Guinness honors Ottumwa’s gaming legacy Twin Galaxies founder recognized for formally keeping track of scores
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
By MATT MILNER
Few in the crowd had never been in an arcade before. While there were some children, most were old enough to remember the glory days of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.
But seeing the presentation of a Guinness Book of World Records certificate? That’s new. Cities can claim a lot of things, but when Guinness says "you were first," the debate ends.
First in this case is Walter Day. Back when he owned Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa, there weren’t any official record keepers for video games. So he started collecting high scores. When an arcade in another state wanted to know whether one of their players had set a new mark, they called him. Then other countries started calling.
This weekend, Twin Galaxies was briefly resurrected as a full-fledged arcade to celebrate its 35th anniversary. Saturday afternoon saw Day maneuvering on "Gorf," a game that owes a clear debt to Space Invaders. Three consoles down was Isaiah "Triforce" Johnson, racking up points on Mario Brothers. Billy Mitchell held court at the back of the room.
"This is so amazing," Day said. "I’m not doing this. The spirit of the people of Ottumwa believes so much and they’re making it happen."
Day said phone calls were the key in the early days, but they were expensive. Some months racked up phone bills in the $900 range. Even then, there were hints of what the future held.
The pull of Ottumwa’s legacy is surprising. Brian Nelson came from Philadelphia to be part of the ! celebrations.
"T! his is a historic event," he said. "I loved arcade games as a kid and I wanted to be part of it."
Nelson’s first game was Space Invaders. Sure enough, there was a console running the classic in the middle of the arcade. "It’s what we loved when we were growing up. Now that we’re older, I guess we’re looking to go back to what we loved when we were growing up," he said.
Crowds came and went throughout the day. But as 7 p.m. approached people began packing in. That’s when the presentation of the Guinness certificate was scheduled. Johnson formally gave it to Day, who passed it on representatives for Ottumwa. Councilman Victor Streeby stood in for Mayor Tom Lazio with a proclamation recognizing Twin Galaxies. That was a flashback of sorts, too, since a proclamation by then-mayor Jerry Parker first claimed the title of Video Game Capital of the World for Ottumwa.
It all happened while lights flashed and games beeped out eight-bit melodies. It sounded a lot like 1981, back when many of the people in the crowd were entering their first arcades.
Matt Milner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed @mwmilner.
Category: Awards and Recognition