How will you leave your mark on the world?
Set in Denmark, Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest 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.
Directed by Mads Hedegaard, Cannon Arm is an absolute joy from start to finish. Focusing its lens on Kim and his friends, Hedegaard highlights the charm and joy of these unlikely champions as they attempt to do the impossible. In this world, achieving a ‘kill screen’ in Donkey Kong feels like a major win. However, while most consider gaming to be an individual experience Cannon Arm reveals the opposite. Though few may know their names beyond their inner circle, Kim and his crew have a deep love and affection for one another and believe that they have the opportunity to leave a mark on the world. With Kim’s record in view, they also understand that they need to work together to accomplish it. In an amazing display of commitment, the crew remain (mostly) laser focused clocking his scores, lives and just keeping their friend fed and hydrated in order to help him achieve his dream.
After all, for them, the arcade world is their path to immortality.
To be heroes.
Ultimately though, despite its setting, Hedegaard understands that this story is not really about world records or even video games. Having been accepted as one of their own, Hedegaard gives a loving but honest portrayal of this group of friends, highlighting their struggles as well as their successes. (This becomes particularly apparent through Dyst as he battles Donkey Kong but also his own mental health.)
Most importantly though, this is a film which asks the question of what it means to leave your mark on the world. No, Kim may not be a hero in the traditional sense. He has never saved anyone from a burning building nor has can he leap tall buildings. Instead, Kim is shown to be a very simple man of great humility. Held in contrast to Billy Mitchell—the ‘bad boy’ of the gaming community—Kim comes across as a man who genuinely recognizes what’s important in life. In fact, without giving any spoilers (which would truly ruin the ride that the film takes you one), Kim’s response to the result of his record attempt is nothing short of staggering. Win or lose, Kim seems to recognize that that’s not what defines him and he handles the result with grace.
While the record remains important to him, it also doesn’t define him.
A grandfather with a deep love for his friends, Kim recognizes that the love of his friends and the acceptance of community is what ultimately matters most. This realization allows him to hold on to what matters, no matter what the outcome may be in the end. (Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that he even dedicates his record to his dear friend who passed away, as opposed to pointing to himself.) While his passion for Gyruss drives the film, it does not drive the man.
In the end, Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is truly one of the feel-good films of this year’s HotDocs. In Kim Cannon Arm, Hedegaard has truly struck gold. Affable and slightly aloof, Kim is a wonderful subject to lead us into the world of digital kill screens and underground arcades. However, it’s his humility and love of his friends that is most noteworthy in this modern hero.
Because he understands that it’s his love for others that will leave his greatest mark on the world.
To hear our conversation with director Mads Hedegaard, click here.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is now playing at HotDocs ‘21.