Five years with the master of Pac-Man
By Joshuah Bearman
The first time I see Billy Mitchell he is holding court among the games, greeting admirers, signing autographs, and distributing a stack of bumper stickers that celebrate his greatest achievement: WORLD’S FIRST PERFECT PAC-MAN. This is the summer of 2003, and we are at the Sixth Annual Classic Gaming Expo, held in the slightly run-down conference facilities
of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Billy is impossible to miss. Tall and imposing, he usually wears tight pants, a dark shirt, and a necktie adorned with the stars and stripes. His strangely well-sculpted mullet cascades over his shoulders, and at Billy’s height that hair is visible from a great distance. I approach him during a lull in the adulation. Billy got hooked in 1982, he says, leaping without preface into the Legend of Billy Mitchell.
“I remember realizing that I could be the absolute best at something. When people ask how they can follow in my footsteps, I say, ‘Forget it. Don’t bother. It will just cause you grief.’” He tells me how he first gained national recognition when Life magazine profiled him in 1983, right around the time that “Pac-Man Fever” improbably rose to number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. Video games have evolved considerably since then, but Billy has carefully maintained his image as the central figure of the stillthriving competitive classic-videogame realm. He is Billy Mitchell, arcade conqueror: the one player who gets interview requests every week, the man who once played Centipede for two days straight.
“I have a reputation to maintain,” he says. “That’s why I always make time for fans, especially children.” For Billy, the spirit of his self-created celebrity resides in his hair, the maintenance of which requires two consecutive showers, a blowdryer, and a leave-in conditioner. “I won’t cut the hair until I stop playing video games,” Billy says. It is the vivid styling of a man very secure in his public persona, however esoteric it
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His most noted feat, however, remains the landmark “perfect” Pac-Man, which Billy completed on July 3, 1999 at 4:45 P.M. at the Funspot Family Fun Center in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire. In one six-hour game, he collected all available points—every dot, every energizer, every ghost(while energized), every bonus prize, for all 256 levels—on his first man. This fulfilled the game’s maximum scoring potential of 3,333,360 points...
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