The mind is like a machine. When it functions at its best, it is capable of achieving amazing things. It created the computer, took us to the moon and it allows us to play a single video game for days on end. Such skill and dedication is demonstrated in the Danish documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest which sees Kim “Cannon Arm” Kobke as he attempts to play 1983s GYRUSS for 100 hours. He is assisted by his friends, each of whom is highly skilled in their own right, be it analysing Bach, writing poetry, or soldering mechanics.
Doing anything for 100 hours is no small feat, especially when the world record for playing GYRUSS was a comparatively measly 59 hours at the time. It’s made difficult by both the game mechanics and the strain that staying awake takes on the human body. GYRUSS seems simple enough. Your spaceship sits at the edge of the screen, only able to move around the perimeter of a circle, whilst you shoot at meteors flying towards you from the center of the screen. What makes it difficult is the increasing speed and frequency of the meteors as well as their varying scatter pattern. Add to this some complex rules surrounding keeping track of your lives and each passing moment becomes a tense battle where not a single second can be wasted. Kim’s friend Mads Hedegaard, whose documentary this is, narrates the entire endeavor and does a superb job of explaining the rules so that the audience understands the mechanics and the stakes.
With the documentary following the playing of a game of GYRUSS, it’s perhaps no surprise that Cannon Arm acts as a love letter to video games as a medium. It details GYRUSS‘ story through the decades and takes time to explore a little bit of the history of video games as a whole, without feeling like a historical documentary. Kris’ friends each have their own favourite video game that they spend hours playing be it Bubblepop, Tetris, or Donkey Kong and each gets a little focus. Then there are the discussions of staples of the industry like The Konami Code and Twin Galaxies – an organisation that tracks world video game records. founded by Walter Day. However, despite several interesting tangents, it always circles back around to GYRUSS, Kim’s attempt to play it, and the connection between the friends who support him.
It’s clear that Kim is taking a large risk with this attempt. His friends and family all make sure that he gets a full medical check-up and gather supplements to ensure that he maintains his energy and focus. In as much as Mads has created a love letter to video games, he has created a love letter to his friends. We spend a significant amount of time with each of them, learning about their interests and accomplishments, even occasionally seeing them in vulnerable moments. One incredibly touching scene sees them visiting the grave of the friend who brought them all together whilst in another we see one of them having an emotional outburst at a particularly frustrating game of Bubblepop. This isn’t just a video game documentary, it’s a glimpse into the lives of real people and the love they have for each other.
The vibe of Cannon Arm is often whimsical. Mads takes the audience on philosophical tangents and edits footage like it’s a high-budget student film. The best editing comes from the montages, which are each set to classic songs by Iron Maiden like Run to the Hills. It fills the screen and story with a level of excitement that is difficult to replicate. The original score incorporated the works of Bach, as an allusion to the friend who studies it and to the often philosophical moments within the narrative. Whilst Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest may have less appeal for those with little to no interest in video games, it’s still worth watching as a testament to pushing boundaries.
Until Next Time…