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During the filming, though, he and Mitchell started talking about the old days.
"And Billy says, 'Why don't you go after the Joust score again?' And I thought, why not."
Sanders had never gone soft on the joystick. He had always played games, even if not for fortune and glory. He just needed to practice a little more. And he needed to go to Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, home of Funspot.
"Funspot is Mecca," he says. "If you're going to get a high score, you have to do it in public now. If Tiger Woods shoots a 62 in his backyard, nobody cares. If he does it at Augusta, then it counts. That's Funspot."
His competitive spirit was wakened. In 2006, he went to Funspot and, with one of his former protégés, took the Joust doubles high score. But the single-player score remained elusive. Sanders managed only 800,500 points that year, giving him third place behind Don Morlan (who had scored 1,002,500 points in July 1984) and Donald Hayes (who would put up 1,219,000 in September 2008).
Occasionally, Sanders talks about another attempt at breaking the record. He still plays on his home machine, though not as many hours as he would need to commit for a serious run.
One Wednesday afternoon in December, The Pitch brokered a phone call between Sanders and Mitchell, who lives in Florida.
"Steve, I am so tired of hearing woulda, shoulda, coulda," Mitchell tells his old friend. "I am sick of it. So I'm giving you an ultimatum: 365 days from today. You have 365 days from now, and I'll give you a choice. Just like I did with Rob on his records."
"Who's Rob and what records?" Sanders says. He's laughing.
"I bet Rob $1,000 he couldn't — OK, look. I'm giving you one year from today to get the high score on Joust. Now you have an incentive. It's either $1,000, or if you feel like a weasel, a pizza."
"I have to pay you $1,000 if I do it?"
"If you don't do it. Or a pizza."
"I don't have the — "
"Buh! Buh! Buh!" Mitchell mocks Sanders' voice. "But I might decide to just do it. Buh!"
"I just don't care enough."
"Oh, you just don't care enough. Not even for a pizza?"
"I don't — "
"Do you want to wager or don't you?"
"OK, fine. I'll bet you for a pizza."
The irony is that it's now possible to have a career as a professional video-game player.
Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel is a perfect example. The 27-year-old Wendel, who is from south Kansas City, made his name playing first-person shooters (a genre that Day never approved of because of the blood-and-guts violence). Wendel plays these games so well that he has made more than $500,000 in tournament winnings. He has also started his own business, Fatal1ty Inc., selling his own brand of gaming equipment and clothes (Fear this Geek, January 12, 2006).
While Wendel appreciates what his predecessors attempted, he doubts that they would survive today's competition.
"You're playing against a computer, so you can learn the codes and what the program is set up to do. It's pretty easy to know what to do every single second," he says from his new apartment in Las Vegas. "It was really cool and competitive back then, but what I do today is competing, and against the best players in the world. You have to adapt and know what your opponent is thinking and evolve. I don't think competitive gaming really started until now. It's cool, though. I mean, it's cool to hear stories from back in the day."