The Ottumwa Courier

January 16, 2014

Video game record still resonates

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Thirty years later, that one quarter is still shaking things up for Tim McVey.

The former Ottumwa teen has received a ton of attention over the video game record he set here in the '80s. Now he's being recognized again.

This week is the 30th anniversary of McVey's 1984 record-breaking game in Ottumwa, where he walked into an arcade, put a single quarter in the machine and walked out with the first billion-point arcade game in history.

"Playing at Walter Day's original Twin Galaxies arcade ... the feat would make national news and resulted in the city of Ottumwa to hold a civic day in his honor."

That's how the event was written up in a recent article by video game media personality Patrick Scott Patterson, based near Dallas, Texas. Patterson has had his own video game record fame and has been to Ottumwa; he's worked with well-known video game innovator Walter Day.

Soon, it will be the 30th anniversary of former Mayor Jerry Parker's proclamation.

"That was actually on the Jan. 28," McVey's wife, Tina, told the Courier Thursday.

"I had no clue this was happening," McVey told Patterson in their interview. "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 downtown 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."

Tina said Patterson has interviewed Tim in the past. So with all the video game news out there, what fascinates Patterson about the Ottumwa story of Tim McVey Day?

"Tim's historic run made waves at the time by showing that the then-struggling video game market still had life in it," Patterson told the Courier Thursday. "Today, in a world surrounded by technology, with eSports getting bigger every day, his accomplishment stands as a historic first that the public should know."

They will again, said Tina.

"For four or five years, some producers in California, actually got a hold of Tim [through Walter Day] and have come out to do a short documentary on Tim. One was a producer on Battlestar Galactica and the other one produced [the science fiction show] Eureka," she said.

The title is "Man Versus Snake: The Long, Twisted Tale of Nibbler."

"They just finished the last segment and went back to California. They're hoping to have it done in time for the Sundance Film Festival," Tina said.

For her part, she said, she discovered her husband's fame by accident. They were engaged at the time.

"We were going through some boxes, and I said, 'What's this?'"

"This" was the key to the city, as well as reports about her husband's accomplishment.

"He said, 'Oh, it's something I did when I was a kid,' and I said, 'Are you kidding me?' Now, what we have up on the wall, I put up."

Even the documentary production came as a surprise to Tim.

"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," Tim told Patterson. "It's been an interesting ride since. Unforgettable doesn't begin to cover it."

For the rest of Patterson's article, as well as more about video games, visit

— Follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter @couriermark