Hot Docs 2021: Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest Celebrates the Arcade Community
Mads Hedegaard’s documentary follows one man’s journey to break the world record of consecutive hours spent playing Gyruss, all while hanging out with his friends.
Feeling like a cross between The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and The Big Lebowski, Mads Hedegaard’s feature debut Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest ends up capturing the spirit of arcades and the importance of support systems through one man’s quest to marathon a video game for 100 hours. The task seems daunting and probably pointless to those unfamiliar with video games, but Hedegaard’s documentary prods at what it means to accomplish something for personal reasons. By doing so, Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest finds the role friends play in achieving other friends’ goals a cathartic and life-enriching experience.
Kim Cannon Arm often blends into the background wherever he is: silent, unassuming, and impossible to decipher what’s happening in his head. At 55 years old, he’s best known for playing the 1983 Konami game Gyruss for 49 hours straight on a single coin. Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest follows him as he tries to break both his and the world record by marathoning Gyruss for 100 hours. With his friends in tow, he hopes to accomplish something that most would shy away from due to the physical and mental toll it has on a person. However, Kim’s friends are there to help and the documentary goes through a decent amount of what kind of preparation is required to achieve such a herculean task. The question is never really whether it’s worth it, but whether it can be done.
For those going into this film with little to no knowledge of video games, rest easy because while there is a history lesson around the competitive side of gaming and arcades as a whole, Hedegaard doesn’t seem entirely interested in making people want to play video games. Instead, it’s the community that forms around Kim and inside the Bip Bip Bar which feels the most intriguing. There’s a vibe to Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest that is relaxing even once Kim begins his record-breaking attempt with Gyruss. That’s due to the fact that all around Kim aren’t people watching intently to ensure he is doing well. Instead, they play games around him, drink beer, and create an environment similar to the one you’d find in any arcade.
Capturing that feeling of machines sounding off as someone jumps over a barrel in Donkey Kong or shoots an alien in Space Invaders while you attempt your own high score pursuit, is what makes Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest an easy recommendation to those who just want to bask in the atmosphere of a film. Kim’s not an inherently interesting subject, mainly due to how much he keeps inside and his relatively singular interest, but his passion for games and the other talented gamers he has surrounded himself showcases a camaraderie that is palpable in most arcades that are still standing. When the film finds itself talking to individuals in their own homes, playing games on the couch, it only emphasizes the loss of community that gaming at home has fostered.
However, Kim’s friends are anything but your typical gamers. As mentioned, they’re all exceptionally talented in one game or another. His friend Carsten excels in Donkey Kong, Dyst holds several world records in Puzzle Bobble 1 and 2, Svavar is a world record holder in Tetris, and Emil holds a world record in Micro Hexagon. But they all also live lives outside of games, whether it’s studying music theory, physics, or poetry. Outside of their community at Bip Bip Bar and The Shed, they’re all extremely introverted, but seeing them together you’d never know it as their friendship fosters the constant encouragement of each other.
Once Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest finally begins Kim’s marathon attempt, it ends up less tense than it initially seemed like it might be portrayed. Hedegaard encapsulates the mental fatigue of playing a game for so long through accompanying visuals and music, including Kim’s favourite band Iron Maiden. He may be going for a world record, but the film doesn’t feel like it outside of the reminders of how much time is left in his attempt and the intensity of each break taken.
That relaxation and trancelike tone let’s Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest succinctly capture what it’s like to hang out in an arcade. Friends chatting and pints of beer being drunk around bright pixels in loud arcade cabinets – that’s a feeling that can’t be replicated in a home. As a love letter to one of the havens for gaming communities to come together, Hedegaard’s initial interest in Kim’s Gyruss attempt eventually gives way to a delightful exploration of the importance of community.
Hot Docs Film Festival runs Thursday April 29 to May 9. Visit the festival’s official website for more information.