FOR Billy Mitchell, becoming the world’s top Pac-Man player was all about hard work – and an obsession with being the best.
“I was never satisfied with what I did,” the 55-year-old American tells HOAR. “I was always asking what more and what else.”
Crowned Video Game ‘Player of the Century’, Billy Mitchell has held world records in Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Centipede and Burger Time
Billy, crowned Video Game “Player of the Century”, has held world records in Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Centipede and Burger Time.
He now runs a Twitch channel where he streams footage of himself grimacing through five-hour gaming marathons to thousands of fans.
But Billy wasn’t always, as he puts it, an “unstoppable” player.
Growing up in South Florida in the 1970s, he actually spent time mastering pinball before jostling with a joystick.
In 1999, Billy became the first person to achieve a ‘perfect score’ in Pac-Man
“I was absolutely a hardcore pinball player as a kid – I mean hardcore,” Billy says. “I would say almost unstoppable.
“Soon enough, I was competing with myself and there was no one else at my level.”
As the 1980s rolled around, competition for pinball dried up as players moved over to the newly emerging arcade game scene.
Not content to play by himself, Billy followed them to the Grand Prix Race-o-Rama arcade and amusement park in Miami.
Here he fell in love with 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, and after months of intense playing found he could comfortably beat anyone who dared challenge him.
“I started getting obsessive,” Billy admits.
The Pac-Man arcade game was released in May 1980
“I enjoy competition and I always had to strive for things that other people hadn’t done, things that I would be first at. I wanted to make a difference in the world.”
After mastering Donkey Kong, Billy turned to Pac-Man in order to chase the competitive environment he craved.
“I asked the guy at the arcade: ‘Do they have contests for Donkey Kong?’ And he said they didn’t have any for Donkey Kong. He said: ‘It’s not Pac-Man’.
“So I said: ‘I’ll just get the world record on Pac-Man then’.”
True to his word, Billy would eventually get that record nearly two decades later, but not before enjoying a few years as one of the world’s top arcade game players at the height of the machines’ popularity.
All the way through, Billy’s dedication to being the best of the best drove him to new heights.
Billy attributes his success to hard work and an obsession with competition
In 1982, he featured in a LIFE magazine photoshoot after getting the world record on Centipede, later hitting the top Donkey Kong score of all time that same year.
But as the 1980s drew to a close, public appetite for arcade games waned. People were turning to home entertainment systems, and Billy and his competitors were left behind.
Aged just 22, the Floridian instead turned his attention to the family business – a restaurant owned by his father.
He set up his own hot sauce empire, met his wife Evelyn, and had three kids. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when a resurging interest in arcade games would bring him back to his first love.
“The sprint, the competition, the desire to keep playing and perfect my game was once again available,” Billy tells HOAR.
It only took one phone call before Billy was throwing himself back into the deep end.
After receiving a call from Canadian gamers who claimed they could get a perfect score on Pac-Man before he did, the race was on.
That race culminated in a winner-takes-all event at Funspot, a historic arcade in New Hampshire, where Billy faced off against Canadian competitor Rick Fothergill.
Knowing that Rick wore a cape embossed with the Canadian flag when he played, Billy matched him with a stars-and-stripes necktie.
Paired with a three-piece suit – and stars and stripes pocket square – this has since become his go-to outfit for competitions (and our interview).
Billy triumphed over his competitor, scoring an unprecedented 3,333,360 points to become the world’s first person to get a “perfect score” on Pac-Man.
Then the world went nuts. Billy was interviewed on major news networks, his diary brimmed with public appearances and he even bagged a trip to Japan to meet Masaya Nakamura – the man who founded Pac-Man.
Following his perfect score run, Billy was invited to meet the founder of Pac-Man, Masaya Nakamura
Billy would later star in the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, which follows Seattle family man Steve Wiebe in his (successful) attempts to take the high score record for Donkey Kong from Billy.
“It was an explosion [of attention] that I could never have imagined would happen,” Billy says.
“I thought I had achieved everything possible that would give me satisfaction. Now I’m someone who wants to be an ambassador for competitive gaming.”
It wasn’t long before controversy struck. In 2018, Billy was accused of cheating to hit his perfect Pac-Man score and stripped of his Guinness World Record.
His critics alleged he had cheated by using an arcade machine loaded with software known as an emulator.
It was a slap in the face for Billy, who threatened to sue Guinness World Records.
“There’s a level of disbelief and shock you go through, feelings of embarrassment and depression,” he says.
He has also achieved world record scores on Donkey Kong
“You could probably name every emotion in the book, you go through every one of them. Then finally you reach the point where you get really, really p****d off.”
Following months of back and forth, Guinness World Records reinstated Billy’s achievement in June 2020 after an investigation found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the disqualification.
What does he say to those who doubted him?
“There will always be people who are unhappy, who are not satisfied – and to them I wish them luck and hope they find happiness.”
This week, Billy is taking part in a Pac-Man competition on retro-gaming streaming service Antstream Arcade.
Starting Friday, the contest – which will also feature UK Pac-Man champion Jon Stoodley – will allow anyone to challenge Billy and Jon at the quintessential arcade game from the comfort of their own home.
Billy has founded his own hot sauce business
Billy has some advice for anyone wanting to break a gaming world record (or take him on this week).
“You have to have no complacency,” he says. “With complacency, I don’t know how you get there.
“Every time I die I wanna know why, and every answer helps me improve for next time. If you don’t constantly reflect upon yourself, I don’t know how you would get anywhere.”
Has he always been like this?
“I don’t remember having that obsessive nature to want to succeed before games. I believe games carved a part of my personality, in that sense.”
The Antstream Arcade online Pac-Man competition runs from October 23 to 30. You can sign up on the Antstream Arcade website.
In other news, Nintendo has hinted that N64 Mini and Gamecube Mini consoles may be on the way.
Here are the best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles to look out for during this year’s Black Friday.
And, a Nintendo Switch 2 is reportedly in development, with a 2021 release date on the cards.
What do you think of Billy’s story? Let us know in the comments!