5 Questions with Steve Sanders

by Alan Rapp on August 30, 2007

in Film News & Trailers

We sat down with Steve Sanders, a longtime friend to Bill Mitchell, and once the unofficial world record holder for Donkey Kong, Joust and Pac Man.  We discussed Donkey Kong, Bill Mitchell, Steve Wiebe, and this outstanding little documentary called The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.  Here’s what we found…

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Steve Sanders back in 1982
a former King of Kong

1. How did you become involved in the film?

When the documentarians were looking into the history of competitive gaming they started out with Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa, Iowa.  I’ve been involved there since 1982.  I had the unofficial Donkey Kong record in 1982 and the Kansas City Star did an article called “The King of Kong” about me holding the unofficial record.  I also did a book for Bantam Books around that time entitled The Video Master’s Guide to Donkey Kong.  I am thinking about writing and updating a new version for the Wii with some minor changes.

2. You are a friend of Bill Mitchell.  For those who haven’t seen the film, can you explain how you and Billy met?

Bantam Books told me to contact Walter Day of Twin Galaxies late February 1982 and learned I had the highest scores for Donkey Kong and Pac Man.  Shortly after I learned about Bill Mitchell.  We first spoke to each other in May or June of 1982 and hit it off right away and became quick friends even after the negative things which happened later on, which I brought on myself.  I have been a friend of Bill Mitchell’s for years and I know the feeling is mutual.

3. Has Bill seen the film?  How do you think he like how he comes off on screen?

As far as I know Bill has not seen the film.  I have seen the film twice.  It’s hard to describe Bill to other people.  Recently the best metaphor to use for Billy is the “poppa bear.”  All the people in Twin Galaxies are in the bear’s den.  If you are a bear in the bear’s den he’s your provider and protector and you love him.  And when someone from outside comes in you don’t know them or respect them and you distrust them.  When I found out people on the outside don’t perceive him as I do I was shocked.  He can come across as very aggressive as he protects the integrity of classic arcade games.

4. Do you still play video games?

I had basically put them aside for 20 years.  I have never spent time on any of those new consoles like the XBox or Playstation.  When the documentarians came around they encouraged me to start playing again.  Now I own a Donkey Kong, Ms Pac Man and Joust arcade game.  I don’t play as much as I used to, but recently I set the third highest Joust record in the world, a world record I used to own, and I sure would like to have the world record.  I played doubles with the guy I have been competing with and we obtained the world record for doubles on Joust.

5. What message would you like people to take away from the film?

I think the message of the film is the classic human struggle.  Obviously there’s no question that Steve Wiebe is the protagonist, the underdog, the good everyman who is trying to achieve notoriety and fame.  Just as many humans are trying to become great at something.  Versus the antagonist, which is Bill Mitchell, who has the notoriety and fame that Steve is trying to achieve.  On one level it’s about Donkey Kong, which I’m sure most people would probably not be that interested in.  On another level it touches those classic themes.  It’s about us, ti’s about me, it’s about you, it’s about life.  The movie makers were terrific and I think this film will launch all of their careers.  The director Seth Gordon has already signed on to do a major motion picture with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.  When I first heard the idea I thought, it’s a documentary about video games; it will be lucky to make cable TV.  But I have been amazed and gratified to see how critics are uniformly praising the film.  I’m not sure the film has brought in new people to Twin Galaxies, except one thing I am certain of – there are more people who are now more aware.

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