One of the main reasons we fall out of love with gaming is it begins to lose its magic. By the time you’ve seen your nineteenth Call of Duty and twenty-third Fifa, some of the hobby’s charm begins to wear thin. One way to rekindle this love for games and learn a thing or two in the process is by watching gaming documentaries.
Myself and other gamers turn to gaming documentaries to learn more about the games we love and the people who make them, making you care more about the final products. You’ll also discover the gaming industry is full of juicy drama and occasional backstabbing which is entertaining stuff in itself.
Keep reading to discover our top gaming documentary picks and why people watch them.
What are gaming documentaries?
Gaming documentaries take a deep dive into the world of gaming. This involves its culture, an intimate look at the people who make the games, as well as the people who play them. You will find fascinating takes on the industry, the gamers, the games, competitive eSports, controversial moments, gaming’s greatest achievements, and the history of individual games or series.
These documentaries are not just for card-carrying gamers either. Many documentaries are made to give insight into the world of gaming for those who are not part of it. This allows non-gamers to get a better understanding of why video games are so popular.
These films involve interviews with developers and producers, clips of the games, highlights from gaming’s biggest moments, in-depth explanations of design decisions, behind-the-schenes footage, and a lot more.
Why do people watch gaming documentaries?
Just like any documentary, gaming films contextualize and frame things in an interesting way. Some of the main reasons to watch documentaries include the following.
Games are dynamic, complicated, and full of creativity. Interviews with developers give insight into how games come to be made.
Gaming documentaries give game makers a chance to explain their decision-making process. Ever wondered why Doom has those green lights on ledges? Turns out people get lost real easy if you don’t signpost everything. Always wondered what it’s like when the entire gaming community decides you’re a charlatan and later the second coming? Sean Murray does.
Learn about the history of gaming
Whether it’s nostalgia or brushing up on your gaming knowledge, learning more about the history of a game, a series, a company, or the industry as a whole can help make gaming fun again.
These documentaries lay it all out from beginning to end showing how things started and how things have changed over time. “Atari: Game Over” for example, chronicles the rise and eventual fall of one of gaming’s most iconic companies. While gaming might seem linear progress from zero-poly to nanites, it’s not been a smooth ride and these docs showcase it.
Meet the people who make games
For a lot of gamers, breaking down a game to understand how it was made and how it works is as interesting and fun as playing it.
While you might have great fun building amazing redstone contraptions, documentaries like “The Story of Mojang” allow you to peek behind the curtain and see what it took to let you build a super-secret trap door entrance in the first place.
You’ll discover egos, warmth, and genius often all three behind some of your favorite games.
Remind yourself why you love games
Most importantly, taking a step back from the controller and learning more about the games themselves lets you appreciate games for what they are. While graphics might not yet be truly photorealistic (we’re close though right?), and AI still needs some work, it took a lot of work and passion to get gaming to where it is today.
Gaming documentaries can remind us to appreciate games and overlook some of the minor issues we may have with them (looking at you fetch quests).
The best video game documentaries and channels
If your interest has been piqued and you want to begin watching gaming documentaries, check our selection below. We consider these among the very best videogame documentaries pairing expert knowledge of the industry and exclusive insider access, with quality narratives and production values.
The King of Kong
One of the first “big” gaming documentaries, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters chronicles the ongoing feud over Donkey Kong world records. The documentary features interviews and archive footage as the decades-old feud between the infamous Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe comes to a head.
The documentary details the saga from the beginning and shows the lengths that people will go to be classed as the best. King of Kong is eccentric, intriguing, and dramatic with developments happening right on camera. This is one not to be missed and is suitable for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Commissioned by Netflix, High Score takes an in-depth look at the “golden age” of gaming from the late 1970s to the 1990s. This nostalgic documentary series showcases individual retro games and companies including the way they’ve influenced pop culture.
Each episode runs about 45 minutes each and covers topics like the rise of Nintendo and their battle with Sega, and the endless Mortal Kombat vs Street Fighter debate.
Flexing that Netflix influence, the documentaries feature exclusive interviews with the biggest names in the industry. These fascinating discussions are spliced with footage and timelines that frame things for gamers of any age.
Indie Game: The Movie
While indie games are now big business, it hasn’t always been this way. Indie Game: The Movie takes a snapshot of the ups and downs that indie game developers faced in 2012, prior to the scene’s rise.
The documentary highlights some of the indie space’s biggest game developers before they hit success. You see how the creators of early hits like Super Meat Boy, Braid, and Fez found success and the trials and tribulations they encountered along the way.
The documentary does a good job of not over-romanticizing game development without undermining the achievement of these devs. It also has a nostalgic feel to it filmed before the indie scene exploded.
As well as full-feature documentary films, there are plenty of gaming documentary channels on YouTube.
Perhaps the most well-established and respected is NoClip, headed up by gaming journalist Danny O’Dwyer. These long-form documentaries feature exceptionally high production values with a passion for gaming that is evident in everything from the questions asked to the footage used.
Thanks to their track record for fair reporting and expert knowledge, O’Dwyer and the NoClip team have also been given exclusives that nobody else has including alpha footage of games and candid explanations by devs.
While NoClip now has a growing library of documentaries to watch, my personal favorites include:
- Unforeseen Consequences: A Half-Life Documentary
- To Hell & Back: A Doom Documentary
- The Story of CD Projekt: About the makers of The Witcher series of games and Cyberpunk 2077
- Hotline Miami: Creators Break Down its Design & Legacy
- “One Point O”: A Final Fantasy XIV Documentary: Detailing the Final Fantasy MMO’s turbulent origin and revival.
League of Legends isn’t for everyone. My foray into the game began wandering down lanes without a care in the world with the team chat filling up with profanities.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a LoL expert to enjoy Breaking Point. This doc follows the eSports Team Liquid in 2016 as they struggle to form a compatible team roster. The documentary focuses on the team’s star, Josh Hartnett, better known as Dardoch, and Gwang-jin, “Piglet.”
What unfolds is a fascinating tale of overinflated egos, poor management, losses, and disaster. It’s a truly interesting look into what it takes to be a professional gamer with all the backstabbing, hard work, stress, and heartache you’d expect.
With tonnes more feature-length documentaries out there and thousands of Youtube gaming docs ready to watch, even if you’re bored of playing, you can still enjoy gaming by learning more about them.
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