Be it in Tron or The Last Starfighter or King of Kong there’s a certain stigma around the presence of an arcade cabinet in movies. Whenever they appear as more of a background detail, film traditionally depicts them as outlets of toxic obsession. Whether it’s Beta Alex’s need to escape his trailer park life or Billy Mitchell needing to stroke his ego. Anyone who spends too long in an arcade obviously has something deeply wrong in their lives.
While the documentary Cannon Arm and The Arcade Quest doesn’t entirely dispute this, it does shine a far more positive light on the people who indulge in this behaviour. Focusing on Kim ‘Cannon Arm’ Kobke, a Danish grandfather and owner of the world’s most luxuriant mullet, obsessed with the 1983 arcade game Gyruss. A fixture at Copenhagen’s BipBip Bar, home to all manner of arcade treasures, where Kim sets himself the task of playing Gyruss for 100 consecutive hours on a single coin.
Obviously, this is a task that requires some assistance and Kim has the loving support of his friendship circle; a collection of misfits, many of whom have set arcade records themselves. It’s in these allies that we see the positive side of Kim’s quest. While arcades and video games are clearly the primary factor in their lives none of them have allowed their obsessions to ruin them. They all hold down steady jobs and interests outside of gaming and consistently demonstrate a satisfaction with themselves. From slam poets to musical theorists, they lead rich and healthy lives. Kim’s community is one that shares is love for video games and wants to help their friend succeed.
The methodology for achieving success is a light presence in the documentary. Mostly covering how to manage Kim’s physical and mental health while stood upright for so long. The calculation of his score and how many lives he has to burn turns out to be a crucial component, especially as it provides the only opportunity for micro-naps as Kim burns through spare lives. The focus of the film is really about Kim and his friends, the definition ‘the thought that counts’.
There’s a certain amount of pathos in this approach. The acknowledgement that, while the film sees value in these people, it recognises them as outcasts. Only one is outright acknowledged as having Autistic Spectrum Disorder but Kim’s friends are a deeply introverted bunch (not to mention Alan Turing fans). Preferring to retreat into their obsessions than engage with the wider world. It’s an instinct that many watching will relate to and to it’s credit the film never judges them. One of the most heartfelt moments is a visit to the grave of their friend Holle, a victim of mental illness. It’s an incredibly sombre scene that contrasts beautifully with the intense retro vibe of the film.
That’s going to be another selling point of the film. Cannon Arm…leans heavily into the ’80s aesthetics that one associates with video arcades. Melding classic chiptunes tracks with Iron Maiden and title cards exclusively in Commando font. It’s a vibe determined to evoke nostalgia for a time that may never even have existed. Incredibly effective at allowing the viewer to sink into the idealized world of Kim and his friends.
Cannon Arm and The Arcade Quest is an undeniably rose-tinted view of 80’s arcade nostalgia. With cameos from the long-disgraced Billy Mitchell himself to reveal just how contrived it is in trying to guide how we feel about these characters. As cynical as that may be though you will find yourself rooting for Kim and his friends. Not necessarily to achieve their insane goal but rather to achieve some semblance of success on their own terms. None of the characters lead what may be called conventional lives but to see the love and earnestness with which they rally around Kim, shows what achievement can really mean.