Deal Ends Dispute Over Records of Onetime King of Donkey Kong


Back in the 1980s, it seemed as if everyone with a spare quarter was playing the arcade game Donkey Kong, scooting up ramps and climbing ladders while avoiding barrels hurled by a giant ape.

For most players, the video game provided a few minutes of excitement before inevitable defeat. But a handful of top players had the superhuman ability to rescue Pauline, the damsel in distress, over and over again, earning one of the high scores not just in their own arcade but in the whole world.

Now a settlement has been reached in a long-running disagreement over disputed world records set by the arcade gamer Billy Mitchell.

While the arcade boom of the 1980s faded, some gamers pressed on in their pursuit of high scores, often playing on their own machines in basements and garages, long after most gamers had moved on to personal computers and home consoles.

People not immersed in that world first had a chance to hear about Mr. Mitchell in the critically acclaimed 2007 documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” It told the story of Steve Wiebe and his quest to be recognized as the first person to reach a million points in the game, beating a record set by Mr. Mitchell years earlier.

Mr. Mitchell wore the black hat in that film, which portrayed him, The New York Times’s review said, as “a pretentious, manipulative swine.”

He successfully challenged Wiebe’s high score and set a new one himself, but that achievement remained under a cloud in the film. The tussle over records did not end there, and Mr. Mitchell eventually claimed even higher scores from 2007 to 2010. But Twin Galaxies, which tracks and records video game achievements, invalidated Mr. Mitchell’s scores in 2018 after an investigation.

Under the group’s rules, record-setters must play their games using an original circuit board from a Donkey Kong machine. The investigation by Twin Galaxies found that two of Mr. Mitchell’s record-setting scores had used a modified machine.

Mr. Mitchell vowed at the time that the fight was not over and filed a defamation suit. That suit was finally settled last week.

“I am relieved and satisfied to reach this resolution after an almost six-year ordeal and look forward to pursuing my unfinished business elsewhere,” Mr. Mitchell said on social media. He referred to his records as having been “reinstated.”

Even so, Twin Galaxies said that Mr. Mitchell’s scores would not be added back to the main leaderboard that tracks ongoing records and that he was still banned from Twin Galaxies competition. Rather, it said they would be posted on a “historical database.” It also said it would “remove from online display” a thread on the site discussing the dispute and “all related statements and articles.”

Twin Galaxies says this historical database is “copied verbatim from the system obtained during Twin Galaxies’ acquisition in 2014. It serves as an unmodified, legacy snapshot preserving performances and achievements predating the current TG ownership and modern adjudication protocols.”

It said the historic database “remains static and sealed. No new submissions or alterations can be made.”

David Tashroudian, a lawyer for Twin Galaxies, told the technology news site Ars Technica, “There were going to be an inordinate amount of costs involved, and both parties were facing a lot of uncertainty at trial, and they wanted to get the matter settled on their own terms without putting it to a jury.”

Mr. Mitchell’s restored scores include some in the 1,040,000 to 1,060,000 range. But time moves on, and players get better.

The vigorous long-running and sometimes bitter dispute was over marks that have long since been surpassed. The current record, as reported by Twin Galaxies, belongs to Robbie Lakeman. It’s 1,272,800.



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