Video Game Invasion: The History Of A Global Obsession

Despite gaming's current omnipresence, the media has failed so often in giving the form its due that it seemed unlikely the Game Show Network would fix this, but their made for cable documentary gets a high score. Though it feels cheaply produced — and the cut-to-commercial segues are somehow even more annoying without the actual commercials — Video Game Invasion is nonetheless a gripping look at an ever-evolving industry, and while self-shilling "host" Tony Hawk may be saddled with lame one-liners (though it's amusing to discover in a bonus interview that many moms believe him no realer than Lara Croft), he efficiently guides us through gaming's history. We see the geek beginnings at M.I.T. and the '70s emergence of arcades (which consumed 20 billion quarters by 1982), as well as Frank Sinatra as the pitchman for the forgotten first console, the Magnavox Odyssey, and Nintendo's revival of console gaming after Atari's early '80s flameout — caused by a legendarily crappy E.T. game, which sold so poorly the vast majority of cartridges were buried in the desert. Atari is easily the most interesting storyline, with its founder Nolan Bushnell starting the company in the early '70s with 500 bucks. He hired anyone he could, including junkie bikers, 18-year-old potheads and a pre-Apple Steve Jobs, before cashing out for $28 million and founding Chuck E. Cheese while watching corporate greed bankrupt his baby. The post-millennial portion is a little over-obvious — and devotes too little time to the mod community — but the origin stories are filled with fantastic trivia and informative interviews with analysts, designers and many of the industry's original power players. But as the movie traces the line from Zork, Pong and Pacman (originally "Puckman," before worries about creative vandals forced a name change) through to Doom, GTA and Fable, what becomes clear is that gaming has always moved forward via risk-taking independents, something rare in this big-budget era of sequels and licenses. So perhaps a new attack is imminent. The extras flesh out the film with about 20 minutes of bonus interviews, highlighted by various designers and developers reminiscing over their first gaming experiences as if discussing the first time they got laid, which more than likely happened much later in life. (Ventura, www.venturadistribution.com)