Fairfield, Iowa - May 17, 2005 - Brandon Erickson can forget about the good old days when you could play a video game for 70 hours straight and just snap a photograph of your high score and receive instant recognition as the new world record holder.
Nowadays, you have to take a blood test and record the entire accomplishment on videotape.
"I know my score won't count if I don't take a blood test after I'm done," says Erickson, who, yesterday, on Monday, May 16, after weeks of marathon training, began a single game of Star Wars at the Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade in Portland, Oregon, and hopes to play it continuously until The Revenge Of the Sith premieres at midnight on Wednesday, May 18, in an attempt to set a new world record. The record that Erickson has to beat is 300,007,894 points, achieved by Brooklyn's Robert Mruczek on January 20-22, 1984, after 49-1/2 hours of non-stop play.
Erickson, a 25-year-old human resources manager from Portland, is a rare breed. He is a classic video game marathoner, like the kind you used to read about back in the early 80s; the guys who took Asteroids for a three-day spin on one quarter and lived to talk about it. Except back then, you didn't need a blood test nor have to videotape your entire marathon -- every minute of it.
"As competitive video gaming heats up, becoming more professional, stricter standards of verification are being employed to separate true records from false records," explains Walter Day, editor of Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records, the official record book for the worldwide electronic gaming industry. "And no where is the scrutiny falling heavier than on the gaming niche of "marathon" gaming: keeping a single game going on a single quarter for an entire weekend -- the legendary domain of classic arcade coin-op titles like Missile Command, Joust, Robotron and Star Wars."
"Marathon gaming is becoming popular again," reveals Day, of Twin Galaxies, the Fairfield, Iowa-based organization that has been monitoring world record scores since the early 1980s, when they verified, among hundreds of other marathons, Robert Mruczek's Star Wars record in 1984.
And, like today's athletic stars, Erickson has to prove he didn't enjoy any unfair advantages provided by drugs or mechanical devices. So, he must submit the following proof:
An entire videotape record of every minute of the 70-hour game, complete with date and time stamp on every frame of the recording. Until videotaping came along, Twin Galaxies was never completely sure if a player had used illegal tricks, mechanical devices or capitalized on programming flaws in order to achieve their world record. Now, the widespread use of camcorders allows Twin Galaxies to examine a gaming performance frame-by-frame and preserve each accomplishment for future review.
Since marathon video gaming can be hard on the health, each gamer must sign a waiver accepting full responsibility for their own health and well being, verifying that they are in good health. "Though there were thousands of marathons conducted back in the early 1980s," explains Day, "there is not one instance known to me where someone had an accident or developed a health problem. However, since the possibility of health problems still exists, we want to safeguard the health of the video gamer and not encourage them to do something that will hurt their mind or body. Therefore, before Twin Galaxies approves a marathon, the player must address this potential danger by having a physician examine their health and issue a report. Also, at the end of the marathon, the gamer must take the blood test to prove that drugs were not used."
These stringent requirements are designed to prevent players from attempting marathons if their health is not strong enough for the activity. "And the blood test will weed out anybody who planned to abuse drugs," adds Day"
Twin Galaxies' list of banned drugs is the same list prohibited by the NCAA. "Especially drugs like Modafinil," explains Day, "which is noted as a mood-brightening and memory-enhancing psycho stimulant which enhances wakefulness and vigilance - allegedly very popular among airline pilots. Drugs like this would give a gamer a serious advantage over a marathoner who was merely drinking Coca-Cola. The list of drugs will change and evolve as more information is gathered to protect the health of the gamer."
Long-range, high scoring marathons, like the one planned by Erickson, were the meat and potatoes of the video gaming world back in the early 80s, notes Day, who personally organized many such marathons for Twin Galaxies back in the classic age of gaming. "You were deemed a star if you could take a game for days on a single quarter," he says. "Players won tremendous prestige so everybody tried to master their favorite game and marathon it."
History doesn't remember when the first video game marathon was conducted, but Day believes that it was performed on either Space Invaders or Asteroids in 1979. Since then, there have been thousands of marathons.
In the old days, when video game players did not have access to video camcorders, the marathons were verified by a photograph of the final screen and signed affidavits from three witnesses and the arcade management. That didn't work out too well, Day says, because some arcade managers had falsified claims in order to benefit from the ensuing publicity. Today, however, camcorders are equipped with date/time stamps that allow virtually foolproof verification
Erickson estimates that he can score an average of five million points per hour, reaching his goal in less than 70 hours, possibly as early as 60 hours. "I want to be done by the opening night of the new Star Wars movie," he says.
When he's done, though, he hasn't decided if he will go straight to the movie theatre or go home to bed.
"Let's see how I feel," he says.