Finding a worthy opponent against whom to test your button-mashing prowess no longer means walking into an arcade with a pocketful of quarters. Nowadays, finding a comparably skilled adversary requires one only to turn on their console or computer, boot up a game, and log into a waiting room where an AI liaison does the virtual matchmaking. Game cartridges have gone the way of the floppy disk, and soon, discs will, too.
The video game industry has witnessed dramatic and exponential change since its humble beginnings, but who is to say that microtransactions are any better, worse, or that much different than the original pay-to-play model that kept malls packed tight with teens eager to make their mark by achieving one of the coveted spots on any one cabinet’s high score board?
A multi-part overview of the history of videogames is exactly the sort of series that I want to watch. When I sit down to watch a documentary series about videogames, I want to be taken back to a time when kids couldn’t play videogames in their living rooms, a time when being good at a game meant playing it for hours, on a single quarter. I want to watch an industry that I care deeply about blossom before my eyes. I want to be reminded of why the artform is a special as it is important. Apparently, I want a whole lot more than what High Score offers.
Throughout the series, viewers are dazzled with visuals and sounds that immerse them in yesterday’s gaming industry; however, High Score thoroughly disappoints. When broaching serious subject matter, like the issues of violence in videogame in the early 90’s, High Score fails to stop and stare and, instead, offers only a glance.
While the emphasis of this series absolutely should remain on gaming and not drift too far into politics, further exploration and investigation of the issues that shaped an industry is necessary to form a complete understanding and appreciation of the products produced. By simply peddling nostalgia of the industry, High Score merely works to further commodify the art of the underrepresented and often overlooked creators of said art.
Anyone who knows anything about the history of the industry already knows that Atari’s E.T. was a flop and, perhaps, the worst game ever made, Mortal Kombat’s fatalities, depicting savage acts like decapitation, were controversial, and eSports weren’t always such a big deal. After watching the series, I was left having learned nothing, and wondering who fits into High Score’s intended audience. Clearly, I don’t make the cut.
Omitting much of anything that gamers would want from a series like this, High Score is difficult to view as anything more than an effort to further develop the Netflix brand. Much like last year’s Enter the Anime, High Score is nothing more than an entirely-too-long commercial for the streaming giant.
The Bottom Line
What could have been an informative deep-dive into the history of the video game industry amounts to nothing more than a sort of virtual ‘Videogames for Dummies’ overview. The Netflix Original documentary series is sleek but shallow; too often missing the point, High Score is fun, but lacks re-playability. Gamers deserve more…