If you were a kid in the late 1970s and 1980s, you know all about video arcades and the work (not to mention quarters) it would take to get your name or initials as the high scorer. The excitement kids experienced as they maneuvered the joystick over letters and numbers to spell out their names and enjoy their claim to fame was a definitive highpoint. While they might be legends in their local arcades, there are also global high scorers who fiercely defend their titles.
Thus, the case of Billy Mitchell. As an article in Popular Mechanics explained, he is the “competitive video gamer who is best known for his perfect Pac-Man score,” but who is also in the midst of a legal battle over his Donkey Kong high score.
Let’s get a bit of background to understand how odd a case this is, and why so many are paying attention. In July of 2010, Mitchell made news around the globe for hitting more than one million points in a game of Donkey Kong. This put him in the pages of the famed Guinness Book of World Records.
However, in late 2019, both Guinness World Records and Twin Galaxies (a score-tracking organization) removed his listing. This prompted Mitchell to immediately threaten legal action.
What prompted the removal? It was a year earlier that a moderator at the Donkey Kong Forum demonstrated (through the presentation of evidence) that Mitchell had utilized a separate gaming system to achieve his record-level score. This is not allowed under Guinness World Records rules.
Instead, he was supposed to have achieved his goal using unmodified arcade hardware. Because of this supposed infraction of the rules, it got Mitchell permanently booted from leaderboards in the future, as well.
Just days later, another gamer used the social media site Twitter to allege that Mitchell didn’t actually accomplish the score claimed but instead used scores from a collection of separate games to achieve his score.
This led the two organizations to strike Mitchell’s scores. And though many believe he has only threatened legal action, a report on the story done by Ars Technica uncovered the truth: Mitchell has already filed suit against Twin Galaxies in a misfiled case named “William James Mitchell vs. Twin Galexies, LLC [sic]”.
With his track record for a perfect game of Pac-Man to support his dedication to playing champion-level video games, Mitchell insists that the record-keeping organizations must retract their defamatory statements relating to the scores or face legal action. Even more importantly, though, is the re-opening of the leaderboards. This is something that many see as the entire point of the legal battle.
After all, says the Popular Mechanics article, Mitchell’s fight is part of a “years-long sag
a that has shaken the gaming community,” even though several other gamers have already surpassed Mitchell’s record-setting high score.
Now, Mitchell has released more than 150 pages of evidence along with a multi-page summary that explains his claim and his argument that he deserves to remain at the top spot in the Donkey Kong scoreboard, or at least be allowed to compete within the leaderboard group.
Mitchell filed his lawsuit in time to remain within the statute of limitations and even updated a month later with a more detailed complaint.
Is the record-holding gamer a cheater as the two organizations have argued? Is their claim libelous and harmful to him? Is it a publicity stunt on one or both sides of the matter? As this case unfolds, it will be interesting to see what comes of the different findings and whether or not Mitchel can return to being a “mean pinball” master or a disgraced champ.