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Paul Dean, Champion of Arcade eSports

Genese Davis Posted:
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Last month we saw groundbreaking evolution for eSports when the United States government recognized League of Legends pro players as professional athletes and will award them visas as such. LoL is in its third professional season and its global following is growing equally as fast as eSports culture.

It’s exciting to see eSports reach this level of global magnitude. While competitive gaming surges more and more into mainstream, it’s also fun to take a look at iconic video game competitors who helped shape competitive gaming during its earliest stages. One of those iconic legends is Guinness Book of World Records holder, Paul Dean.

In sunny California, Paul Dean began his gaming career in a pretty neat environment, and describes 1972 gaming as a kid’s paradise.

“The first game I really liked was Atari’s Pong,” Dean said. “Which I played in 1972 in the back of a Restaurant Caboose in Riverside, CA, at the Railroader Restaurant. I would compete against my brother, Dave Dean, on this new cocktail game. It was so much fun to play Pong games in this real, nicely themed, railroad caboose while waiting for the hostess on an old abandoned railroad train line to call our name for dinner. It was a kid’s paradise in that caboose! I was born in 1964 so I was about 10 years old at the time. I was hooked on games ever since.”

As Paul continued following his interest in gaming, he also found a passion for competition.

“I loved 1979 Atari’s Asteroids and could play it on one quarter for up to 12 hours and eventually went to the finals of the Silco West Tournament earning a neat leather Asteroids State Championship belt for being in the top elite group.”  

Before long, Dean’s gaming skills took him on a road that carved a permanent mark in video game history.

“I had two very memorable events in my gaming career and both involved mastering games and getting the world record in front of my peers in the arcade environment during important tournaments. The first took place at the Huish Family Fun Center, in Upland, California,” Dean explained.

“The game was Spy Hunter, and the length of that incredible game was 12 hours of game play on June 28, 1985, at the third annual Twin Galaxies Masters Tournament. This score went into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1986 and I was at the pinnacle of my game playing skillset and career at this point. There were crowds around me at all times and I felt like a super star giving everyone a good show on how to play Spy Hunter, zigging and zagging, with only 7 lives within this game, and not making any mistakes for hours at a time.”

“In Spy Hunter, one quarter = one play, no continues,” Dean said. “You get your original life then earn two more at 18,000 points and then an additional life at 30,000, 60,000, 90,000 and 120,000. My final score was 9,512,590. I had beaten the game and done it in front of my peers, who were the two best players in the world at the time, Jeff Peters and Phil Britt. Twin Galaxies was the scorekeeper of the contest and entered my score into their scoreboard, and because they were affiliated with the Guinness Book of World Records my score went into print as well.”

Throughout that legendary game, Paul remembers Phil Britt whispering taunts for him to keep going.

“On Spy Hunter I didn’t know how high of a score I needed in order to make history because the Upland site was only one arcade site of about 23 arcade sites in the competition around the country in this national 1985 Twin Galaxies Third Annual Video Game Master Tournament. I remember Phil Britt whispering to me that I needed to concentrate and get a higher score as other players from around the country were having very good games. ‘A guy from Texas now has 3 million points,’ Phil would say. ‘Another from Alaska just got 5 million points.’ This went on for a while before I realized it was him just trying to pump me up to get a higher score as no one had ever gotten over a million points on Spy Hunter.

“A fan bought me a coke and hot dog that I ate while playing, and that’s all I had to eat. I had many close calls but the gaming gods were with me that day, and my score just kept getting high and higher. Finally it was game over, and I entered my initials, PMD. As I finally let go of the controls, I noticed it was hard for my hands to relax and get back to normal—they were cramped and sore from holding the steering yolk in one position for so long (12 hours). I was in a daze but knew I had done my best and that was good enough for me.

“Several people watching patted me on the back and said good job and another good Samaritan bought me a dog and a drink. When I asked him if he wanted money he said that talking to me was his payment in full. My final score was 9,512,590, ten times higher than any other score to date.

“About a month after the event, I got a call from Phil Britt and he told me that my score had been accepted into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the highest Spy Hunter score in the world and it wasn’t until then that I knew I was the world record holder.

“The second most memorable event for me was when I achieved my second world record at Totally Amused Arcade playing Frenzy on December 4, 2005 in Humble, Texas. The event was called The Legends of the Golden Age Video Game Competition. I came by and set a new world record in person on Frenzy. One quarter, no continues, and after 41 hours and 15 minutes, my score hit 4,874,931.”  

With a legendary arcade experience under his belt, I asked Paul his thoughts on the differences between the classic arcade environment compared to today’s online games.

“In the classic arcade environment you could show off your skills to others and gain a reputation at that arcade,” Paul said. “And people admired what you could do with a video game. They would gather around you to watch and ask you for tips when you were done with that game, and wanted to talk to you more and more. Girls also really enjoyed watching the better players and there was some flirting going on, so you had that social interaction, too. You looked forward to seeing your posse on a Saturday night and gaming until midnight, meeting new people and talking about games and everything else in person and live. Life long friendships are made in the arcade.

“In today’s gaming world it seems to me that the socializing happens online and not in the arcade. You turn on your computer, put on your headset and are immersed by this non tangible world where you meet people online who you don’t actually know, and may never meet because they are thousands of miles away from you. My concern with this is that you may never make the social connection with them like you do with someone in person and local. You can’t see them face-to-face or get to know their family, etc. so they are like a ghost in many ways.”

Paul hopes there are even more opportunities to revitalize the arcade experience through barcades and video game lounges.

“Barcades bring back gaming to the local neighborhood, and I do like the idea that you can play shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends again with the same games we played in the 1980’s. I’d like to see video game lounges hold how-to seminars for those who have never played a certain type of video game, to make it easier to socialize with other beginners who are learning. For example, I’d like to try World of Warcraft because a friend of mine described the social connection to it. I think I’d like that.”

For the avid arcade gamers out there who want to improve their game, Paul shared some tips for perfecting your technique.

“The best advice is to learn everything you can about a game. Talk to the developers, the great players, and to your friends about the game. Look up game strategy books and join forums that talk about how to improve your game skills. Watch YouTube videos on the games you play and make your own. Welcome criticism and be willing to share. Go to live events and play and compete. Write about it in a journal and dream about it at night. Stay fresh and aware of everything, and never give up!”

Paul Dean was inducted to the International Video Game Hall of Fame in 2010. He will be attending events like SC3, The Kong Off, and California Extreme if you’d like to stop by and say hello. He can also be found online at the CAGdc forums, and www.Spyhunter007.com.

I’d like to thank Paul Dean for sharing his legendary journey and experience with us! Paul, you’re an incredibly talented gamer, and your wit and warm demeanor energizes everyone around you.

Hope everyone enjoyed this glimpse into iconic eSports history. Be sure to share your favorite competitive moments and arcade memories!

P.S. Let’s connect: Find me at GeneseDavis.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Until then remember: write at night, game hard, and lark your life.

Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.

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Genese Davis

Genese Davis / Bimonthly, The Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about video games, the issues the industry faces, and the power of shaping online worlds. Find her on Twitter @GeneseDavis and GeneseDavis.com