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Dirk Libbey

King Of Kong Lives! One Of Video Games' Biggest Controversies Has Just Been Settled Over Unexpected Evidence

Billy Mitchell in King of Kong.

It’s rare when a documentary film takes the movie world by storm but it’s no exaggeration to say that back in 2007 the movie King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was well-reviewed and incredibly popular. The film told the story of a battle over the world record top score on the original Donkey Kong arcade game, between two men, the then World Record holder, Billy Mitchell, and the upstart contender Steve Weibe. However, more than a decade after the movie came out, the bigger story may be that Mitchell’s records were contested, and since 2018 he has been engaged in a battle to get his records reinstated. 

Turns out, he has been successful.

Back in 2018, three of Mitchell's Donkey Kong scores, including the one from the King of Kong documentary were accused of being invalid. The claim was that Mitchell’s records had been set on an emulated version of the game, rather than on original hardware, as is required by Twin Galaxies, the organization that has become the collector of such records. Mitchell’s records had been submitted via recording, and alleged discrepancies discovered in the recording put the records in question.

Mitchell denied all allegations of cheating, but an investigation was begun. Twin Galaxies eventually removed Billy Mitchell’s name from its Donkey Kong leaderboards entirely and banned him from being able to submit any future records. In response to that, Mitchell sued Twin Galaxies for defamation. 

In 2021 Twin Galaxies counter sued, claiming Mitchell and the original Twin Galaxies founder had been involved in a conspiracy to build their reputations as well as that of Twin Galaxies. The Guinness Book of World Records also removed Mitchell's records but reinstated them in 2020. 

The lawsuits had been bouncing through the court system ever since. Last week, Mitchell and Twin Galaxies settled the lawsuits, and while the terms of the settlement had not been disclosed, we may now know a bit more about it.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In a statement posted to the Twin Galaxies website, the organization revealed that it will be reinstating all of Billy Mitchell's scores, including the three that had been the focus of the controversy. The reason for this is the testimony of Dr. Michael Zyda, a prominent computer scientist. Zyda believes that the elements of the records that had been previously attributed to emulation, could be the result of degradation of original hardware and that therefore the scores may be valid.

This was good enough for Twin Galaxies, who says its job is to make sure that scores meet verification guidelines, and that anything beyond that is not its purview. As such, it has reinstated the old scores.

To be clear, none of this is about fighting over the actual Donkey Kong world record score anymore. The score has been set and reset many times since 2007. The highest score on the board from Steve Weibe puts him in 12th place. The highest score of the three disputed ones from Mitchell will put him in 16th place. However, whatever place he's now in, Mitchell has regained his place in history, and I have this urge to put a crumpled dollar in a change machine and play arcade games.

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