Competitive Obscurity

Human beings are competitive by nature, so its no wonder we’ve designed countless games and sports as outlets for our competiveness. Yet, while everyone knows of the big sports (baseball, football, basketball, etc…) there remains small niches in the world for the competition of obscure sports and games. I find these tiny niches fascinating, and a number of articles and documentaries have explored them:

The documentary King of Kong is a vastly entertaining look at the underground world of competitive vintage arcade games, specifically Donkey Kong. Here is also an interesting article about the rapper Eminem’s fascination with the documentary and attempts to get his own high scores in Donkey Kong.

As a companion piece to watching King of Kong, I’d recommend watching the documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters and reading Chris Higgins’s article about competitive Tetris.

The documentary Word Wars is a look at the world of competitive scrabble. Also read this article about a cheating scandal that rocked the competitive scrabble world last year.

Matt Tullis’s piece about the competitive horseshoe throwing world is a great long read on the subject.

Here is an article detailing the history of competitive eating, and a great longer piece by Enrico Campitelli about having dinner with competitive eating champion Kobayashi.

All these pieces have common themes, such as the drive to be the greatest as something and the tolls that pursuit can take on people. While it seems from the outside there isn’t much at stake for these people, as they usually get little money or fame, in their own minds everything is at stake. The drive of someone to be the greatest at Donkey Kong is the same drive that Michael Jordan had at basketball. Whether that is a healthy drive or not is up for debate, but it makes for fascinating characters.