We often use vague catchall words to describe careers in gaming: developer, designer, producer. But those words don’t tell much of a story. What’s Your Line? is an interview series designed to demystify the people who make their living in games.
Fact: Gameological Society editor John Teti is a world record breaker. In 2010, he racked up 10,290 Xbox Live Gamerscore points in just 24 hours, a feat that made it into the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition. The Gamer’s Edition was launched as a spinoff of the original book in 2008. It’s packed with more than just high-scores and speed runs—ever wondered just how big the world’s biggest controller is, who’s the oldest beat-em-up fighter, or which is the most illegally downloaded game*?
Gareth Deaves has. As the gaming editor at Guinness World Records, it’s his job to know the answers to these questions. He took a break from working on the sixth edition of the Gamer’s book to tell The Gameological Society about why he got involved, how the book is put together, and what it takes to be a record breaker.
(Full disclosure: the author of this article is also a record breaker, holding the title of longest-serving contributor to the Gamers’ Edition. Also: John’s record has since been broken by a Canadian called Jason.)
The Gameological Society: How did you become the gaming editor for Guinness World Records? Have you always been a gamer?
Gareth Deaves: Absolutely, yes. I always owned just about every video games console, and I still spend way too much time gaming. I came into the industry through working in PR agencies and ended up writing games reviews. Then I found out Guinness World Records were looking for someone to research and write rules for new video gaming records. I’ve been in charge of the last three books and we’re just working on the next one. It’s fantastic to be able to work in an industry and with a hobby that I enjoy so much.
Gameological: Would you describe yourself as a competitive gamer? Have you always been into getting high scores and breaking records?
Deaves: I’m the kind of person who will have 10 or 11 games on the go at the same time—one on each platform and a couple on my phone. I’m more of an ADD gamer rather than an OCD gamer. The OCD guys are the kind of guys who tend to apply to us here, saying, “I’ve got this amazing thing I can do on such-and-such a game.” They’ve focused on that and practiced, and they’ve gotten really good at one particular thing. One thing that came in this morning, actually, is someone who’s aiming for a kill screen on Donkey Kong on the NES. Donkey Kong is a very well-known as a high-score-chasing arcade game, due to the King Of Kong movie. It turns out there’s actually a kill screen on the NES version as well, which no one has ever managed to get to.
Gameological: If nobody’s ever been able to reach that screen, how does anyone know it exists?
Deaves: They run it in emulators, and it’s been reached through tool-assisted runs. That’s where your gameplay inputs are recorded, and you can reverse, like in the Prince Of Persia games. So you can record a perfect run where you don’t die at any point. In the NES version of Donkey Kong, once you get to the 122nd level, the whole game breaks. It’s been done tool-assisted, but never by a human. In contrast, the arcade game breaks at level 22. That gives you an idea of how insanely hard it is for the guy who thinks he will be able to get it in public. And that’s pretty exciting for guys like me.
Gameological: What was the thinking behind the decision to launch a gamer’s version of the Guinness Book Of Records?
Deaves: Everyone we spoke to who loved the Guinness World Records books loved video gaming. Some of them also loved sport, or movies, or natural sciences, but they all loved video gaming. So it came about as a celebration of all the awesome stuff that’s happened in video gaming over the last 12 months. We sell roughly half a million copies every year, which is a phenomenal achievement considering it’s said people aren’t spending enough money on video games now. I think it’s a cool thing for people to have lying around on their coffee table. I’ve heard people call it the best toilet book for a gamer.
Gameological: You should put that on the front cover.
Deaves: We’ve had discussions about it, but it hasn’t been approved just yet.
Gameological: It’s not just high scores that feature in the book.
Deaves: No, it’s anything that can be counted or measured about gaming. The fastest-selling, best-selling, most critically acclaimed, number of characters or levels or guns—that last one is held by Borderlands, because of the possible combinations there. We did actually count them.
Gameological: How do you come up with ideas for records?
Deaves: Sometimes people will approach us. Fan communities are a huge source of input. Likewise, we’ll go out and talk to publishers and developers. I think the weirdest one was someone who wanted to take World Of Warcraft: The Frozen Throne completely seriously by playing it in a block of ice. We rejected it on the basis that it was a little specific. We do have endurance records for all kinds of games—people staying up for very long periods of time playing video games, that kind of stuff. It’s not something that’s ever been a problem. People will do this stuff whether or not we monitor it. Our role is to see what’s going on out there and tell everyone about it. The frozen throne was probably the silliest. We do get the occasional “I want to play Halo in my underpants” and those kind of things.
Gameological: Why reject that one?
Deaves: There’s nothing wrong with playing Halo in your underpants, but you’d have to beat the overall Halo record. We don’t care what you’re wearing.
Gameological: What’s your favorite record in the book?
Deaves: In the 2012 book, it has to be the record set by a guy called Jesse Moerkerk from the Netherlands. He’s an enormous guy, about six-foot-five and probably 19 stone [266 pounds], with a Dutch beard. He played Super Mario Galaxy 2 in one of those vertical sky-diving wind tunnels. He managed to get through most of the first world and beat the first boss. It took him about 18 minutes. It was incredible to watch the level of skill required, him hovering in the air with the Wii remote fluttering in his hands. He looked absolutely exhausted when he came out. He said it was like doing one continuous press-up the entire time.
Gameological: Would you say he’s a typical Guinness World Record breaker? Do you find they tend to have a particular mentality or personality type?
Deaves: It varies. Some of the most impressive records have been done by one person with bloody-minded determination. Or small groups of gamers, five or six guys who’ve played together for years. Another great example is the handheld game console party—over a thousand people playing Mario Kart together. That’s one of the most positive faces of gaming for me, and I really like that we’re able to be a part of that.
Gameological: What about when things go wrong? What happens when you go to watch a person try to achieve this goal they’ve spent years practicing for, and they fail?
Deaves: It’s incredibly awkward. As Guinness World Records, we have to remain impartial. We have to make sure the rules are stuck to at all times, otherwise the record doesn’t have any value the next time it’s attempted. I have had to reject many records during my career. It never gets any easier.
Gameological: Do you commiserate, or do you just walk away, professional and stony-faced?
Deaves: It’s more of the second one. If the person is already at the fail stage there’s nothing I can do, so it’s often best to step away. It’s harsh, but if they’re attempting the record, they’ve got the right kind of support around them. They’ve got their friends and family there. They’d much rather be talking to them than dealing with some guy from Guinness World Records.
Gameological: How do you get to be a Guinness World Records adjudicator?
Deaves: They usually start off as record managers, like I did. Record managers research and approve records—they check out the evidence, interview witnesses, review video footage and so on. We have very strict rules in place, and if there are any doubts the record will be rejected. The onus is on the people attempting the record to make sure everything about it is proven.
Gameological: What’s a typical day in the office like? I imagine you come into work to find the world’s tallest man sitting in reception, the world’s most tattooed lady coming out of the loo.
Deaves: We did have the world’s loudest burper in this morning, Paul Hunn. His burp really sounds nothing like a burp at all, but we’re confident he’s not just shouting.
Gameological: How do you know he’s the world’s loudest burper?
Deaves: We have a decibel meter in the office. We have very strict guidelines for how far from the floor it has to be, how far away from it he’s allowed to stand. We set it up in a soundproof room.
Gameological: So it’s not just parked between the photocopier and the fax machine?
Deaves: No. Today he was coming in for a meeting, and he couldn’t resist having a quick belch because that’s his thing. He needs to stay in shape. It takes a lot to shock the guys in this office. A very loud burper is probably a raised eyebrow at best. Much more exciting for me is when our gaming record holders come in. During the book launch we had Sami Cetin, the Mario Kart world record holder. He’s a fantastic guy, an incredible self-publicist and a very committed gamer. I once went six rounds with Ryan Hart, the Street Fighter record holder. It was like being in a cage with a bear. He wouldn’t let up at all. When I picked up the controller I thought, “You know what? Every dog has his day. Maybe I’ll get a few hits in on Ryan Hart.” It was embarrassing that I’d even thought that. It was horrible.
Gameological: Did you actually try to play Street Fighter properly or did you just press all the buttons really fast? That’s a technique I’ve had some success with myself.
Deaves: I did have a crack at that. The unpredictability does help to rattle some pro players. But the mistakes I made were so heavily punished that it became non-functional pretty quickly.
Gameological: You’ve met a lot of video game record breakers. What conclusions have you come to about what motivates them?
Deaves: I’ve found that most of the very successful gamers connect with the gameplay features of a particular game. Like Sami with Mario Kart. There will be something about the physical act of controlling that world they find completely compelling, so that it excludes a lot of other things they might be interested in. For example, if you want to catch Sami Cetin in public any time soon, head down to Nintendisco, the gaming club night in London. You won’t find Sami at the bar or hanging around talking to people, but playing Mario Kart on the big screen. He’s a pretty popular guy down there, and I think that’s why he keeps coming back.
Meeting the best gamers in the world is the best thing about my job. As someone who’s played video games [my] whole life, these guys are heroes to me. There’s still a stigma about gaming in some circles, and I’m proud I can give these guys the respect they deserve.
Gameological: What would you say to someone who thinks they have what it takes to become a record breaker? What do they need to do?
Deaves: Get creative. Think of something that’s cool, that’s difficult, that no one has done before. Then make sure you can get really, really good at it. Guys like Sami Cetin play for hours. I’d guess he’s probably logged 5,000 or 6,000 hours on Mario Kart over the course of his life. Be prepared to fight hard for your record. Don’t be afraid to go a little bit crazy, because there’s a chance you can create a whole new record that other people will compete for later. Just make sure you’re ready to defend it.
* World’s biggest controller: The NES controller created by engineering student Ben Allen, which measures 12’ x 5’3” x 1’8.” Oldest beat-’em-up fighter: Superman, who appeared in Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe. Most pirated game: StarCraft II: Wings Of Liberty. All records taken from the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition 2012.