Five years with the master of Pac-Man, by Joshua Bearman


Joshua Bearman says:

Let it be known that anyone interested in 8,000 words about Billy Mitchell, the world champion of Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Burgertime, and many other arcade games, need look no further than the July issue of Harper's, where an article about such appears. Perhaps you are thinking: but my Harper's subscription ran out and since it's now August the July issue is long gone from stands! This is true. Which is why the article is available HERE AS A PDF.

And my apologies for being about six weeks behind on my mostly non-operative blog. This article was many years in the making, and was begun long before I wound up working on King of Kong. (BTW: King of Kong fans, rejoice! There is another whole dimension to the competitive classic gaming realm to be found here.) But the article came out while I happened to be out of the country getting married! This was also many years in the making and even more exciting, and so Billy Mitchell appearing in Harper's sort of snuck past me. But don't let my momentary inattention fool you: this is likely the most readable and entertaining look at the metaphysical implications of competitive Pac Man yet to appear! Slate's endorsement: "Best Culture Piece" of the month.

Five years with the master of Pac-Man, by Joshua Bearman


  1. “Let it be known that anyone interested in 8,000 words about Billy Mitchell…”

    Nope, and thanks for the warning. someone should let this poor soul know that the world has moved on. Pac-Man is a great way to spend 25 cents,to reminisce, not a great way to spend your life.

  2. Although I have yet to RTFA, I just want to say that “King of Kong” is one of my favorite docu’s. In the film, the most cringeworthy comic moments are of Billy Mitchell and his gargantuan ego. A must see, if you ever dropped a quarter (or a token) into one of these machines!

  3. Yeah, King of Kong is great. And unless my memory fails me, I believe Billy Mitchell LOST his Donkey Kong title, fair and square. Even after sending his “goons” to rough up the opposition.

    I’ll have to read the article, though… he might’ve reclaimed the title by now.

  4. Billy Mitchell… its best not to pay attention to people with such obvious hard ons for attention.

  5. Billy did lose at the end of the movie, but after the movie he reclaimed the title as Kong King.

  6. Around the time that Billy Mitchell was achieving what passes for immortality and stardom in the mind of Billy Mitchell, I was a freshman in college, and not having such a swell time of it my first year; I was the most unpopular person on my dorm floor, and I couldn’t get laid to save my life. I spent a lot of time at a convenience store down the street, playing the Star Trek video game. (For those of you who don’t remember it, it’s the arcade game that tied into Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Very simple, repetitive play, wire-frame graphics, and you couldn’t move in the Z-axis, ironic given that a major plot point in the movie revolves around being able to do exactly that.) There was also one of these games in the student union, and one day I noticed that you could get a T-shirt for being the high scorer on any of their games. Naturally, I placed the high score on their Star Trek and got the shirt.

    On receiving the shirt, which featured graphics that were barely above stick-figure level, I realized two things: 1) that I’d finally done something that made me unique at my big, second-tier state university, and 2) that I didn’t know a single person who would give a shit. The game wasn’t really that popular–I rarely had to wait in line to play it–and if it had been, it’s quite probable that someone with better reflexes than I could have beat my score without much difficulty. But they didn’t, and my tiny little accomplishment gave me that small but crucial ego boost.

    So, rock on, Billy Mitchell. Rock the fuck on. We salute you.

  7. Wasn’t there an interview with another guy who accomplished the “perfect” pacman? I seem to remember something about how he found the patterns in the ghosts and would put Pacman into a spot that hid him from the ghosts and actually leave the game for food, bathroom, etc. It was a good writeup. If I remember right, that guy was a little shy.

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