In “High Score” a new documentary series from Netflix, viewers take a deep dive into the golden age of video games, spanning the creation of legends from “Space Invaders” to the controversial “Doom.” That period of time was full of novelty and innovation, for programmers and players alike.
There was a lot of money to be won and careers to be either made or broken. Along the way, series creators France Costrel and Melissa Wood also investigated lesser-known members of the industry whose contributions changed how we play today.
“Video games are often not seen as a form of art because we don’t realize the craft that goes into making them,” Wood told Salon. “Not just developers and creators, but there’s also music composers, artists, marketers. It was a really great opportunity to show all these different fields and make sure we had diversity.”
Among some of those stories are how Ray Best created – and then lost – “Gayblade,” the first role playing video game featuring LGBTQ characters; how Gordon Bellamy found acceptance in video games and went on to add the first Black characters into “Madden”; and how Shaun Bloom channeled his inner ’80s teenager (and mullet) to became the ultimate Nintendo Games Counselor.
Costrel and Wood spoke with Salon about the creation of the series (narrated by Mario himself, Charles Martinet), how they chose which games to highlight, and some of the unknown stories they uncovered.
There’s this quote at the beginning of the series about how video games transformed televisions from something where you were a passive viewer into an active participant. Through this series, we’re kind of reversing roles again. What made you decide to bring video games to the small screen through “High Score”?
France Costrel: I’m so glad you picked up on that quote, because I actually find it very interesting as well. In a nutshell, Melissa and I both love producing television and we’ve done it for a few years and worked together on other projects.
But I think of video games as this unique ability to create a connection between the game and the gamer, so this is why we interviewed game designers . . . to create that connection. It all started while I was working on a short documentary series called “8 Bit Legacy.” We produced a few episodes about some early video games and the people behind them. It did pretty well. We got nominated for an Emmy, and then I realized, “You know what? There is no shortage of amazing tales when it comes to the people behind the games,” so we put together a deck and went to pitch, and got super excited and lucky that Netflix was on board.
Then I had the pleasure of working with Melissa before on a series called “Dark Net” on Showtime, which also had a lot to do with screens. I knew that Melissa was super creative and an amazing leader and manager, so she would be perfect for this project, to bring…
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