Sleekly designed to a fault, this assortment of tales is the newest Netflix doc sequence that feels extra like a mythologizing business for its topics.
Every episode of the brand new gaming historical past sequence “High Score” may maintain a a lot bigger story all its personal. Generally that may be a profit in nonfiction storytelling, however there are at all times pitfalls in responding to a wealth of concepts by overstuffing them into a specific predetermined construction.
Such is the issue with “High Score,” a present that units out to take a look at the early many years of gaming, from arcade glory days via to the appearance of 3D graphics. With pivotal figures from that evolution because the viewer’s guides, tiny snippets of coding, design and manufacturing historical past all mix collectively over distinct eras. The early-’90s console wars, the rise of digital RPGs, and the overall cultural depth of Nintendo every get their very own tidy overviews.
However with these testimonies and an inflow of timeline markers, “High Score” is both unequipped or tired of offering a rigorous historical past of early online game corporations and the folks they comprised. As a substitute, these cherry-picked items of gaming lore are informed with an awesome enthusiasm that always appears misplaced. The first aim of “High Score” shouldn’t be as a lot to tell as to current a neat and tidy narrative, a largely uncritical mythologizing meant to promote the perpetual price of gaming as an entire.
The handful of instances “High Score” really focuses on the main points and logistics bringing these video games to life, there’s a way of inspiration simmering beneath the shiny floor. As “Space Invaders” designer Tomohiro Nishikado pores over his unique sketches for the monsters of Area Invaders, the present doesn’t have the persistence to dig deeper into the creative evolution of that design. A sequence speaking about crafting the sound components of Mario’s actions within the unique “Donkey Kong” is drowned out by clarification relatively than listening to the fruits of that labor. When introduced with an opportunity to really revel within the method and craft of those video games, “High Score” regularly defers as a substitute to people positioning themselves in a curated look again at historical past.
One of many sequence’ essential sources of contradiction is its connective narration. Perhaps in a special context, bringing in iconic voice artist Charles Martinet (the person who gave delivery to Mario’s signature catchphrase) to relate a gaming historical past sequence could be a useful thematic addition. However right here, he’s used as an omniscient dispenser of knowledge who painstakingly delivers and reframes context for an viewers assumed to have a cultural data that hardly stretches again a decade. Each new introduction of a specific sport or the individual behind it’s teed up with the identical winking reveals (“….called…The Internet.”)
The design method of “High Score” tries to create the identical propulsive visible environment for its tales that you simply would possibly expertise taking part in one of many video games it’s describing. That sense of compelled urgency signifies that it’s combining speaking head interview segments with bodily recreations and animated retellings and the occasional hybrid that brings in a little bit of 8-bit taste to hover round a specific interview topic. When coupled with that narration, shifting between these modes can usually get chaotic. Particularly when it’s working in full-on explainer video mode, the cheeky animated interludes not often work in tandem with no matter a topic is likely to be explaining in a given second. Like a lot of the remainder of the sequence, the tip aim appears extra to take care of your consideration than that will help you course of any of the data on show.
It’s a disgrace as a result of there’s clearly plenty of care that went into organising a few of these components. The opening title animation is a rollicking journey via the early origins of the artform, rendered in fonts and colours that function an efficient ‘80s nostalgia portal. On their own, some of these storytelling choices seem interesting in theory. But there really isn’t a lot justification for the occasional Detective Pikachu-esque melding of online game characters in a bustling metropolis aside from it being one thing to catch your eye. Over time, that sacrificing of coherence for visuals simply turns “High Score” into simply one other product to be absorbed.
For a present that’s ostensibly about celebrating the triumph of the creative spirit, it’s all of the extra jarring that “High Score” frames sport success nearly completely in monetary phrases: how a lot income a sport generated, how a lot prize cash a contest winner earned, what number of items a console offered in any nook of the worldwide market. As that feeling provides up over the course of the sequence, “High Score” feels an terrible lot like a company orientation video, designed to instill within the viewer the concept the businesses behind these video games are purveyors of magic doing a vital service for a grateful client base.
There’s an absence of self-awareness in “High Score,” significantly in the way it presents the commodification of the trade in such glowing phrases. Every time some growth of the previous has the potential to talk to a extra trendy concern within the gaming group, we’re whisked away to the following profile. The sequence’ willingness to deal with racial disparities in sure contexts and its indictment of right-wing policymaking through the AIDS disaster makes the relative lack of cultural engagement elsewhere all of the extra baffling. One sequence outlining the 1993 Congressional hearings spurred partially by response to violence in Mortal Kombat treats these developments with a shrugging removing, as if these sorts of overblown tradition warfare objections have been purely a product of the early Clinton administration.
The overriding smoothness of this historical past leaves it sapped of any dramatic rigidity. All the successes are a foregone conclusion. The looks of “doc series as branding initiative” isn’t new, or perhaps a stranger to Netflix menus. The unquestioning highlight method is what powered most installments of the latest season of “Abstract: The Art of Design” (albeit there with extra readability of function and imaginative and prescient). The weird addition right here is that the historical past “High Score” is detailing strains up fairly effectively with the ascendance of Netflix itself. As designers smile on the improvements driving client frenzies — introducing the idea of a excessive rating or crafting a sport with a number of element elements that gamers must purchase every time — their partaking with the identical content material churn-ideas which have dogged Netflix for years. Martinet explains, “People weren’t playing video games, they were playing Nintendo” and not using a trace of irony that the platform delivering this to viewers is striving for that very same supposed model takeover/saturation.
What’s perhaps most weird is the way in which that “High Score” capabilities as each a gaming hagiography and a mission that has the fake sheen of obliviousness to something that got here to the trade post-N64. The final “get a load of these eSports!!” perspective is delivered with the identical tenor because the bewildered “They’re called computer games” nightly information stories the present needs to look sideways at. That lack of curiosity leads to a handful of gaming pioneers relaying their successes in some shiny, aesthetically jumbled packaging. The items are there to make one thing that really conveys a higher appreciation of what went into constructing these dominant cultural forces, to fill in that thriller hole between a revolutionary concept and loads of greenback indicators. However investigating that insightful center floor simply isn’t considered one of this present’s targets.
“High Score” is now accessible to stream on Netflix.