Page 5 of 7
On opening day, Sanders expected a huge crowd, but when he looked away from his own game, he noticed rows of unmanned machines.
"I don't know if it was tremendous mismanagement or what," Day says. "I don't know what happened."
The show stayed open for five days. As their chance to be rock stars floundered, the players took out their frustrations on Sanders.
"We couldn't pick on Riley, so we picked on Steve. 'Steve, what are you doing? When are we going to get something to eat?'" Mitchell says. "At one point, when he knew it was going to end, he spoke to his dad about taking over the Circus. As a kid, you have big ambitions, but that was absurd."
Fewer than 2,500 people attended the show at $9 a ticket. The players never made it to the next city.
The cost of their plane tickets home, along with other expenses, was deducted from their pay.
Sanders couldn't accept his fate. For two weeks, he hunkered in the attic above Twin Galaxies, home to a rotating cast of Day's players, trying to figure out his next move.
"I still remember waking up in this filthy room at 6 a.m. one morning," he says. "The carpets were all shaggy. There were cockroaches running around. It was like God spoke to me at that moment and said, 'What are you doing here? You're wasting your life. Go back to school and make something of yourself.' That was the end of me trying to be a professional gamer."
He stayed out of it for more than 20 years.
Most people felt the same way he did. Arcades closed all across the country, including Twin Galaxies on March 6, 1984, though Day continued to organize competitions under the name. Mitchell managed to survive, becoming the face of classic gaming. He also started the successful Rickey's World Famous Restaurants and line of hot sauces.
Chasing Ghosts premiered in December on Showtime. The documentary focuses on every player at the Life photo shoot and the adults they became.
"That one, I'm not happy about," Sanders says. "There's a scene they promised me wasn't going to be in the movie. They kept having me tell this story about trash talking back and forth with Billy and getting me to re-create it, and they got a shot of me saying a cuss word I said back then. I'm not happy about that. I don't cuss. That's just not me, and I don't want my kids thinking it is."
He has received a half-dozen fan letters — and one telling him that he's worthless — from people who have seen The King of Kong. That film casts Mitchell as a mustache-twirling villain against nice-guy challenger Steve Wiebe in the battle over Donkey Kong's world record. Sanders is there as Mitchell's right-hand man, who comes to respect Wiebe's dedication and spirit. The movie was a hit with critics and earned as much money as documentaries typically earn.
"It created a whole new wave of rivalry between people. People go insane over it," Day says. As far as Sanders' role, he says, "That story will be remembered and written about as one of the most astounding tales of human nature, rivalry and strangeness."
Sanders is less philosophical.
"That's a very, very heavily edited movie. But I'm an attorney. I appreciate crafting a narrative, and they did it very well. It's just not truthful."