Love him or hate him, Billy Mitchell is a fixture in the gaming world. Best known as being portrayed as the villain in the documentary King of Kong (2007) Mitchell’s still making news in the gaming world. Video gaming’s bad-boy inspired me to start attempting world records in Twin Galaxies myself. Polarizing, yet charismatic Mitchell is certainly larger than life individual who attends gaming events regularly and draws a crowd.
In 2018 Billy was in the spotlight for the now, well-known incident in which Twin Galaxies stripped him of his Donkey Kong world record, the game that thrust Mitchell into the spotlight so many years ago. When I reached out to Billy he agreed to discuss a wide variety of topics, but he did inform me that he wouldn’t be able to discuss certain topics such as that very incident (likely for litigious reasons). I hope you enjoy this written discussion as much as I did.
NJB: Are you currently playing games and if so, are you pursuing any records currently?
Mitchell: Well the truth of the matter is I went from a place or position where I would travel from show to show venue to venue always being an ambassador and an advocate for competitive video game playing… And of course, I still do that every single time… However, in the summertime my son was home visiting and spending time at which time he said he was going to set up a Twitch account and that I would begin streaming in plain online… My response was “no way, I want to do that crap”… However, he set it up anyway and he said that he was going to stream and he did so I joined him… It was time we spent together it was family time I really liked all the interaction we had and suddenly playing on a little bit of a regular basis score started to go up and when I did three 1 million points scores… In a week while having fun with my son I thought “wow this is cool” He made me promise him when he went back to school that I would continue playing and having fun and interacting with him from where he was and we did… So different games different fun different scores are now being put together because of my son and a small amount of time at the venues did I attend and promote are now dedicated to active playing while interacting with the people who attend TV shows… most notably and most recently is the Retro City Festival in Pomona California… A truly awesome venue did I believe will begin to possess Southern California as a gaming Central… There, almost on accident, we did a Pac-Man kill screen… The first time I bothered to play all the way through to the kill screen since 1999 so we are having fun.
NJB: Obviously, you’ve made a name for yourself playing the classics, Donkey Kong, Pacman and so on. What is your favorite arcade game and why?
Mitchell: That’s a very difficult question and could only be a very loaded answer… Donkey Kong is incredible because it was the first game did I truly played… The first event in Competitive Gaming history was the Life magazine photo in 1982… I was at that event and I stole the show and took the arcade by storm by putting up history’s first Donkey Kong kill screen… It was that event that very moment did I felt myself forever pulled in and obsessed with the idea of competitive video game playing… Many have credited that as the birth of Esports… More than 20 years later the second public kill-screen what’s the chief which speaks for the achievement all the way back in 1982… However, histories most popular successful video game ever what’s Pacman and the Holy Grail a video game competition was said to be a perfect score I’m Pacman… Achieving that on the 20th anniversary of Pac-Man and at the close of the 20th century… Having done that it world’s largest arcade in the most public and And grandioso Manor in a story that Circle the globe with an energy timing an act of God that I could never ever have imagined or could ever repeat was priceless… It capped off all of the previous achievements that I had done through the 80s and led to that phone call from Japan inviting me to the Tokyo game show… At that show, the Japanese amusement machine manufacturers Association (Jamma) bestowed upon me the most incredible honor possible when Masaya Nakamura the president and CEO of Namco and the Godfather of video games crowned me the “video game player of the century”… That is an event and honor and blessing I could never put into words for you… That perfect Pacman that trip to Japan and the Godfather of video games announcing that my achievement would lead to a resurgence in the popularity and enjoyment of classic arcade games seemed like a stretch… However, that reality was quickly revealed when at least 1/2 dozen movie and production companies begin to court us.
NJB: Recently I noticed you were touring and putting on exhibitions playing Donkey Kong. How did that come to be? What has your reception been like in light of the recent controversy?
Mitchell: As I mentioned earlier, perhaps I didn’t say it strong enough all of that it’s a creation of my sons Insite determination and perseverance on all levels… The receptions at events are extremely well received however they have always been extremely well-received… It’s a little difficult wearing all those hats at one time… For example, people find it incredible that they would like to say hi or like to get an autograph or like to get a selfie or like to have a question answered. For example, in Retro City Festival in Pomona California, I was playing Pacman for many many hours and every time somebody desired one of those interactions, which were countless times, I simply put in the hiding spot and stepped away and engage them. That seemed to throw them for a loop… I get a kick out of doing that and seeing the reaction as they feel they’re walking on eggshells… In the crowd that is watching on the Stream get a kick out of it and some find it hard to believe that it’s that important for me to engage the crowd at the shows, but that’s what I do best that’s always been what I do best and it certainly what I enjoy the most; going to a show and engaging in competitive high-score games has never been the main focus of any show. In fact, gaming is what I have done the least at the shows as people come to meet and interact which is far more important. Having a situation now where we take that interaction and role of ambassador and promoter of competitive arcade gaming and mix in a little bit of streaming and high score game playing is new to what we do. I am confident we will get better and better and engaging the crowd and having them be a part of the streaming that we do… If Retro City Festival in Pomona California is any indication this will be a Direction that will be so enjoyable with such unlimited potential and only the future knows how well will handle it.
In a nutshell the people we engage and interact with, the people we meet at the show the friendships relationships and futures that are created at those moments have never ever been anything other than complete successes… The other people who only want to express unhappiness which truly comes from their own lack of satisfaction Within I have never been known to attend a show or participate in these events and they certainly are not doing it now… I hope the best for them also.
NJB: The gaming industry as a whole is bigger than ever. USA Today reports that it is a 100+ billion dollar industry. Obviously, mobile games account for a huge portion of market share. Do you play mobile games or anything considered modern? If so, what does the legendary Billy Mitchell play?
Mitchell: I’m always asked if I’m strictly retro-gaming or if I play Modern games as well… Please get a grasp on the outrageous amount of time and energy resources and life that was put into Retro Gaming back in the 80s in order to achieve the standing and success that I was blessed with… As a very young person with so few responsibilities and almost unlimited time and energy, I was able to make those achievements reality. As a business owner as a head of a household as a husband as a father of three that amount of time is simply not available on the clock or the calendar. It’s hard for me to get you to understand the gaming as a whole occupies a very very small part of my life and time. Amount of time and energy did I put in back in the day… That same time and energy that today’s Esports players dedicate in an effort to achieve the same accolades would simply result in the reality of all other aspects of my life they’re the most important parts of my life to suffer tremendously. That is certainly an exchange that I am not willing to make. I do look at on today’s games as they are the controls the type of games and it is a different animal as it has evolved. I do Wonder at times how would I adapt to that, could I adapt to that, what I want to adapt to that if my life was different then the life that I am blessed with now. Whatever that answer is I don’t know. I certainly can say did the people who have worked so hard in today’s gaming world to achieve so much at such as sacrificing price. Such as Ninja, Justin Wong, and so so many others. These people have worked so hard sacrifice so much giving up so much in so many other areas and made so many difficult choices it’s so very very few can understand. I am in a unique position through my experiences in life to be able to truly understand and absolutely respect how hard they’ve worked and the fact that all of that comes with a price and all of that comes with a respect truly give them as I admire them very much. I hope the very best for them and I have no idea in this entire world we’re gaming we’ll go in the next 40 years considering I look back on the last 40 years and can only imagine the ride it’s taken to this point and therefore where could it possibly go to in the future.
NJB: Are you into retro game collecting? If so, what is your favorite piece in your collection? What would you consider the “holy grail” of game collecting?
Mitchell: They should be the shortest answer in the segment How many games do I have in my house that I own? None, zero, zilch. More specifically with more detail; I have won or acquired a good number of games over the years. All of those games I have loaned out donated forgiven two friends or others that are in home game rooms or other locations. The truth is I’m not that sentimental about these things. My home was always to be a place of normalcy… or pretty close to that! When I need a game because I am researching something do I need to borrow a game for a short time well I am working on something I have plenty of friends who make them readily available for me. I prefer it that way. Again, gaming is a very small part of my real life and I like to keep my real life real and in the forefront.
NJB: What advise would you give someone starting out, trying to set/break a world record on Twin Galaxies?
Mitchell: I’m often asked the question somebody who’s interested in gaming and high scores and performances what advice would I give them. The same advice I once heard someone in show business give to somebody who got off the bus from Iowa… “Get back on the bus and go back home”. I wasn’t always mature enough to give you the answer that I’m about to give you. The fact of the matter is gaming just like sports. These hobbies, these passions, should be apart of an overall focus or blueprint of life. I believe it’s easier to explain it in a sports manner, but remember knowing that this applies to a gaming manner is well, anybody who was ever truly great at a game at a sport then obviously they were blessed and obviously they had a greater responsibility to utilize it in the right manner, but I have told so many people nobody ever stepped on the football field and made it to college and said you know I really spent too much time studying working on my things in the classroom I should have been out on the field more… Never ever has that been said. Every single successful person and their area has always said they should have would have could have worked harder in the classroom… Gaming just like sports needs to be something it teaches you something the compliments your future and provide you additional stability that will last a lifetime. Anyone of these blessings that we are given by God achieved through hard work can be taken away by any misfortune it were all vulnerable to. If this is the hobby or the passion or obsession that you have chosen then so be it. However, be careful what you sacrifice, be very very careful because the other aspects of life they could give you fulfillment in a fully rounded life are too valuable to let go.
NJB: What does 2019 have in store for Billy Mitchell?
Mitchell: Each one of my children is excelling at a level and potential and our life that I could not describe without being so full of pride and happiness that I could only come across in a manner that I could not put into words without being misunderstood. It is beyond my greatest desires to continue to push and promote in a system and every available aspect of their lives along with the dreams and aspirations that my wife also has and they are numerous as well. In regards to gaming, I want to continue what I’ve done for decades now to push promote bring notoriety and recognition to gaming in competitive gaming and those people who have worked so hard to achieve so much. Each show that Walter Day and I attend we always bring Awards True Achievements participations and interactions that so many people have done over the years that have contributed to the culture and nourishing of competitive and fun gaming. Many times these people are so flattered because they don’t necessarily understand how what they did contributed so much. It is easily explained how they are linked and a strong chain a strong chain of events and accomplishments in every Link in that chain is important in its own way. Bringing this recognition two people in the industry on all levels really feels good because it’s really the right thing to do. In addition to that yes, we will stream. Yes, we will have fun. Yes, we will set scores and repeat scores make new friends and solidify old relationships as well. All of this describes life for me. Life is actually not that complicated it’s actually fairly simple once you have your priorities in order and I certainly have them in order.
Special thanks to Billy for agreeing to chat with us. Follow the legend himself on Twitter. He can be found at @Billypacman.