Netflix doc ‘High Score’ reveals the overlooked heroes of video games

The history of video games is full of stories and people you’ve never heard before. Who created Space Invaders? Who was the first esports champion? What was the first game to include skin color? High Score, a new documentary series from Netflix and Great Big Story, explores the first era of gaming and zooms in on the moments that shaped today’s billion-dollar industry.

But the most significant thing about High Score isn’t just its accessible storytelling (with amusing 16-bit style re-enactments). It’s that High Score brings an overdue spotlight to gaming’s pioneers whose stories were almost lost to time. That many also come from marginalized backgrounds illustrates how much video games have always been made by — and played by — people of all colors and identities.

“There’s no shortage of amazing stories when it comes to the people behind video games,” series director France Costrel tells Inverse. “A lot of games were created in reaction to current events. As an art form, we used games to convey a bigger message.”

“As an art form, we used games to convey a bigger message.”

“We wanted to be inclusive,” says showrunner Melissa Wood. “Of course there are stories people know, like Nintendo and Sega, and we approach those with fresh eyes. But creating video games is so much more complex. We’re not telling the A to Z of video games. We approach games more from the perspective of people who created the medium.”

High Score Netflix

‘High Score’ is a Netflix documentary series that tells the history of video games, as told by those whose names you know and maybe don’t know. Above: Gail Tilden, former editor in chief of Nintendo Power magazine.Netflix

Streaming on August 19, High Score is a six-episode documentary series that fluidly traces the period of time Wood and Costrel deem to be the “Golden Age” of video games. It starts with 1978’s Space Invaders and ends with the 1993 release of Doom. (Spacewar!, developed in 1962 and recognized as one of the first video games, gets a poetic moment in the final episode.)

Unlike movies and comic books, there is no formally recognized Golden Age of games. Arcade games, sure. But not all of gaming. “We acknowledge that’s a subjective framework,” Wood says. “For us, the ‘Golden’ era was the creation of this industry and how it burst onto the mainstream.”

To Costrel, Doom, the popular (and violent) 3D action-horror shooter that popularized first-person perspectives, represented the biggest leap in the medium since the introduction of Pac-Man. This made Doom the logical endpoint for the series, at least for now.

“For the first time, players were asked to identify with the game,” Costrel says. “You physically adopt the perspective of the game and step into the world. It was an evolution.”

Ending High Score with Doom, now a major franchise that’s sold over ten million copies, “launches us into the era we’re in now,” Wood says. “We’re now…

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