REVIEW: ‘High Score,’ – Gaming History, both Familiar and Unfamiliar.

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Hi Score

High Score is a documentary series streaming on Netflix. This excellently crafted documentary, seasoned with a perfect touch of humor, takes a look at the early days of gaming up through its first steps into the third dimension. While it gives proper dues to all the visionaries gamers have come to know and love it takes equal pains to look at those who have been unjustly forgotten. Even though some of their contributions revolutionized gaming forever.

As perhaps the newest of the major mediums, gaming doesn’t have as long a history as the others but it is nonetheless fascinating. And, due to its relative youth, new documentaries like High Score can come out with interviews and materials straight from the men, and women, who made and experienced that history. We all know about the legendary Atari crash of the early 80s, but I’d never heard the man who designed E.T, often viewed as the game that began the avalanche, talk about it in his own words. It was exciting to learn all about the history of a medium that, as a child of the 80s, I’ve gotten to watch grow up with me. It’s like having a discussion with a sibling when you are older and learning all the stuff that happened in the family when you weren’t in the room. Both the good and the bad.

High Score begins its journey with a look at the groundbreaking classics Space Invaders, and PAC-Man, as well as the equally infamous E.T. video game. But instead of just looking at the development of the games themselves, this program expands the narrative looking at their cultural impacts as well. Everything from Japan having to declare a 100 yen coin shortage due to them all finding their way into arcade cabinets, to following would be champions through the earliest gaming tournaments, High Score does an excellent job of showing how the gaming industry has impacted life outside the living room.

Hi Score

Each episode of this series looks at a couple of interrelated aspects of games. Whether it’s following the paths of different developers as they pioneer the earliest RPGs or seeing how Sega challenged Nintendo’s stranglehold on the market, and how that propelled the rise of Electronic Arts acclaimed Madden games to their fame.

The way the multiple topics are split up within each episode of High Score keeps the viewer interested throughout. Rather than covering one topic to completion before moving on to the next, they are interwoven in a way that feels natural and fluid. This fluidity makes the stories more enjoyable than a more textbook style approach. And this enjoyment is enhanced by both the narrator, as well as the game inspired visuals scattered throughout each episode.

The creators of High Score clearly take the job of preserving and sharing gaming history seriously. But the unfettered joy and fun they sprinkle throughout each episode also show how much they truly love that industry as well. The narrator repeatedly describes humorous scenarios, only to backtrack with a, “but that’s not how it happened”. Couple these fun little detours with visual re-enactments of events done out in the form of old school video game graphics and High Score becomes almost as fun as it is informative. I say almost because it is extremely informative.

While covering all the well known high points of gaming history, High Score makes a point to share things that even those who have been following along for the last 40+ years might not know. Things like the fact that the first video game cartridge was developed by an African American game developer for a game system called the Channel F. In addition to the often-overlooked individuals, High Score also makes a point to highlight how, even from it’s earliest days, video games have offered an escape, and a sort of equalizer, for many belonging to oppressed groups. Repeatedly, the series takes the time to talk to creatives and famous players from minority or LGBTQ who have found video games to be a place where, once in the game, they could have the same start line and the same challenges as everyone else.

To summarize, if you love gaming, love history, or documentaries I cannot recommend High Score enough. It is brilliant, informative, and one of the most enjoyable learning experiences  I’ve ever had. The passion and love for games are present in every detail and every interview and a must-watch.

High Score is streaming now on Netflix.

 


High Score
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TL;DR

To summarize, if you love gaming, love history, or documentaries I cannot recommend High Score enough. It is brilliant, informative, and one of the most enjoyable learning experiences  I’ve ever had. The passion and love for games are present in every detail and every interview and a must-watch.