Even though we’re, oh, a decade or so into the box office dominance of Marvel movies, there are still occasional jarring reminders that the once niche bastions of nerd culture are now firmly entrenched in the mainstream discourse. Like, did you hear this Eminem song from the apparently baffling Venom adaptation that I am definitely not going to see because I respect myself? Putting aside the fact that it is a joyless creeper full of awkward bars that name-check Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, it is kinda wacky to hear a 45-year-old man who is still one of the best-selling rappers in the world shoehorn references to sci-fi parasites (“Became a Symbiote, so / My fangs are in your throat, ho” quoth Em, cringily). Every time something like this happens—like when Ty Dolla $ign sings about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or some shit—I start to wonder: are all our beloved celebrities giant nerds? Are we all?
Some further clarity, at least in the case of Eminem, came last week when I happened upon a curious tweet from the DIY pop mutant Juiceboxxx, who posed an interesting question: “Where were you the moment you found out that Eminem was one of the top donkey kong players in the world?” The answer, for me at least, was scrolling Twitter on a Friday morning. At first I thought it was just a surreal joke—Juice is capable of those, and he wouldn’t be the first to position Em as an emblem of gamer rage (he’s a self-proclaimed “nemesis to a feminist”). But some cursory Googling shows that, no, there is some truth to the idea that Em was once apparently a world-class player of the original Donkey Kong cabinet.
Back in 2010, in social media’s Wild West years, Eminem shared a photo on Twitter of a Donkey Kong machine, boasting a high score of 465,800, which, per DonkeyKongBlog (a source I am willing to trust) would have put him very near the top 30 scores in the world at the time. The high score at the time of Em's post was just over 1,000,000 points, which is a pretty far shot from his total, but it's still impressive. A 2014 YouTube playthrough of the game that lands at a similar score takes just over an hour to complete, meaning that for his high score alone, Eminem was sweating and twitching over an arcade cabinet for at least an hour straight, which is more focus than I'm capable of. For what it's worth, The Verge reported in 2014 that top tier players sink thousands of hours of practice into their record-breaking runs, so it's likely that Em had to put some serious time in to hit that mark.
Of course, given that he only posted a still and not a stream or a video clip, Em’s run is unverifiable, so he doesn’t land on any of the official leaderboards, but as long as you’re willing to trust the man himself and his social media accounts—which…sure, why lie about nerd shit—he at one point had his sights legitimately set on the top score in the world.
In an interview with Rolling Stone around the time, he talked about his obsession with Donkey Kong and other retro video games—immortalized in the 2010 track "Despicable" on which he rapped "Like Donkey Kong, I'm bonkers, bitch"—which was apparently sparked after seeing the documentary King of Kong. That doc details the battle between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, the latter of which RS describes as “a loudmouthed jerk not entirely unlike a certain white rapper.”
“It’s a perfect contrast,” Eminem said of the film. “A hero and a villain.” The implication, of course, is that he’d naturally side more with the latter—evidenced by his first tweet about Donkey Kong back in 2009, in which he warned Wiebe that he was coming for him. (That too is complicated though, per Rolling Stone, two of Em’s arcade cabinets are signed by Wiebe.)
In the years since, people have occasionally picked up on the story—mostly Redditors, who exist at the direct center of the Venn Diagram between fans of video games, Eminem, and masculine anger—and St. Vincent weirdly brought it up in an interview one time, but Eminem himself has quieted down about his love for the DK. He’s gotten busier, releasing records and taking on critics at a steadier clip—which means he’s spent less time talking about Donkey Kong, and, one would assume, playing it less as well.
Meanwhile, the competition has gotten stiffer. His 2010 score would now slot him at 133rd place, and number one is now held by a man named Robbie Lakeman with 1,247,700 points. That seems like a near insurmountable task, even if you had all the time in the world, which Eminem doesn’t now that he’s spending his free time taking out ads in trade publications about how much critics hate him. That’s technically a hobby, I guess, but it doesn’t seem as fun. I figure, you might as well channel that energy into something productive, like Dig Dug.
Colin Joyce is, like, ok at Fortnite and is on Twitter.