Early last week I told you about 43-year-old Ben Gold, who, back when we were kids, was better known as "B-E-N" amongst the video-gamers who hung out at local arcades -- like the late-great Game Zone at Preston Road and LBJ Freeway or TILT at Prestonwood Town Center -- and gasped in holy-crap as he racked up world-record scores on Stargate, Millipede and Q*Bert.
Gold was, in the early 1980s, as famous as a scrawny suburban teen in short-shorts got courtesy his Big Win on That's Incredible! The kid from Greenhill raked up more than 4 million points on Stargate -- that's 36 hours on a single freakin' quarter. The Evergreeen, Greenhill's school paper, called him a "Video God" in October 1982. He was featured in the issue of Dynamite magazine that had Michael Jackson and Thriller on the cover.
Damn right he should go into a hall of fame. Which is why Gold will spend the next few days in Ottumwa, Iowa, for The Big Bang -- a video game-bang, as it were, featuring tournaments, concerts and a culminating ceremony during which Gold will be among the first class inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame. Twenty-seven years after he walked away from the world of competitive gaming, Ben Gold's finally being acknowledged for what he was -- a video god.
I've asked Gold, who lives with his wife and their two boys in Farmers Branch, to blog for Unfair Park during his time in Ottumwa this weekend. After all, back in the day he actually wrote himself -- for JoyStik magazine, where he offered players tips on how to beat the likes of Gyruss. He just landed, mere moments ago, and is en route to his flashback of fame. On the other side, the first installment in which Gold writes about what got him into the hall of fame and what he's expecting this weekend.
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Back to Ottumwa, Day One
By Ben GoldIn 1982 and '83, I had the opportunity to be part of a very elite group of video game players that competed on a national level. We were also part of a brotherhood of gamers that grew very close as we traveled the country promoting professional gaming. We were pioneers in an economic landscape that could not monetize our talent -- which is to say, while I received plenty of notoriety for having won the first contest, I just didn't see a future in professional gaming.
In my heyday, I gave interviews and was featured on TV and in newspapers regularly -- LIFE magazine even, in an enormous "Year in Pictures" spread. But once I left the gaming field, I moved on. I didn't think about the past. Between 1984 and two weeks ago, I gave about eight media interviews and was part of a documentary, Chasing Ghosts, that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007.
All of that has changed in the last two weeks. I've spoken to several media outlets in recent days and have been given an opportunity to relive and rethink some important periods of my childhood. After all, video games consumed me from the ages of 12 to 16. During the first three years, I competed on the Dallas scene; during the final year I'd gone national through the leadership of Walter Day and the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard.
I'm excited to be in the hall of fame -- maybe it proves we weren't just crazy kids with fast fingers. To be honest, I'm a little in awe of the company with whom I'll share the stage. Because when I was playing, we always recounted the legend of Nolan Bushnell and how he installed the first coin-operated Pong game in a California bar. He was called back two days later because the machine was "broken" - the quarters had caused a short circuit.
Ralph Baer -- he was the person to ask, "Can we do more with a TV set than just look at it?" His answer? The first home video game system, Odyssey.
What about Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendell, a pioneer on the modern-day pro-gaming circuit? Fatal1ty has won more than $500,000 in prize money and is among the best promoters of this nascent sport -- a throwback to those days I spent on the road. And I am excited to finally meet Steve Wiebe, the protagonist in the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about his Donkey Kong rivalry with an old teammate of mine. That doc put Walter Day and Twin Galaxies on the map. Finally.
But most important, I look forward to seeing my old running buddies -- in particular Billy Mitchell, who was demonized in the same movie.
The Billy I know still lives in the '80s and takes gaming far more serious than I do or ever did, maybe. But he's not the spineless Darth Vader caricatured in the movie. Matter of fact, Steve Sanders, Billy and I plan to go out for a beer tonight, after we arrive in Ottumwa. I have not seen either for five years. And, of course, I also look forward to seeing Walter Day, the mastermind behind all this madness. His vision nearly 30 years ago to keep track of -- and confirm -- video game high scores helped unite the best talent around the country.
This weekend's shaping up as something more than an old-timer's reunion. Word is several film crews are scheduled to attend, each working on yet another doc, each with a different agenda. Media outlets from all over the country have been calling, asking for a few minutes of interview time. I expect organized chaos -- nothing like trying to reconnect with old friends with with cameras and microphones hovering over our shoulders.
On Friday Ottumwa will officially rename itself "The Video Game Capital of the World." Tomorrow evening, all of us featured in the LIFE photo shoot, done in November 1982, will recreate that scene. On Saturday, they will actually have the video games on the same street where the photo was taken, and anyone who wants their picture taken in front of my old Stargate machine is free to do so. It's such a Walterism -- creating a great idea out of nothing!.
And then, finally, there will be a formal ceremony on Saturday evening inducting these 29 people into the hall of fame. I promised Robert I will write every day about what should be a surreal experience. It should be fun. Emotional too, no doubt.
Here's the weird thing. There's been some time carved out during the weekend for autograph sessions. But ... why? I'm just a regular guy now -- haven't been a video game champion since Reagan was president. I'm an outside sales rep for a national payroll and HR outsourcing company. The only time anyone wants me to sign something is when I'm paying a bill. I mean, sure, being a star again? For a moment? In Ottumwa, Iowa? Sounds fun.
But when I get back in a few days, I'll still have to deal with the fact I've yet to hit my sales goals for this quarter. Video games didn't pay the bills then. Don't now. Anyone want to buy payroll or HR services? Think about it. You've got a few days.