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Competitive video game feat reaches 30th anniversary

McVey's 1 billion point score gained him international media attention
McVey's 1 billion point score gained him international media attentionTwin Galaxies Archives

When teenage video gamer Tim McVey first dropped a quarter into a Nibbler arcade game on Jan. 15, 1984, little did he know that he would be creating a moment in video game history.

Playing at Walter Day's original Twin Galaxies arcade, the Iowa video game master would go on to play for nearly two days, posting the first-ever high score on a video game that exceeded the 1 billion point mark. The feat would make national news and resulted in the city of Ottumwa, Iowa to hold a civic day in his honor. On Jan. 15, 2014, the 30th anniversary of his historic run, McVey recalled how the day began.

"I had overslept and was late getting there," he recalled. "It was the final day of a weekend event honoring the players of the year. We were supposed to start at noon. I kind of casually walked up, sat down, dropped by quarter and started playing, hoping that Walter Day wasn't angry with me for being late."

The aim to be the first to achieve the 1 billion point mark was being chased by numerous players, including McVey, who had fallen short previously. On this attempt, the arcade champ states that he felt more relaxed and focused, learning of the aftermath of his Nibbler marathon only after recovering from the game.

"Every other time I had started I thought it was the one. I didn't worry about that this time," he recalled. "I slept for two days afterward. The day I woke up it was on the 10 o'clock news. I don't think I had ever seen my mother smile so big."

The celebration of McVey's feat continued weeks later, as 'Tim McVey Day' was celebrated in Ottumwa, Iowa. The billion point arcade champ was awarded the key to the city in the first and only civic day ever named in honor of a video game player. According to McVey, this event was a total surprise to him and his family.

"I had no clue this was happening," he said. "Walter Day somehow convinced the city leaders to proclaim Jan. 28 as 'Tim McVey Day'. He called my mom and only said that he'd like us to both come to the arcade on Saturday morning. When we went down town, and turned onto Main Street, and saw the Tim McVey Day banner hanging from the top of the building on the left side of the street, all the way across the street to the building on the other side, I thought my mom was going to wreck the car."

In recent years, McVey's 1 billion point score continued to resonate as he was contacted by Day once again. Two California filmmakers were interested in the Nibbler story and started to film with him. The results will be seen in the upcoming documentary film Man Versus Snake: The Long, Twisted Tale of Nibbler.

"I couldn't believe anyone cared about something I did in 1984 on a fairly obscure video game and enough to invest time and money into telling the story," McVey said of the film. "It's been an interesting ride since. Unforgettable doesn't begin to cover it."