Fantastic Fest 2015: Man Vs. Snake, by Chase Beck
Have you ever been good at something? No, I mean really good. I do not believe I have, but I imagine that it is a great feeling. Tim McVey was once great at something. McVey was the Nibbler Champion. For Tim, having been known for being the world record holder for Nibbler is not enough. Now that he’s forty, out of shape, and working full time, reclaiming his title presents all new challenges.
Right now you might be asking, “What the #$&*@ is Nibbler”?” Do not worry. I have you covered.
Nibbler is a classic arcade game that presents a marathon-style challenge. The game cannot be beaten but will record a score of up to 999,999,999 points before rolling over. While the points reset, the game continues, meaning that it could technically last forever. Just to reach the mythical one billion milestone can take up to forty hours of near-continuous play. The only respite from the game comes in brief, calculated breaks that players can take while the game slowly burns away the accumulated lives they have managed to accrue. In essence, getting a high score in Nibbler is a test of endurance.
Man Vs. Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale of Nibbler features some of the same faces that we saw in King of Kong. Billy Mitchell (multiple arcade game world record holder), and Walter Day (owner of Twin Galaxies and official arcade record referee) are here as are other colorful and entertaining characters. Their commentary on McVey’s past achievement and quest to regain the title are insightful, heartfelt, and terribly funny. The makers of Man Vs. Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale of Nibbler knows that its premise is not a serious subject. They also know that McVey, tragic character that he may be, is also easy to poke fun at. Thankfully, Tim seems willing to take the ribbing. Directors Andrew Seklir and Tim Kinzy strike the perfect balance of adorant devotion and playful mocking. When the film derives laughs from Tim and those around him, we feel like it is the kind of rib-poking and good-natured teasing that occurs among the closest of friends, and by witnessing it in the film, we feel as if we have been invited into that inner circle.
McVey’s rekindled attempt at his old record is aided by another contender, Dwayne Richard, an eccentric showman and video game jack-of-all-trades. Their rivalry is mostly friendly, as it encourages each to try harder and play longer than they would alone. Also, for Tim, it helps to have someone who knows the aches the come from standing or sitting in one position for hours, going without sleep while tapping a joystick to manipulate a pixelated snake around a track. McVey’s obsession with this goal is curious and, at times, I wonder if it is not partially fuelled by the fact that there are guys making a film about him.
My favorite parts of Man Vs. Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale of Nibbler are the animated interludes that occur towards the beginning and end of the film. It again juxtaposes that playfulness with the heady thrill of competing for world-wide recognition. I loved Man Vs. Snake: The Long And Twisted Tale of Nibbler, not just because I am a fan of video games or stories about returning champions, but because it is a tale about one dreams and one man’s commitment to never giving up until he achieves it. It is about the drive to, just once, reclaim that previous greatness. We can all learn something valuable about being good at something from Tim McVey, Nibbler champion.