hours deciphering the subtle patterns of barrels and fireballs thrown by a fictional giant ape? (There are grease pencils and video cameras involved.)
Then, this afternoon, I realized that I was reading while folding the laundry. It’s hard to do this, and it’s really inefficient.
But I’ve been reading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and I can’t stop reading. Like the Donkey Kong referees, I’ve been planning my meals around my obsession. I’ve read the first two books in three days. I’ve started the third, and I’m already feeling the sad vacuum in my chest that appears when I finish a book or series that I really like.
The story is suspenseful and beautifully plotted. My life of grading and grocery shopping and cleaning out the cats’ litterbox is just boring in comparison. I want to tell everyone I meet what’s happening in the books, but I also don’t want to tell anyone anything. They should read the books themselves instead.
These books. Perhaps they’re my Donkey Kong.