If you happened to chance upon last year's Video Games: The Movie documentary then you may have been left wondering if the celluloid screen was really the best place to tell the history of the world’s most popular and lucrative past time. But where Jeremy Snead’s disjointed narrative attempted (and failed) to accurately capture the through-line of gaming in one easily digestible sitting, World 1-1 is very much the first level of a much more sprawling yet focused game.
Funded to the tune of $15,000 through Kickstarter, Jeanette Garcia and Daryl Rodriguez’s film is a lengthy two hours, yet it doesn’t get any further than the 1983 video game crash and mainly focuses on the pioneering ventures of the original Atari crew. World 1-1 doesn’t exactly hold your hand along the way either. Like any good game tutorial, it supposes that you have some interest already invested and then patiently lays out the key characters and main plot points.
There’s little in the way of flourishes is World 1-1: no whooshing timelines or kooky animations, with most of the meagre budget clearly having been spent behind the camera. Yet the pedigree of interviewees is well judged and given the 30-odd years that have passed, there’s a huge degree of honest appraisal on show, unhindered as it is from any current industry ties.
What transpires over the running time is the age-old story of cutting-edge, artistic chutzpah bludgeoned by faceless corporate greed once the bucks start rolling in. Game designer Howard Scott Warshaw, who features prominently here, was certainly scapegoated with his disastrous movie tie-in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, but World 1-1 shows that an industry rife with bold projections, unfettered greed and a lack of basic understanding led to the initial ‘death’ of video games far more than one bad game ever could.
As the Mario-riffing title suggests, World 1-1 is the first in a mooted series, with a post-title sequence hinting that the portly plumber and the ensuing Japanese invasion will form the basis of part two. In that regard, this first section feels comprehensive and implicitly more suitable a format for the ongoing, ever-evolving world it seeks to document. As with so many crowdfunded projects, World 1-1 is basically preaching to the converted, with little sway given to casual viewers who may not know their Asteroids from their Space Invaders. In that regard, it’s no King of Kong, but then neither does it set out to be.
As a document of an era that has become as influential in popular culture as any movie or music genesis, this is a tale that deserves to be told. With key players such as Nolan Bushnell, Patrick Scott Patterson and Dona Bailey all involved, World 1-1 may tell that story without much panache, but that can strangely feel quite befitting of its rudimentary, ad-hoc subject matter. Far from being ‘game over’, investors in this project should feel compelled enough to insert a few more coins just to see what’s next.