In 2018, it was reported that the Video Game Industry had eclipsed the earnings of the Music and Film Industries combined. In High Score, this tantalizing tidbit was reiterated, but the focus of High Score, and by extension, this review, isn’t about the meteoric domination of the entertainment industry. In High Score’s 6 Episodes, viewers are taken back to a time before eSports, Fortnite Movie Nites, and crushing candy on your mobile device.
The series starts unassuming enough with the tale of one of the first massively popular games to ever hit an arcade cabinet, Space Invaders. The subtle intention of what the show initially seeks to explain quickly turns into a more complex tale that delves deep into the heart of what gaming is, perhaps more than the bytes and graphics that create it. Behind each episode is a tale. Whether you’re listening to how Tomohiro Nishikado came up with the inspiration for Space Invaders, or how Richard Garriott, of Ultima fame, took the RPG world to heights it had never been before, the results of each story aren’t always as important as the reasons that brought this cadre of gamers and developers to the proverbial gaming table. High Score bridges each episode, and explains each piece of vital information in terms even a non-gamer can relate to.
While each episode dispensed anecdotes and wisdom from a time that wasn’t so long ago, yet long enough to be forgotten, there are still some topics the series covers that are relevant even today. For example, in the episode Fight!, High Score talks about the rise of violent and potentially inappropriate video games. Most games we see today could be described as hyper-violent, although back when games like Mortal Kombat were first hitting the market, the backlash was extreme and severe. The story of Mortal Kombat followed along in the same vein of Dungeons & Dragons before it, and is still a relevant topic today, as legislators continue to denounce certain types of games for problems affecting children and, in some cases, society as a whole. Though, the show does make quite valid points on the absurdity of the cult classic sexploitation “game” Night Trap.
High Score is both a chronicle of the gaming industries past, and a looking glass into the future. In Comeback Kid, the story of the rise of Nintendo which became a household name in the late 80s and early 90s, changed everything in ways even Atari didn’t expect. Then we see in the episode, This is War, SEGA’s plan to outplay Nintendo would prove successful. As a parable of sorts, the foreshadowing of the SEGA console revolution was short-lived as the former console maker has relegated itself to a publisher and software studio. As the next series of hardware contenders have taken their spot, the Xbox and Playstation, a new potential contender is looming, the Cloud Gaming revolution that seeks to push hardware out as a whole.
High Score doesn’t touch on everything I’ve mentioned, the stories are more than just historical facts of what the developers and players went through and experienced over the years. Instead, we watch heartfelt confessions from those that required these games as an escape from realities they couldn’t fathom, and we see foreshadowing of issues that languish in the past, doomed to be repeated as the ever-growing wheel of the gaming machine turns. Most people will find the technical side of the series interesting, the emotional side of High Score will delight and entertain far more. From the feelings of finding comfort within yourself as Rebecca Heineman experienced while playing Space Invaders, to Gordon Bellamy’s work in finally finding representation in a sports title, these are the untold stories that shouldn’t just be important to gamers. These are stories that speak to all of us. You can catch the High Score docuseries over on Netflix from 19 August 2020.