|At left, Ben Gold poses with Walter
Day as he displays his first-place gold medal that he won during the
"That's Incredible" competition|
Incredible video Victory
Dallas teen-ager beats the best in TV show’s game competition
January 26, 1983
By Maggie Kennedy
Dallas, TX - January 26, 1983 -- Sixteen-year-old Ben Gold seemed hesitant about his chances in the big arcade game shoot-out in Hollywood.
This wasn’t going to be any average competition. This one would determine the national video arcade game champ. And the final results would be filmed for “That’s Incredible” before an audience of more than a hundred people in the ABC studios.
The Greenhill School sophomore had set the world record in September for the highest score on Star gate – 40,001,150 points in 35 hours, 50 minutes. However, his opponents – Darren Olsen of Calgary, Canada, and Todd Walker of san Jose, Calif. – were both 19 with several more years experience feeding quarters and tokens into the popular electronic toys.
Before the competition last Friday, Ben called Walker the best overall game player in the country. “He has no weaknesses,” he said. “Darren and I are closer in ability. Todd could blow us both away if he doesn’t screw up.”
That’s exactly what Walker did. He screwed up enough on one game (Burger Time) so that Ben Gold sailed past him to win the contest. “I couldn’t believe it,” Ben said. “He screwed up bad.”
The three teens competed on five machines – Millipede, Burger Time, Frogger and two surprise games which turned out to be Buck Rogers and Cosmos – games none of them had ever played before. Each had to reach a specific score on each game before he could move to the next one. The one who finished all the games first was declared the winner.
Darren and Ben protested the use of Burger Time in the contest. “Neither of us has spent much time playing it whereas Todd is a whiz at it,” Ben explained before he left. “The game is so new to Dallas that it’s hard to find one to practice on. We feel Todd has an unfair advantage if Burger Time is included.”
He shouldn’t have worried because Burger Time didn’t turn out to be the disadvantage Ben thought. “That’s the game Todd messed up on,” he explained.
The unusual competition was the brainchild of Walter Day, 33-year-old Ottumwa, Iowa arcade owner who sold the idea to “That’s Incredible.” Day also founded Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard, a clearinghouse of sorts for high scores on the likes of Joust, Pac-Man, Star Gate and all the other video arcade games.
Day invited 30 or so past and present video game masters to Ottumwa, a town of 27,381 people 85 miles southeast of Des Moines, for a tournament Jan. 8-9. Twenty showed up at their own expense including Ben. Their combined scores on five games – Frogger, Millipede, Joust, Donkey Kong, Jr. and super Pac-Man – would determine the winners.
When that competition ended, Todd Walker was in first place; Darren Olsen was second, and Ben Gold was the surprise third-place winner. “I thought I was doomed to fourth place until Eric Ginner messed up,” he said. Ginner, 20, from Mountain View, calif., was the world record holder in Millipede. “I just barely beat him by 11,000 points.”
“That’s Incredible arranged for the big three to meet again in Hollywood. Ben and his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Stanley Gold, flew to Los Angeles last Wednesday. Thursday was a practice day with the competition and filming on Friday. The three contestants, who’ve become good friends since they met at Ottumwa, also showed off a little at a few of the better LA game arcades on Wednesday and Saturday before Ben flew home on Sunday.
Ben’s first place prize was a gold medal. He had hoped there would be a little prize money to go with it. “It was a first-class contest,” he reported. “The ‘That’s Incredible’ people went out of their way to be fair to all of us. None of us had any complaints.” Ben said he did not know the exact date “That’s Incredible” would air the competition.
Ben Gold has been an electronic game fan since Pong, the first video game, came on the scene in 1972. “But the first game I really got into was Space Invaders,” he said. (Space Invaders debuted in late 1978.) “I never got that good at it though.”
He quickly graduated to Asteroids, Galaxian and Defenders, then Centipede and Star Gate which he would play for two and three hours at a time. “When I got to 4.5 million points last year, I thought that was really good,” he said.
The he heard about the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard. “But I didn’t know how to get in touch with them,” Ben said. So he kept playing and was soon up to seven million points in seven hours on Star Gate. He and Connel McCrohan, also 16, got into a Star Gate score war at the Game Zone, an arcade at Preston Road and LBJ where Ben works occasionally after school and on weekends. They alternated back and forth – 13 million points, 15 million, 17 million and so on.
“It was getting ridiculous,” Ben recalled. “I was going to find out what the world record was and try to break it.” He called Williams Electronics, the manufacturers of Star Gate and was referred to Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa. The high score of as late August was 37 million.
Ben, a slender, dark-haired, intense young man, went looking for an arcade that would stay open long enough for him to break the Star Gate world record. The manager at ProVideo near Prestonwood agreed. Ben set the date for September 26, his birthday, and turned the attempt into a birthday party.
“I like having crowds around when I play,” he explained. “They don’t bother my concentration at all. I like having people to talk to while I play.”
Thirty-five hours and 50 minutes later he walked away from the machine with the new record. “I didn’t do anything illegal like drugs to keep me awake,” he said. “Just Cokes and junk food.”
Two weeks later, someone else broke his record with 42 million points. Then Connel, a student at T. White High School, topped that a week later with 43,332,725 points. Connel’s record stood for barely a week.
It was during one of his almost weekly phone conversations with Walter Day that Ben was invited to Ottumwa in November to be among the top games players for a LIFE magazine feature. The story and photographs appeared in the January 1983 issue. Day also asked the Dallas teen-ager to participate in the January tournament.
Video games aren’t Ben’s only interest and he claims he doesn’t really spend as much time or money on them as people might think. He’s on the soccer and baseball teams at Greenhill where he maintains a B average.
“My school work definitely comes first,” he grinned, “because as long as I do good in school my parents don’t restrict me.”
He’s also the new Dallas area representative for the Twin Galaxies scoreboard with the business cards to prove it. “What I do is track down the best game players, look for people who set records and verify them. I feel sure Dallas has four or five record holders but I’ve just got to find them.”