Narrated by Mario himself, Charles Martinet, High Score tells the story of dreamers, dropouts, developers, designers, CEOs, and even early eSports champions in its mission to provide an all-encompassing look at the industry. It never gets overly fixated on one aspect or corner of the gaming/gamer story, using interviews and (sometimes animated) reenactments to bounce between stories of Atari’s Nolan Bushnell, Nintendo sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, Nintendo Power’s Gail Tilden, EA’s Trip Hawkins (and his endeavor to create John Madden Football), John Romero and the formation of id Software, and countless other fascinating bibs and bobs from video game history.One of the most rewarding elements of High Score is its occasional look at fans from marginalized communities who found solace and safe spaces within games that allowed them to participate in worlds that were otherwise denied them, or came with limited access. Game designer Rebecca Heineman is the first to be profiled as her love of Space Invaders was born from her ability to use the game, as a child, to play as a female in her mind during a time when she was AMAB. This ultimate affection led to her becoming the first-ever national video game tournament champion.
Also included in the mix is gaming exec Gordon Bellamy, a black and queer man, who fell in love with the Madden games (seeing them as a way to play sports in a welcoming environment) and eventually helped the franchise include black players on the cover and in-game. There’s also the tale of Ryan Best’s LGBTQ RPG, GayBlade, which Best, years ago, lost all copies of (including the source code) due to a shipping mishap.
Netflix Spotlight: August 2020
It’s these stories, blended in with yarns like Ultima’s Richard Garriott having to incorporate morality into Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar because players were such s***heels, the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano that helped create the world of Final Fantasy, and Akira Nishitani’s global trek to create Street Fighter II, that make High Score a great watch.
At some points, High Score feels like it’s addressing viewers who might be overly unfamiliar with the gaming world, but all in all, that’s a very small part of the proceedings. Just because a few seconds might be devoted to explaining what a role-playing game is doesn’t take away from the excellent stories that come with that genre’s legacy. This love letter-style docu-binge is a cool and entertaining watch for all walks.