Billy Mitchell (video game player)
Billy Mitchell with fans on July 7, 2018
William James Mitchell Jr.|
July 17, 1965
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
William James Mitchell Jr. (born July 17, 1965) is an American restaurateur, businessman, and former competitive gamer. He initially rose to fame in the 1980s when Life magazine included him in a photo spread of video game champions during the height of the golden age of arcade video games. Though once recognized as the holder of several notable records on classic games, a 2018 investigation found several of Mitchell’s scores to be fraudulent, having been obtained dishonestly. As a result, his scores were stricken from Twin Galaxies's rolls and the Guinness Book of Records, and he was banned from submitting any future scores, effectively blacklisting him from competitive gaming.
Mitchell maintained a fan base throughout his public life as a leader in retro gaming, with David Ramsey, writing for the Oxford American in 2006, referring to Mitchell as "probably the greatest arcade video game player of all time." Mitchell's signature achievement was a claim to have earned the first perfect score of 3,333,360 points on the original Pac-Man arcade game on July 4, 1999, which stood as the original record until April 2018, when it was stricken from the record along with his other scores.
Throughout the early 2000s and 2010s, Mitchell was a frequently sought-after interview subject for documentaries on the worlds of competitive gaming and retro gaming, including Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007), The King of Arcades (2014), and Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler (2015). Additionally, Mitchell was a subject of the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), which follows his attempts to maintain his high score on Donkey Kong after it was threatened by a newcomer to the world of competitive gaming, Steve Wiebe. A VHS tape that Mitchell gave to Twin Galaxies during the course of the documentary proved to be instrumental in the 2018 investigation into Mitchell's cheating, with the team who led the investigation citing the film's DVD extras as a crucial piece of evidence in exposing Mitchell.
Mitchell was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and grew up in South Florida. He began playing games at age 12. Already a dominant pinball player, he was initially uninterested in video games, which appeared in the early 1980s, until he noticed that "everyone was standing around the Donkey Kong machine and wanted attention."
Mitchell attended Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory School in 1983 and soon began work as a manager in the kitchen of his parents' restaurant, "Rickey's Restaurant." Mitchell assumed ownership of the Rickey's World Famous Hot Sauce in the mid-1980s, continuing to own and manage it as of 2016[update].
In 2015, Mitchell filed a lawsuit against Cartoon Network saying that in Regular Show a character who cheats at video games called Garrett Bobby Ferguson (GBF) infringed on his likeness. United States District Court for the District of New Jersey Judge Anne Elise Thompson threw out the lawsuit, saying that "the television character does not match the plaintiff in appearance".
Mitchell has a long-standing and well-publicized rivalry with his King of Kong co-star Roy Shildt (a.k.a. "Mr. Awesome"); according to that film, animosity first developed between the men after Mitchell caused Shildt's high score on Missile Command to be called into question. Shildt, in turn, has disputed Mitchell's credibility and accused him of cheating. In an incident during the 2010 "International Video Game Hall of Fame" Shildt was ejected from the premises after vehemently defaming Mitchell in public. Mitchell has stated that he avoids interaction with Shildt.
Mitchell has long hair and wears neckties showing American patriotism during game competitions. The neckties appeared during his 1999 race to become the first person to achieve a perfect game of "Pac-Man." One of his competitors, Rick Fothergill, wore a Canadian flag cape and called himself "Captain Canada." Mitchell began wearing his patriotic ties in response.
Mitchell is the brother of Karen Harrington, a South Florida Republican politician who has run two unsuccessful campaigns (2010 and 2012) to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the United States House of Representatives.
Video game career
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
The 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters tells the story of newcomer Steve Wiebe's attempt to surpass Billy Mitchell's high score at the game Donkey Kong, which Mitchell had set in 1982.
Mitchell never showed up to play the game in the film, though he states the importance of playing in public, saying, "To me, most important is to travel to a sanctioned location, like Funspot that makes it official; if tomorrow Tiger Woods golfs a 59, big deal. If he does it at Augusta, that's where it counts." However, throughout the film Wiebe traveled to various locations such as Funspot to play him publicly, and each time Mitchell refused. More controversy arose when at Funspot, Wiebe set the Donkey Kong live score record and was given official recognition, something he did not receive for sending in a tape in which he scored the first million point game on record. A few hours later, a tape submitted by Mitchell in which he scored over a million points was accepted, and Wiebe lost his record. The film records speculation that Mitchell's tape may have been fraudulent. In Mitchell's hometown later on, Wiebe waited for four days to play Mitchell, who showed up one day and refused to play against Wiebe. In the film, Wiebe, while playing the game says hello to Mitchell, who does not respond, and says to his wife, as he walks away, "There's certain people I don't want to spend too much time with". Mitchell offers no explanation for his behavior towards Wiebe but later explained that at the time of filming, he had not played video games for "more than a year", and that the filmmakers had not given him enough advance warning to train for a public record-breaking attempt. Seth Gordon, the film's director, in referring to Mitchell's character says that Mitchell "is a true puppet-master", "a master of information-control" and that there was a lot of "stuff we couldn't include because of inter-state telephone rules."
At the film's conclusion, Wiebe beats Mitchell's score to gain a new Donkey Kong record on tape.
In a 2007 interview, Mitchell has stated that he never expected to play the role of the villain and did not anticipate hate mail and badgering phone calls he would receive post-release.
Records after King of Kong
On July 26, 2007, on the 25th anniversary of Mitchell's first record-setting performance, Mitchell again retook the Donkey Kong record with a score of 1,050,200, though that score was surpassed on February 26, 2010 by Hank Chien, who was temporarily the record holder of Donkey Kong. Mitchell reclaimed his title once again on July 24, 2010; it was the last time he would hold the record. The record was broken numerous times over the next six years by Wiebe, Chien, Wes Copeland, and Robbie Lakeman; each held the record at least twice in that span. On February 2, 2018, Robbie Lakeman set the new world record with 1,247,700.
Cheating accusations and high score removals
On February 2, 2018, Donkey Kong Forum removed three of Mitchell's highest scores from its high-scores list following analysis by Jeremy Young who stated that the scores were set using the MAME arcade emulator instead of arcade hardware. Mitchell stated on the East Side Dave Show, "I’ve never even played MAME. I don’t have MAME loaded in my home." Mitchell continues by saying "The film footage that he has, that Jeremy has, shows MAME play... I’m not disputing what he says. What I’m disputing is the fact that I want him to have the original tape.” Young's analysis has been criticized by Mitchell as being from an altered tape that otherwise matches Mitchell's gameplay pixel-for-pixel, to which Young responds that "The amount of foresight, patience, and technical knowledge required would be staggering" to make such tapes.
On April 12, 2018, Twin Galaxies announced that an investigation conducted into Mitchell's submitted scores found conclusive evidence that Mitchell did not use an original unmodified Donkey Kong circuit board for the footage of his two high scores, but could not confirm that he was specifically using MAME software. Twin Galaxies said that they had removed Mitchell's scores from their records and that he would be prohibited from submitting scores in the future.
Subsequently, Guinness World Records released a statement that it would be removing all of Mitchell's scores as well: "The Guinness World Records titles relating to Mr. Mitchell’s highest scores on Donkey Kong have all been disqualified due to Twin Galaxies being our source of verification for these achievements." The removal also includes Mitchell's Pac-Man high score and first recorded perfect game: "Twin Galaxies was the original source of verification for these record titles and in line with their decision to remove all of Mr. Mitchell’s records from their system, we have disqualified Mr. Mitchell as the holder of these two records."
To date, Mitchell has a single publicly witnessed Donkey Kong high score of 933,900 from 2004.
Mitchell set high score records on a number of games in the 1980s and 1990s. Decades after his 1982 setting of an initial highest score in Donkey Kong, and after a return to record-breaking achievements between 2004 and 2010, others have matched or surpassed Mitchell's accomplishments. None of these records are considered valid by Twin Galaxies or by the Guinness Book of Records as of April 12, 2018.
- Together with friend Chris Ayra they reached the "split-screen" level 256 of Pac-Man in mid 1983. Mitchell commented on this in 2016 by saying he had achieved "perfection".
- He achieved the first acknowledged highest overall score on Donkey Kong, with 886,900 in 1982.
- He moved the record score for Ms. Pac-Man to 703,560 in January 1985. This score was not surpassed until 2001, by Chris Ayra.
- He moved the record score for Donkey Kong Jr. to 957,300 in 2004.
- He moved the record score for BurgerTime to 7,881,050 in 1984. This score was not surpassed until 2005.
- He became fifth (and latest, as of 2015[update]) person to achieve a score on Centipede, in marathon play, of more than 10 million points, achieved July 8, 1985.
- He recaptured the world records for both Donkey Kong (1,062,800 points) and Donkey Kong Jr. (1,270,900) on the weekend of July 24, 2010. In 2015, both these records were surpassed. The Donkey Kong record was first removed in February 2018 by the Donkey Kong forums. This process and evidence produced helped to lead Twin Galaxies to remove the records in April 2018 after an investigation concluded Mitchell did not use an original unmodified version of the Donkey Kong arcade hardware, instead using an emulator or other disallowed means to achieve it. There is also evidence to suggest that the score was falsified.
Honors and legacy
In 1982, he was the first person to reach the kill screen of Donkey Kong. He discovered it at a Life Magazine competition after reaching level 22.
On September 17, 1999, he was proclaimed the "Video Game Player of the Century" while at the 1999 Tokyo Game Show. In a ceremony on the Namco stage, company founder Masaya Nakamura presented Mitchell with an award commemorating the first "perfect" game on Pac-Man.
On June 21, 2006, MTV selected Mitchell one of "The 10 Most Influential Video Gamers of All Time." He was also nominated as leader of the Nerd Herd. Mitchell had been featured previously in the True Life episode "I'm A Gamer" in 2003.
A character similar to Mitchell called Garrett Bobby Ferguson (GBF) appears in Regular Show. Mitchell, however, took offense at the portrayal (a villain who cheats at video games) and filed a lawsuit, which was thrown out by the judge.
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