Billy Mitchell was a gaming icon at one point. In some ways he still is. The original “King of Kong,” Mitchell was the all-time world record holder for Donkey Kong, that is until a certain someone stepped up to the plate. One popular documentary and a lot of controversy later, Mitchell reclaimed his spot (briefly). But after some contemporary internet sleuthing, Mitchell’s records were wiped from the boards, tarnishing his status as a legend. Now, Mitchell is in the middle of a lawsuit against Twin Galaxies, the gaming community’s record-keeping body. Mitchell denies his wrongdoing, but specifically is suing for defamation. The question there is, well, does MItchell have a case?
From what I can tell, Mitchell probably doesn’t have a case. Even if he truly didn’t do what he has been accused of, it’s hard to say if his case holds water. The fact that Twin Galaxies is so keen on getting the case tossed out speaks volumes. According to a report from Ars Technica, the lawsuit Mitchell filed claims Twin Galaxies is attacking his character, branding him as a “cheater.” Naturally Mitchell doesn’t consider himself a cheater, hence the defamation claim. The biggest conundrum here, legally speaking, is that Mitchell is right, he technically isn’t a cheater.
While the world record-holder for Dragster was stricken from the records shortly before Mitchell, the two gaming legends weren’t removed for the same reason. Dragster’s Todd Rogers was actually cheating. Mitchell didn’t cheat, and really has no need to cheat. He’s demonstrably good at Donkey Kong! However, Mitchell did break an official Twin Galaxies rule. His world record tape, the one he controversially sent in to dethrone Steve Weibe in the King of Kong documentary, broke a major Twin Galaxies rule. Mitchell wasn’t playing on original arcade hardware.
To attempt a Donkey Kong world record recognized by Twin Galaxies, you have to play on an official Donkey Kong PCB arcade board. Emulation isn’t allowed. Mitchell’s record (which he passed later), was sent in via video tape, and unchallenged due to his stellar reputation at the time. But years later, the Twin Galaxies community disputed that tape’s legitimacy. Turns out the video captured screen transitions not present in the arcade version, ones that only materialize when playing on the MAME emulator. After compiling evidence and a lengthy review process, Mitchell’s world record was wiped, and for his dishonesty, the rest of his accomplishments were removed as well.
So what we have here isn’t, technically speaking, a matter of cheating. Mitchell still played Donkey Kong, and still achieved a ridiculous (at the time) high score. But he didn’t do it on original hardware, one of Twin Galaxies’ most important rules. And not only did he do that, he lied about it. The proof is well-documented, it just took contemporary knowledge to point it out. In its relevant statements, Twin Galaxies never accused Mitchell of cheating. The language in those statements is very careful, very lawyer-wary. By focusing on the defamation angle and choosing the language it did, Mitchell’s case is a big risk.