Todd Rogers: Game Over

If you’d rather listen to this story, check out this episode of the podcast.

On November 30, 2012, for the first time in its history, The Guinness Book of Records created a new accolade. The world-renowned organization recognized veteran gamer Todd Rogers for holding the longest-standing video game high score. According to the newly-created record, three decades earlier Rogers had achieved an unbeaten score: A time of 5.51 seconds on the Atari 2600 game Dragster. There was just one problem: A time of 5.51 seconds was not possible.

Born on December 1, 1964, in Oaklawn, Illinois, Todd Rogers led a typical suburban childhood, his time divided between playing sports and collecting comic books. Then, in 1972, Rogers got his first taste for the medium that would change his life. At a mere 8 years of age, an Odyssey system was made a staple in his living room. Rogers and his older brother spent hours besting one another at Pong and other rudimentary video games. Then, five years later, another world-changing milestone for the young videogamer: In 1977, a new console would usurp the Odyssey’s role in the Rogers household: The Atari 2600.But the game that would forever change Rogers life was yet to be created by a company that didn’t exist.

In 1980, Activision, a company created by disgruntled former employees of Atari, released its first game for the popular console: Dragster. An unlicensed port of the Kee-Games arcade coin-op Drag Race, it was programmed by Activision co-founder David Crane. In the game, the player races against the clock (or another player) to complete a ¼ mile track in the fastest time. As with Activision’s other titles, a club was formed to recognize the most talented gamers.Those who reached the finish line in less than 6 seconds were invited to join Activision’s official “World Class Dragster Club.”

On December 1, 1980, at age 16, Rogers proclivity for video games paid off. He became a certified member of the World Class Dragster Club with a time of 5.64 seconds. It was an honor that was memorialized by Activision on Official Membership Certificate no. 157. In the years that followed, Rogers continued to earn membership to Activision’s various honorary game clubs. Then in 1982, Activision invited Rogers to demonstrate their games at Consumer Electronics Show, a role that would continue for the next few years. It was during this time that Rogers achieved another breakthrough: He had bested his previous Dragster high-score completing the game in a record-setting 5.51 seconds. Once again, the World Class Dragster Club recognized his achievement, this time, with a notice in the Spring 1983 edition of Activision’s official newsletter.

In spite of his early success, Guinness did not recognize Rogers until 2012. It was at that time that a new honor was created among the annals of the world-record keepers. On November 30 of that year, Guinness acknowledged that Rogers had achieved a milestone unique even for the multiple-record holder. He had held an unbeaten high score for longer than any other gamer. But just six years later, Rogers’ record would be wiped from the record books. And not because someone had fared better than Rogers’ time of 5.51 seconds.

In 2017, just 5 years after he achieved a Guinness World Record, Rogers’ score began to be challenged. While the score had been suspected as impossible for years, an official dispute was opened with Twin Galaxies, the organization that has documented video game high scores for nearly forty years. Included among the growing evidence of foul play, was the work of computer scientist Eric “Omnigamer” Koziel. After analyzing the Dragster’s computer code, Omnigamer determined that the best possible time that could be achieved on the game is 5.57 seconds. To be sure, Twin Galaxies asked noted hacker and modder Ben Heck to work with Rogers to see if 5.51 could be reached. But even with Rogers’ guidance, Heck was unable to replicate Rogers’ alleged score of 5.51 seconds.

But if Dragster couldn’t be completed in 5.51 seconds, how did Rogers’ score come to be acknowledged by the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records. According to Guinness, they relied on the records of Twin Galaxies. In turn, the original owner of Twin Galaxies, Walter Day, indicated that Twin Galaxies Activision’s certification. This was unusual because Twin Galaxies usually required a high score to be achieved live or for videotaped evidence to be submitted.

Activision had relied on a polaroid provided by a young Rogers in 1983. But Activision didn’t require gamers to write their scores on the photographs submitted for admission to the World Class Dragster Club. So, many believe it’s likely the photo was actually that of a 5.57 score that only appeared to be 5.51 due to screen glare or other issues that made the image difficult to read.

Even if a 5.51 had been achieved, however, Twin Galaxies reliance on Activision to determine the Dragster record holder is flawed. Because in the Spring 1983 issue of Activision’s newsletter, the one that acknowledged Roger’s score, two other gamers were noted to have achieved the same time of 5.51. In fact, according to an earlier edition of the publication, these two gamers had scored 5.51 a year earlier than Rogers. Further, the next best score according to Twin Galaxies was 5.64, which completely ignored the achievement of the other gamers.

It is not known who entered Rogers’ score into the Twin Galaxies database in 2001. It is known, however, that Rogers was employed by Twin Galaxies from 1999 until 2012. And in 2013, Rogers admitted that he did enter his own scores on occasion.

Under scrutiny, Rogers’ other unusual high scores on Twin Galaxies were questioned.

  • The alleged video documenting Rogers’ score of 15 million points on NES’ port of Donkey Kong were discovered to be missing or non-existent.
  • Rogers’ time of 32.04 seconds in Barnstorming was discovered to be impossible to achieve even with all the obstacles removed from the game.
  • Rogers’ had a high score in Wabbit of 1,698 points even though the game ends when a player reaches 1,300 and the score only increases in increments of 5 points.
  • It was confirmed that Rogers’ score in Fathom would have taken 325 hours to achieve.
  • Finally, Rogers’ alleged score of 65 million points on Atari 5200’s Centipede far exceeded the second-place record holder of 58,078 points.

On, January 29, 2018, faced with a growing number of complaints that Rogers had falsified his time, and the increasing pile of evidence suggesting his 5.51-second run on Dragster was impossible, Twin Galaxies threw out all of Rogers’s records and banned him for life from its scoreboards. And following that disqualification from the Twin Galaxies scoreboard, The Guinness Book of World Records removed Rogers’ record for the longest-standing video game high score.

While Rogers’ dubious notoriety far outlasted his fraudulent Dragster time, it seems it was Rogers that helped speed his fame to an end. It was only shortly after Rogers was acknowledged by Guinness that his Dragster and other scores began to be scrutinized. But the reason Guinness had created a new record for Rogers, more than 3 decades after his alleged achievement, is because Rogers himself had lobbied the organization for 4 years to do so.



Buck Naked Ambition

If you’d rather listen to this story, check out this episode of the podcast. 1981. Although it was fall, it felt like winter

True Crime: Rapper’s Delight

If you’d rather listen to this story, check out this episode of the podcast. In January of 1980, just one week into