Sep 13, 2022 - News

New twists emerge in Billy Mitchell "Donkey Kong" saga

Billy Mitchell, with long dark hair and beard, stands beside a Donkey Kong arcade game.
Billy Mitchell in 2009. Photo: David Greedy/Getty Images

Freshly filed court documents and a third-party forensic analysis are adding new twists to a long-running saga in South Florida: whether video game icon Billy Mitchell's record-setting scores should be disqualified.

Background: In 1999, Mitchell became the first known person to reach a perfect score in "Pac-Man." He also set records in "Donkey Kong" and achieved video game fame when he was featured in a 2007 documentary, "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters."

  • In 2018, Twin Galaxies — an organization that tracks official video game records — stripped Mitchell of his "Donkey Kong" records set in the 2000s.
  • The group alleged that Mitchell used an emulator — software that mimics original arcade games — rather than actual arcade hardware. Such play is allowed, but records achieved that way would be distinct from records achieved on original hardware.
  • Mitchell later sued the organization for defamation, arguing that Twin Galaxies' statement about his scores implied that he's a cheater. The case is unfolding in a Los Angeles court.

Fast forward: Over the past two weeks, interest in the saga has been reignited by recent court documents published by perfectpacman.com. In them, Mitchell claims:

  • He's lost out on more than $900,000 from potential appearances in movies and at video game conventions.
  • His business Rickey's World Famous Hot Sauce saw sales drop in light of the controversy.

Perfectpacman.com also published a 48-page forensic technical analysis by an independent electrical engineer, Tanner Fokkens, which claims to prove Mitchell did not use an original arcade machine.

  • "I wrote this document independently in hopes that the drama and vitriol associated with the Billy Mitchell dispute can be put to rest in the court of public opinion," Fokkens wrote.

What they're saying: Twin Galaxies has disputed Mitchell's argument that the site's statements are defamatory, according to court documents published by Ars Technica.

  • "It is not as if Twin Galaxies made the statement on its own volition without being prompted," Twin Galaxies' attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the suit. "Instead, it was asked by the community as the final adjudicator of video game scores appearing on its website to consider evidence and render its opinion."

Fokkens told Axios that he did the technical analysis because of his interest in both hardware engineering and classic gaming; he wasn't paid to do it. 

  • In fact, a video he uploaded to YouTube in 2016 kicked off the 2018 dispute of Mitchell's scores, he said.
  • Fokkens is not sure whether or how his analysis could affect Mitchell's court case. 

An attorney for Mitchell didn't respond to Axios' request for comment.

Of note: Mitchell sued Cartoon Network in 2015 after a show featured an evil character who cheated at video games.

  • Both he and the character had long dark hair and beards, but a judge threw out the case, ruling that the two don't bear a resemblance because the character "appears as a non-human creature, a giant floating head with no body from outer space, while plaintiff is a human being."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comment from Tanner Fokkens.

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