The best video game documentaries highlight the industry’s ability to engage, even when you have no controller in hand. You don’t always have to be sitting down with a video game to enjoy the medium. It’s a highly versatile art form that’s effectively entertaining even if you’re just learning about its history or following the long and sordid development of your favorite games.
The next time you’re in the mood for a movie, forego the usual suspects and consider throwing on one of the following documentaries. At the very least, you can still feel like you’re part of the community without actually dealing with said community.
The Best Video Game Documentaries
20. Video Game Invasion: The History of a Global Obsession
Director: David Carr & David Comtois
Who better to host an exposé into the video game industry than, erm, Tony Hawk? Actually, considering how popular his gaming series is, it’s not a terrible choice. Especially since Hawk’s love for gaming is evident as he takes viewers on a ride through the prolific industry.
If you’re an avid fan of video games, no matter how old they are, you’re going to get a kick out of Video Game Invasion. Hawk starts back in the 1970s with Pong and works his way through the mania that swept the nation.
Ever wonder where your favorite games of today stemmed from? Video Game Invasion helps bridge the gap between today’s technical marvels and the pixelated favorites of yesteryear. Doom and other influential series take the spotlight as we learn why we’ve grown obsessed with this digital medium.
19. Rise of the Video Game
Think the gaming industry has always been the multi-billionaire dollar trade it is today? Through this five-part documentary from The Discovery Channel, we explore exactly how we got to where we are, starting with the earliest incarnations of the digital form of entertainment.
Each episode takes us through a different generation of gaming, from the earliest release in 1958 to the 21st-century Internet-based wonders we know and love.
While there are some factual issues in Rise of the Video Game, the basic concept is a fun and insightful glimpse into the history of gaming featuring some notable titles.
18. From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution
Director: Anthony Caulfield & Nicole Caulfield
It’s hard to deny the influence that the PlayStation brand has had on the gaming industry. From Bedrooms to Billions aims to explore the history of Sony PlayStation and lay out the blueprint for the successful gaming console.
It all started with a demo of a tyrannosaurus and wound up exploding into franchises like Uncharted, Horizon, and God of War, but how exactly did PlayStation rise to its level of success?
Find out in From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution. Even if you’re not a Sony fan, this 90-minute documentary is a fascinating look back at a company that helped pioneer modern gaming.
17. Nintendo Quest: The Most Unofficial and Unauthorized Nintendo Documentary Ever!
Director: Rob McCallum
If the name is an indication of anything, this is going to be one wild ride.
When Jay Bartlett and Rob McCallum make a friendly challenge, it allows viewers to take a trip down memory lane. Bartlett is on a quest to own every North American release for the NES in 30 days, and Nintendo Quest follows him on this journey across the United States.
What starts as a friendly challenge blossoms into a once-in-a-lifetime experience as Bartlett and McCallum happen upon die-hard collectors with rare gems.
If you love Nintendo, this is a must-watch. Though you may need to coach yourself not to seek out some of the treasures found during Bartlett and McCallum’s adventure.
16. The Art of the Game
Director: Matthew Davis Walker
How has the video game industry evolved since its earliest incarnations? It’s a question explored in depth in The Art of the Game.
The hour-long documentary follows several students of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco as they vie for the same job in the gaming industry. Their interwoven stories take us through the annals of video game history, specifically how it has become a viable artform post-millennium.
The Art of the Game is a delightful look into the culture of gaming and how it really works as an artistic medium. One of the best video game documentaries for anyone who wants to know how hard it gets.
15. The Lost Arcade
Director: Kurt Vincent
We may spend our time plopped in front of consoles and high-end gaming PCs, playing the latest and greatest AAA titles.
However, so few of us would pass up on the opportunity to spend a day in an arcade, manipulating the grease-covered controls of classic cabinets. The Lost Arcade puts the spotlight on these venues, specifically the Chinatown Fair in New York City.
Unless you’re from the region or ingrained in the fighting genre community that’s practically made the arcade its second home, you may know nothing of this iconic spot. Regardless, if you’ve ever stepped foot inside an arcade and found yourself delighted by the digital pings and glimmering lights, The Lost Arcade is well-worth a watch.
14. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters
Director: Adam Cornelius
Tetris has its own fascinating history, but Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters looks beyond the development of the puzzler and focuses on the greatest players as they prep for the Classic Tetris World Championship.
Even if you’re not heavily invested in Tetris, Ecstasy of Order proves to be an interesting film. Though it predates the rise in modern eSports events, the documentary spotlights “professional” players who put their talents and hard work in Tetris.
The Tetris Masters really showcases the devotion that players have to their favorite games, even if it’s something as outwardly simple as Tetris.
13. GameLoading: Rise of the Indies
Director(s): Lester Francois / Anna Brady
Before 2001, indie gaming was a small blip on the radar. It has since grown into a massive industry that fills Steam libraries and makes up a large portion of digital downloads. It’s this booming industry that serves as the focus of GameLoading: Rise of the Indies.
The feature documentary dives into the world of indie gaming and the developers behind it, exploring the games and the inspirations for them. See how independent game developers have altered the playing field and, through hard work and focused ambitions, have turned themselves into viable competition for big-budget publishers.
Viewers will traverse the indie gaming timeline through the eyes of Davey Wreden (The Stanley Parable), Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story), Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone), and many more.
12. Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us
Director(s): Jason Bertrand/Matt Chandronait/Jeffrey Keith Negus/Ryan O’Donnell/Cesar Quintero
What goes into making one of the most notable and critically acclaimed games of a decade? It’s a question that the team at Naughty Dog answers in Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us.
Follow the complex development of Naughty Dog’s dark and moody adventure, which explores mature themes and difficult relationships in the setting of a post-apocalyptic world. See how the talented team dealt with the involved and dogged development of The Last of Us. Creative director Neil Druckmann and voice artists Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson share their stories in this revealing “making of” documentary.
Grounded touches on the highs and lows of the development process and helps players better appreciate the experiences unfolding in front of them. See also: the making of the game’s Left Behind DLC.
11. Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution
Director: Richard Goldgewicht
Video games aren’t anything new. We’ve been playing them for decades and enjoying the escape that they provide.
Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution takes us on a trip through time to follow the industry we’ve fallen in love with, from its earliest incarnations to the booming moneymaker that it is today. Goldgewicht features well-known and pivotal titles, using them to showcase how the gaming industry has grown and evolved over time.
For 90 minutes, viewers will embark on an educational trek in one of the best video documentaries that reminds us of the games we used to play and their role in shaping the current games we enjoy.
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