What does it mean to leave mark on the world?
While some argue that only the bravest or boldest are the ones who are change the landscape of their world, there are some who do so in small ways. These humble heroes will be remembered after their passing, not because of their amazing feats, but because of the strength of their character and how they loved others. In his new documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, director Mads Hedegaard explores the power of legacy and, more importantly, the impact one man can have on those around him.
In Arcade Quest, Hedegaard follows grandfather and veteran retro gamer, Kim Cannon Arm. The ‘uncrowned king of 1980s arcade games’, Kim spends his downtime playing the classics with his friends in Copenhagen’s Bip Bip Bar. Having turned the game of Gyruss into an artform, Kim decides to attempt to shatter the world record for gaming by playing for 100 hours straight. Aided by his friends who have committed to see his dream become reality, Kim sets out on a quest to play his way into the history books with the ultimate high score. Asked what it was that drew him to Kim and his story, Hedegaard notes that he was immediately struck by the unique nature of Kim’s quest and the welcoming atmosphere created his friends.
“When I was at film school, I got a friend who worked as a technician [there] and he was the co-owner of the [Bip Bip Bar] arcade. So, he invited me down there,” Hedegaard begins. “When I stepped in the door, it [thought] this is amazing. The music, the sound from the machines, the games themselves and the colors. My friend introduced me to Kim and some of the other guys, and they just welcomed me with open arms. They were just so generous from the get-go, really. Then, they taught me about this record attempt that Kim really wanted to try to make and I thought that the combination of these things [would be great]. The very simple premise of a man who has a goal, [and the question of] does he reach it or not? I really liked that and I liked the man himself, his friends and then the whole atmosphere. It felt to me as if I was stepping into another world, another universe in a way. I thought the combination of those things could potentially make a great basis for film. So, I just decided to try it out.”
In Kim, Hedegaard knew instantly that he had someone special. Despite Kim’s desire to cement his achievements with a world record, Hedegaard was struck by his modesty and peaceful demeanour.
“I think that what I admire most now is [Kim’s] humbleness and his just very quiet nature,” he points out. “He is so incredibly good at what he does in the arcade, but he’s so humble and he’s so chill about it. And I really liked that. I think what is one of the things that drew me to him in the beginning was also that he was such an introvert and doesn’t speak much. He’s such a quiet guy. I really recognize that in myself because I really used to be a very, very, very quiet guy and very shy and very introverted. So, that struck a chord with me somehow and I was just intrigued by that.
“When I see [what happens at the end of the film], even now I’m surprised as [his response]. When I was there, when it happened and I was filming it, I was just blown away. This is almost not human too, but it’s so human. It’s so pure in a way. He’s just a very pure human, in my opinion.”
Though the world of gaming continues to evolve, Hedegaard believes that there is a simplicity about the old arcade games that Kim finds appealing.
“I know for Kim, that’s one of the things he really appreciates with these old games,” Hedegaard explains. “He appreciates the simplicity and that it’s really difficult. He mentioned to me the other day, [that] the modern games [are] not really difficult. They’re just fancy looking, but they’re not difficult. You can play them for hours without having played it before. These arcade games, you really have to know the game and get a feeling of them. Obviously, it’s like that for many modern games games as well. I’m not saying that, but I think that’s Kim’s take on it. He really appreciates that the simplicity of the game, the graphics and the gameplay. It’s not really showing off like many modern games are.”
While he was thrilled to be in the middle of a potentially momentous occasion, Hedegaard notes that the night itself wasn’t exactly always edge-of-your-seat excitement. In fact, due to the repetitiveness of the activity, he notes that the night was much quieter than he’s expected.
“It was extremely boring. [laughs] But at the same time, it was also obviously very exciting,” he remembers. “It [went] on for so many hours. I’m there with the camera. Luckily, I had my photographer for that as well so we could take turns getting a few hours of sleep. It was at times extremely boring but, at other times, extremely exciting. You could almost feel the tension in the air. It went on for so many, many hours, so that was also just people hanging out and just having a good time, drinking some beers and stuff like that. The atmosphere was so different. Most of all, it was friends who were there and, by that time, they’d become my friends. So, it was just also a very, very friendly atmosphere and just people hanging out people who really liked each other, and then [there’s] this massive thing going on at the same time. It was very weird in very many ways.”
Of course, to break a world record is not something that can be done by one’s self. Although Kim’s achievement seems like a solely individual activity, the truth is that none of this would have been possible without the support of his friends. In Arcade Quest, Hedegaard makes sure to highlight the important role that Kim’s friends play in his life and the supportive community that they have created together.
“I think [that community] means everything, to be honest,” Hedegaard responds. “The characters in this film, I think have found this community. Maybe because they lacked a community before they found this, and I think they really appreciate and enjoy that they can be themselves with their friends. They don’t have to pretend to be a certain way. They’re so different and they allow themselves and each other to be different and as they are. They respect each other the way they are… I think it’s a huge thing for anyone basically. I know for myself, it’s important for me to feel part of a community and I don’t play football or soccer or any sports for that matter. I think it’s the same being in a sports club or… whatever you do in your spare time or at work that’s so important to us. I think the whole COVID thing the last year has proven that to a great extent that we really, really need to be among other people and especially among other people that accept us for who we are.”
Though he doesn’t consider himself a ‘gamer’, Hedegaard does believe that the world of video games creates its own bond between its players. In fact, he argues that the desire for community lives on amongst all generations, regardless of whether or not they play online or physically in the same room.
“I’m not a gamer myself. Now, I’m part of the gaming community, but… to me it’s more important to hang out with my friends [at the arcade] and stuff like that,” Hedegaard says. “My impression is that, within the last five or 10 years, the arcades have gotten a second round in a way. I know at least in Copenhagen that the arcade where this film takes place has grown… So, it is getting more popular, obviously it’s not as near as popular as it was back in the eighties.”
“But talking about the community,” he continues, “what I think draws people to the arcade now [is] hanging out and it’s not just gamers. For lack of a better word, it’s ‘regular people’ coming there, having a drink, [and] going on a date. I think that’s partly because of the good atmosphere but also because there is a sense of community there. Talking about modern gaming, my impression at least is that that’s what people also find on the internet when they play games. It’s also a community. They make friends online. So, it might not be in the physical space, but the community is just as strong is my impression.”
One of the more unique conversations Hedegaard tackles within Arcade Quest is the question of what makes a hero. Though many assume that heroes are those that must have grand achievements on their resume, he believes that the true power stems from their character.
“Well, what defines a hero?” he asks. “I think, to me at least, the definition of a hero is not being immortal as it is in many superhero movies today and stuff like that. I find that a bit boring, to be honest. Kim is such a good player, but he’s so humble at the same time. I think in some weird way… the combination of being so good—maybe the best in the world at something—and then being extremely humble at the same time. I think that clash is what constitutes a hero, and then it can take all sorts of forms and shapes. In this case, it’s a 55-year-old guy playing an arcade game, but it could be anyone anywhere.“
“I think we all have the potential to be heroes if we decide to make the choice, but also sometimes not to make the choice. I think Kim has decided not to make a choice. He doesn’t do it on purpose. It’s not something he’s planned out and he’s set a strategy and I’m going to be this way. It’s just how he is. I think the pureness of that really interests me. I think that’s partly where some of the things I’m talking about in the film about what constitutes a hero is that it’s being a person, not something that’s not human.”
By extension, Hedegaard also believes that leaving your mark on the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you have changed the world. To him, the most important legacy we leave stems from the impressions that we leave on others.
“We were talking about making an impression on the world before and that comes in many forms and shapes,” Hedegaard argues. “[You could] set a world record of whatever, build a fancy company or go to the moon or something like that. But I think the truest sense of the whole thing is if you’ve made an impression in another being a human being. I think that that’s the most important [thing] for everyone. [Making] an emotional impression in another human being. When you’re gone, if someone else misses you, that’s basically enough. You don’t have to be Elon Musk. Someone that leaves a mark on another person is really what it’s all about.”
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest premiered at HotDocs ‘21
To hear our conversation with director Mads Hedegaard, click here.