February 8th, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard which has been the official scorekeeper of video gaming since 1982. Through a partnership with Guinness and their famous Book of World Records, Twin Galaxies is still going strong today as they are the official supplier of verified records for their annual gaming edition. Most people, however, will associate Twin Galaxies with the 2007 documentary film, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which chronicled the battle for Donkey Kong supremacy between Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. The film casts the organization in a (somewhat) unfair light, depicting a bunch of overzealous, even Machiavellian, classic video gaming nerds out to break the spirit of the upstart new kid on the block. Walking away from the film with just that portrayal of Twin Galaxies lingering on the brain would be doing the organization, and all those who are intimately involved with it on a day-to-day basis, a massive disservice.
Twin Galaxies humble beginnings can be traced back to a simple arcade in, of all places, the quintessential American small town of Ottumwa, Iowa. The gaming palace originally opened its doors on November 10th 1981 and a scant three months later “The Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard” was born. The Scoreboard laid down the official rules for competitive video game playing and crowned the champions on a multitude of video games. Twin Galaxies activities inspired Mayor Jerry Parker to decree that Ottumwa was the “Video Game Capital of the World” on November 30th 1982. On top of that distinguished honor, both LIFE magazine and popular American TV show “That’s Incredible!” came to Twin Galaxies to create celebrated events that are now etched in memories of all gamers.
Walter Day, the iconic face and Head Scorekeeper of Twin Galaxies for almost 27 years, had a few thoughts on some of the touchstone moments in the organization’s history.
On being Head Scorekeeper of Twin Galaxies for 27 years:
“People like to rib me about my referee’s jersey and I even called myself ‘The Man’ in King of Kong, but being the Head Scorekeeper for Twin Galaxies for over 27 years has been the most wonderful experience – like a beautiful dream. I was honored to be a part of the ‘birth of organized video game playing.’ However, destiny was knocking and if I had not started Twin Galaxies and made Ottumwa the ‘birthplace’ of the gaming age, it would have happened somewhere else, with other people inspired to take on the task of turning video game playing into a sport."
On the LIFE Photograph:
“Interestingly, the 1982 LIFE Magazine photo that shows the top gamers of that early time gathered in Ottumwa has become one of the most recognizable images in the history of the video game age. Possibly, the industry's most famous photograph as many people who are not connected to the gaming field recognize that photo.”
On the “That's Incredible!” Video Game Invitational:
“Considered by many to be history's first ‘video game world championship,’ the tournament co-created by Twin Galaxies and ‘That's Incredible!’ and filmed in Ottumwa January 8-9, 1983, is revered as the ‘birth cradle’ of competitive gaming.”
“Ottumwa, Iowa is now recognized as the ‘birthplace of organized video game playing’ and the cultural crossroads of the video game age. It’s not surprising that the Ottumwa City Fathers are working to create the official International Video Game Hall of Fame & Museum in their city.”
On the future of competitive gaming:
“What’s going on these days with the professional gaming leagues is very exciting. Twin Galaxies formed one of the first gaming teams in 1983 but the spirit of it all seems much, much different now. And, in saying that, I don’t mean to disparage any particular group or entity. Overall, I think the future bodes well for competitive gaming; it will become an even bigger deal to hold a world record score on a legendary classic game. And that will include all high-score-based games from the 1970s up to the great titles being produced today. And, at the same time, head-to-head elimination will reach new levels of professionalism, with the top stars being revered as genuine athletes.”
Nov. 10th 1981 – The Twin Galaxies arcade opens its doors for business in Ottumwa, Iowa. Walter Aldro Day and Jonathan Bloch are the proprietors.
Feb. 8th 1982 – Walter Day’s database of video game high scores is released to the public for the first time as “The Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard.”
Nov. 7th 1982 – Gamers from around the world descend on the sleepy Iowa burgh for a chance to have their picture taken for LIFE magazine. Among those in attendance are Billy Mitchell, Steve Harris (founder/publisher of Electronic Gaming Monthly), Steve Sanders and Ben Gold.
Nov. 30th 1982 – Jerry Parker, Mayor of Ottumwa, declares that his fine city is “The Videogame Capital of the World.” The Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, ratifies this bold declaration.
Feb. 21st 1983 – The popular U.S. TV show “That’s Incredible!” broadcasts The Videogame Invitational from the Twin Galaxies arcade. The event is ultimately won by Ben Gold.
July 25th 1983 – The U.S. National Video Game team is formed by the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard. Walter Day is named team captain and the first six members of the tem are: Billy Mitchell, Ben Gold, Steve Harris, Jay Kim, Cat Cabrera and Tim McVey.
Feb. 8th 1998 – The Twin Galaxies’ Official Video Game and Pinball Book of World Records is published. The 984 page tome contains records dating all the way back to 1981.
Aug. 24th 2007 – The documentary film, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, is released in theaters. Another film dealing with Twin Galaxies history, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, is screened at the Sundance Film Festival a few months before Kong’s release.
May 5th 2009 – Ottumwa reclaims its title as “Videogame Capital of the World” and plans are set in motion to establish the International Video Game Hall of Fame in downtown Ottumwa; a few short blocks from where the original Twin Galaxies arcade stood.
Dec. 16th 2009 – Walter Day officially hangs up his zebra striped referee jersey and retires from Twin Galaxies to pursue a career in music.