Man vs Snake: The Long & Twisted Tale of Nibbler
With a title not too far from that of a Sci-Fi channel spectacular, this is not a story about a man who fights off a snake by nibbling it, but instead is a tale about a man’s quest to conquer the scoreboard of the snake arcade game, “Nibbler”. Arcade gaming was before my time, with my earliest memories of computer games being that of a hand-held Donkey Kong game, and playing Zool or Lotus Challenge on the Atari. However, the Nibbler game was strangely recognisable.
My first phone being that of a Nokia 3210, it came equipped with a battery that would last for days, the ability to create your own ringtones and a couple of games, one of which was Snake. This classic, highly addictive game which involved controlling a snake round a screen picking up pieces of fruit or blob-like squares, the snake would then grow in length and increase in speed until it ate itself. Before being on phones round the world, this was a lesser known arcade game titled “Nibbler”.
For those that have seen Seth Gordon’s documentary, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, you will be able to join the dots as to how it is possible to create a compelling and exciting documentary about gaming high-scores. This is naturally a very similar human affair, only replacing notorious video game champion Billy Mitchell, with a humble but determined man from Iowa who goes by the name of Tim McVey.
At the age of 16, Tim was the first person in the world to achieve a billion points on Nibbler, a fete that took over 36 hours of continuous gameplay and was unmatched for many years. However, with challengers from all over the world, this title was constantly under threat, and an unconfirmed higher score from Italy loomed over Tim until this doc. Directors Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir decide to follow Tim, now much older, as he attempts to re-establish himself once and for all as the world champion of Nibbler.
Much like the other Man vs Machine story, this unhealthy competition into who can achieve the highest score on a particular game allows the viewer to gain a unique insight into the gaming community, but more importantly into the human psyche with regards to personal ambition. The documentary demonstrates an impressive level of research as we follow over several years, the contenders, the existing champion, and those close to them, to build a picture about this race to the top. Bringing in the stars from the previous documentary including that of controversially successful Billy Mitchell and Twin Galaxies (the centre of all that is gaming in the universe) owner, Walter Day, it feels like a sequel to King of Kong in a way.
It is its own film though, and a large portion of the credit goes to the directional emphasis given to the sheer dedication required to achieve this score. Whereas previously the story was on the very basic notion of human competition, prying into the politics of the competitors and that of Twin Galaxies; Man vs Snake takes a different approach, urging you to empathise with all involved. The body is not conditioned to handle this level of sleeplessness, let alone while sitting, rarely moving and focussing on a vivid screen. And while the story may be served up with less controversy compared to its predecessor, the nostalgic elements and somewhat bland moments were creatively improved with the inclusion of neatly drawn cartoons while the interviews narrated.
Man vs Snake is a fun but testing journey of one man’s last shot at greatness in the eyes of his peers and those around him. The varied presentation, the level of research and overall story arc of the documentary make it an interesting watch. Although, at the core of this film, and really the singular reason we can invest in this type of story is down to Tim. The determination and drive Tim possesses is admirable, you can invest in him as a person. He is a likable, honest, hard-working guy who wants to try and achieve his dream for the second time. As a result, the combination of having Tim at the centre of this documentary, and the direction Kinzy & Seklir decided to go, takes this seemingly dull premise and elevates it to an unlikely inspiring human interest story.
Man Vs Snake played @Ithaca Fantasic Fest 2015
Review by Mark B @Movieblort