In the 1980s, arcades were king and kids saved the universe one quarter at a time. And perhaps no one went further with a quarter than Ben Gold. The Farmers Branch resident on Saturday will be among the first class of inductees to the International Video Game Hall of Fame. KERA’s Stephen Becker spoke with Gold about reaching the pinnacle as a gamer and why he left it all behind:
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Walk into an arcade in the early ‘80s, and you likely heard Millipede, Q-Bert and Stargate.
Ben Gold once held the world record for points in each of those games. But he’s not one to brag.
“I’m always hesitant to say the best, Gold says. “Because I was amongst some very good players, I never considered myself – and to this day would never consider myself – the best. There were moments where I was, let’s say, playing really, really among the best on certain games.”
Today, the 43-year-old lives with his wife and two young sons in Farmers Branch. He works for a company that does HR and payroll outsourcing. And the only game he plays is that reliable time killer, Solitaire, on his iPhone.
Still, his place in video game history is secure. This weekend he will be inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame. He’ll join that yellow dot with an insatiable appetite, Pac Man, and Ralph Baer, who invented the first video game console.
Gold got his start in the early ‘80s setting high scores at Dallas arcades. He played at Pro Video and Tilt, where the siren song of the latest video games beckoned kids to part with their allowances.
Gold was a brash teenager. For fun, he would find machines around town with modest high scores. And with a single quarter, he would annihilate them, putting the point total way out of reach. Then he made every high scorer’s final move – entering his three-letter trademark to the top of the leaderboard: B-E-N.
“And I had people that when they would come back to my arcade, they said, ‘Oh, so YOU’RE that guy!’ I got a lot of that, and that was kinda mean,” he says. “I admit, I probably shouldn’t have done that. So I ask for forgiveness if I did that to anyone around here.”
Soon, young Ben gained national recognition. He landed on the cover of Life Magazine in 1982. But the highlight of his playing career came in 1983.
“The most important thing was being on That’s Incredible and feeling what it’s like to be famous for a very short period of time.”
Ben competed on the television talent show with three other players in a five-game tournament of Cosmos, Millipede, Donkey Kong Jr., Burgertime and Buck Rogers.
Host John Davidson called the action on Burgertime:
Click the audio player to hear a clip from the show:
Gold, the youngest of the competitors, won the contest, though he insists it’s because the best player made a major mistake. His prize was a gold medal and a kiss on the cheek from show host Cathy Lee Crosby.
But within a few years, he was done with video games completely.
He wanted to become a professional gamer, but getting paid to play wasn’t yet a reality. Plus, Gold says he found something far more interesting to look at than a video screen – girls.
Still, the gaming gene has remained in the family with Gold’s 8-year-old son.
BEN: “David here likes to play a lot more video games than he should …”
DAVID: “That’s why we keep the Wiis over at grandma and grandpa’s.”
Gold says his best game was Millipede. But good luck finding the arcade version. These days, YouTube is the best place to turn to for footage of classic games. At his Farmer’s Branch home, Gold took a look at a clip of someone playing Millipede:
GOLD: “Judging by the length of the film, he’s going to get about 130,000 points. Which is OK”
REPORTER: “But your top score was how much?”
GOLD: “4.2 million. I was good at it.”
Some might even say he was the best.