Chicken! Fight like a Robot!

Chasing Ghosts (2007)

Chasing Ghosts takes another stab at chronicling the glory-day stories and afterlives of a series of world-class video game champions and their advocate.  The group became famous in 1982 when they attended the first video game competition in Ottumwa, Iowa .. which would then become the video game statistics capital of the world.

Life magazine published this picture of the event:

The movie follows up on the lives of the kids pictured in the above photos, and the offbeat founder of the event and of the company that maintains the statistics Walter Day.  Day founded Twin Galaxies as an arcade in the early 80’s.  Although the arcade itself closed, Twin Galaxies remains as recognized video-game recordkeeping organization.

I became aware of this event not when I was an avid gamer in 1982 in Iowa … I had no idea that it had happened. I had seen the film The King of Kong : A Fistful of Quarters a few years ago about the new up-and-coming Donkey Kong champion Steve Wiebe and his attempt to crack the seemingly-impenetrable “good old boy” network that had evolved around 80’s video-game scoring. Wiebe, by the way,  shows up in several cameo appearances in other Seth Gordon films such as Four Christmases and Horrible Bosses.

Where Kong told a story of rivalries that included historical information, Ghosts tried to be a documentary. I believe that it succeeded. However, I’m not sure that this particular film would be interesting to anyone who wasn’t part of that era. Kong, has a rather compelling plot that I think can be enjoyed by many.

The films title is a bit of a play on words, referring to the four ghosts that Pac Man chases after eating an energizer while also referring to this group of guys trying to recall their all-too-short 15 minutes of fame.

Home video game consoles and computers caused arcades to dry up and blow away as quickly as they had sprouted up. The champions of this era were soon worshipped primarily by an inner-circle of fellow game players and not the general public. Some, like multi-game champion Billy Mitchell … the “villain” in Kong, have gone on to success in other ventures.  Mitchell’s family owns a salsa product line and owns restaurants in Florida. Some have only held mediocre jobs since the glory days of 1982.

The saddest note in the film, to me, was when Walter Day ( at the time of the filming ) comes to terms with the fact that he has now spent 25 years of his life maintaining video game scoreboards but has really done very little to carve out a life for himself. He said that while he never had kids of his own, he feels that he’s been a babysitter to many of other peoples’ kids. ( Twin Galaxies had begun life as an arcade in Ottumwa. The arcade folded in 1984. )

Some after-film Googling made me a bit happier, seeing what Walter has accomplished in the five years since the film debuted at the Sundance film festival.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

…and, here’s a YouTube link showing Day back in his pime:

If you were an 80’s gamer, like me, I think you might enjoy this film.

I recently saw this film on streaming Netflix, I believe that you can see it for free on sites such as Hulu and Youtube.


About Jim Lawless

I've been programming computers for about 36 years ... 30 of that professionally. I've been a teacher, I've worked as a consultant, and have written articles here and there for publications like Dr. Dobbs Journal, The C/C++ Users Journal, Nuts and Volts, and others.
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