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Dustin Bailey

After 5 years in court, Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong and other arcade records are back thanks in part to a doctor's note that says nobody can prove he cheated

Donkey Kong.

Billy Mitchell, the arcade gamer known for achievements in titles like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, has had several records reinstated by the Twin Galaxies database after reaching a settlement in a defamation lawsuit that's been ongoing since 2019.

In 2018, Twin Galaxies began investigating claims that Billy Mitchell's personal record (which, it should be noted, would not be a world record in 2024) in Donkey Kong was not achieved on original, unmodified arcade hardware. Within a few months, the site removed all of Mitchell's scores - Donkey Kong or otherwise - and banned him from further competition. Twin Galaxies said it had found anomalies in the video submission of the score which suggested it was produced through the emulation software MAME.

Mitchell filed suit for defamation against Twin Galaxies in 2019, and that case was finally settled just last week. While the details of the settlement have not been made public, today Twin Galaxies announced that Mitchell's records have been returned to the site's official historical database thanks at least in part to the findings of USC's Dr. Michael Zyda, who served as an expert witness in the case.

"Twin Galaxies' mandate is to verify that submissions meet verification guidelines, not to investigate how they are produced," the site says in its statement. "This latter area remains available to experts such as Dr. Zyda and other interested parties, who may examine and assess these matters for their individual purposes. Twin Galaxies takes no official stance on the creation of submitted content but can recognize and acknowledge Dr. Zyda's expert opinion."

The statement concludes, "In fair consideration of the expert opinion provided by Dr. Zyda on behalf of Mr. Mitchell, and consistent with Twin Galaxies' dedication to the meticulous documentation and preservation of video game score history, Twin Galaxies shall heretofore reinstate all of Mr. Mitchell’s scores as part of the official historical database on Twin Galaxies’ website."

It's worth noting here that Mitchell's scores do not appear to have been reinstated on the main Twin Galaxies website - instead, they've been added to a historical version of the database meant to archive everything from before the site changed owners in 2014. I've been unable to find any indication that this historical database existed before today. Twin Galaxies also has not definitively addressed the allegations that Mitchell's records were falsified one way or another. The site has deleted old forum threads and news posts running down its investigations into Mitchell's records, but those remain available to peruse on the Internet Archive.

Even Zyda's expert testimony did not present definitive findings on Mitchell's scores. Instead, Zyda's note - dated November 7, 2023 - simply argues that between video noise inherent in tape recordings and and the natural degradation of arcade hardware over the years, it's impossible to tell whether the recordings come from legitimate original hardware. Zyda wrote that "it seems unlikely to me that definitive answers are readily obtainable from Billy’s recorded play sessions watched and single-framed on second and third generation and beyond videotape copies."

For his part, though, Mitchell is taking this as a win. On Twitter, he wrote, "I am relieved and satisfied to reach this resolution after an almost six year ordeal and look forward to pursuing my unfinished business elsewhere."

These are the best retro games of all time. 

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