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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #96: Donkey Kong

When we first got our Atari 2600, I was maybe five or six. As far as I knew there were four video games in the world: Missile Command, Pac-Man, Frogger, and Donkey Kong, because those were the four games we had. Of them, Donkey Kong was the one I played least because I found it the most challenging. Timing the jumps and climbs were beyond my boyhood reflexes, and I never did succeed in saving poor Pauline up there. I also struggled to understand the name. Was Kong an ape or a donkey? Apparently the Japanese designers were attempting to convey the stubbornness of a donkey, but among our friends, the adjective instead came to refer to huge size. We still use "donkey" that way.

Donkey Kong was the highest-grossing arcade game of 1981, and continued for years to be a "donkey" in the video game biz. Its most culturally durable contribution, though was not its titular antagonist, but its protagonist, the red-suited Mario, who you may have heard of...

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