Just over a decade ago, filmmaker Seth Gordon introduced us to two men in a quest to get the highest possible score in Donkey Kong, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, in the documentary The King Of Kong. Mitchell, in particular, with his mullet and his personal fortune racked up by selling hot sauce, stood out as the heel of the piece, while Wiebe was the scrappy underdog. But now the story has taken a strange twist, as Mitchell has been stripped of his records by video game world records authority Twin Galaxies and banned from competition.
Mitchell has gotten swept up in a wave of investigation of long-standing video game records, some of which have been suspected of being fake for years. In January, the longest-held world record, for the Atari game Dragster, was stripped from Todd Rogers after months of investigation. Rogers’ score, it turned out, was effectively impossible for a human to get. But what sunk Mitchell is slightly more complicated.
The official rules at Twin Galaxies is that any record it gives you has to be achieved on a vintage arcade machine. If you play an old game on a video game console or a modern PC, you’re playing what’s called an “emulator.”
Old computer code, such as video games, doesn’t generally easily work on modern machines, for various reasons, so an emulator in effect creates that machine inside your computer and lets you play the game. Emulators are useful for historical purposes, but they can also be used to cheat. In fact, some emulators even have a handy menu for it. Even if you play fair, you still make have technical advantages, like a choice of controller, or faster processing speeds, that competitors on the original cabinet don’t.
After months of investigation, and after other authorities stripped Mitchell’s scores on a similar basis, Twin Galaxies believes Mitchell’s Donkey Kong scores were achieved on an emulator. The ruling doesn’t state whether Mitchell cheated to get his scores, as there’s not really a way to prove that absent finding Mitchell’s actual device and testing it. But the point is moot, as Mitchell has also been banned from competition.
This makes Steve Wiebe, officially, the first person to ever get a perfect score on Donkey Kong, and it may also mean that Guinness will strip Mitchell of his world records there, as well. But it also raises some argument about whether Mitchell’s punishment is too extreme, as at least some of his records were definitely won by the book. The record that put him on the map, getting a perfect score on Pac-Man, was indisputably achieved on vintage hardware and Mitchell pulled it off in front of a large crowd of witnesses. The argument over Mitchell’s punishment, as a result, is likely just beginning.