Man Vs Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale Of Nibbler

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Man Vs Snake
"Man Vs Snake has all the ingredients of a fantastic story, and Kinzy and Seklir pace it perfectly."

In 1982, computer games were cute, high concept, and highly addictive. They were also impossible for most people to access at home, so the arcade was king. Into this highly competitive environment, where skilled play could save on pocket money and make one a local legend, came Nibbler. At first glance it wasn't anything special - just a variant on Snake with a protagonist who had to be navigated through mazes as his tail grew longer. But Nibbler was the first game of any kind with a nine digit score counter, making it the first game in which it was possible to score a billion points. That was a challenge.

This is the story of Tim McVey (no relation to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, even if he does get nervous when going through customs). who, at the age of 15, became the first person to reach that magical billion. It's a story about what it means to peak so young, how it feels when one's record is challenged by others, and how a simple game - even after one is thoroughly bored of playing it - can become an obsession. Along the way we meet the challengers, the other record holders, we learn the story of the arcade "at the centre of the world", and we watch the now fortysomething Tim try to win 'his' record back.

Copy picture

If you regard gamers as unforgivably geeky, this might not be the film for you - but then again, you might be surprised at the characters who emerge, from arcade owner Walter Day to distant mentor Billy Mitchell, friendly rival Dwayne Richard and Italian upstart Enrico Zanetti. Tim himself, in his youth, was the classic outsider hero, a farm boy who came out of nowhere and wowed the gaming world with sheer natural talent. As a middle aged guy in a boring job, who admits that nothing else he's ever done has amounted to much, he seems a little less romantic, but when an opportunity emerges to return to his glory days, the gradual return of his self-belief is touching to see. Supported by loving wife Tina, he's ready to do whatever it takes to beat that snake.

Whatever it takes is quite a lot. Enrico, who works out every day and loves sport, looks in better shape to do it than anyone else, but he's lost interest. There's discussion of the level of physical endurance required just to stay awake and focused over the two days it takes to get the game to that stage. Muscles cramp up, vision blurs. And that's even before we encounter issues with machine failure, jamming joysticks, fans wanting attention or Parker the dog barking loudly because he's (understandably) sick of being ignored.

Offbeat it may be, but Man Vs Snake has all the ingredients of a fantastic story, and Kinzy and Seklir pace it perfectly. As a result, it's gripping whether or not you're a fan of the game. Despite the presence of some hefty egos, all its stars are ultimately likeable. The best documentaries have the power to make viewers passionate about subjects they never considered before. This is one of them.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2016
Share this with others on...
A documentary about the first man ever to score a billion points in a computer game.

Festivals:


Search database: