Newsbytes: Billy Mitchell & Nolan Bushnell Controversies

arcadehero February 3, 2018 0
Newsbytes: Billy Mitchell & Nolan Bushnell Controversies

Well the end of this week turned into a weird roller coaster of news for arcade stuff. As the two main items ended up soaking up all my time, that’s all we’ll be discussing.

I’ve not personally met with or done business with either Mitchell or Bushnell, in case that disclaimer needs to be said.

Gamer Of The Century Billy Mitchell Accused Of Cheating On Certain Scores For Donkey Kong

UPDATE: Billy Mitchell has responded by appearing on an online show behind a paywall. As such, I don’t have the video of it yet, which is supposed to be uploaded to YouTube on Thursday. A user on the Twin Galaxies forums uploaded a partial transcript of the interview which is a bit long and covers other items, mainly that he has an attitude of all the press is good since he’s booking more deals than ever. To distill his defense for you, he is claiming that the video that the original accuser used for the analysis wasn’t Billy’s ; that Twin Galaxies has a video that should vindicate him in terms of showing a crowd and the images. Said video was not shown on the chat

Another claim against Mitchell is that the MAME pattern appears to be used in this video as well but is difficult to ascertain by just pausing a YouTube video and trying to go frame by frame. Mitchell mentions this video in the interview.

In My Opinion: I think that the best way to resolve any of this would be to have a second, independent analysis on it all. Not from Billy’s friends nor his haters, just someone without any monetary investment in it or an axe to grind. Also, I think that for any live events, the referees shouldn’t be “good friends” with Billy or any other competitor. The first KoK covered that somewhat bizarre setup for the competitive gaming circuit and I think that it taints the whole process.

Original Post: I saw this start to explode on social media the other day and was waiting to see if there was a response from Mr. Mitchell himself in regards to the issue but there is none I have seen at this moment in time. I want to be careful about this stuff as we’ll see in the next piece of news, Trial By Internet Witch Hunt is an extremely easy trap to fall into.

If you’re visiting AH, then you already know who Billy Mitchell is to some degree. Some love him, some hate him. To the former crowd, this allegation that he cheated on certain Donkey Kong scores by using MAME when he claimed he did them on a live machine is scandal; to the haters it’s vindication for ‘what they always knew to be true.’  Venture Beat has an article that distills some of the history along with the accusations.

That all said, the accusation is thoroughly detailed and documented here, showing comparisons between how MAME and a true arcade board will draw Donkey Kong’s screen; if MAME were used, it is easy to rewind and retry an attempt, thus making it possible to cheat. If true, this calls into question other non-refereed submissions but I am even seeing some say that all of his scores should be pulled regardless.

If Mr. Mitchell posts a defense to these accusations I’ll be sure to share them here. THere is another Kong Off coming up in April so if he goes, that would be a chance to show that he can

Nolan Bushnell Is Not The Harvey Weinstein Of Video Games

Unless you’ve been living in the wilderness without any internet access for about a year then you have heard about the “MeToo” movement that has rocked Hollywood in scandals over the improper use of a powerful position to get sexual favors in exchange for better acting jobs. Said movement has had it’s share of champions and critics but when trying to apply the same concepts to the arcade/video game industry, this one was way off the mark.

With Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, like Billy Mitchell he has his fans and his detractors. His contributions to the video game and arcade business are well-known so we don’t need to recap that.

Recently, the Game Developers Conference announced that it would be awarding Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell with a Pioneer award. This launched a “#NotNolan” hashtag campaign by Brianna Wu who alleged that because of the “MeToo” movement and certain stories surrounding the management of Atari in the 1970s, that it would be “wildly inappropriate” to give Bushnell such an award.

The Verge and Kotaku both ran articles carrying that same set of proxy accusations from Wu, the principle of which hinges on brief and somewhat vague descriptions of “hot tub board meetings” that are said to have taken place at Atari around 45 years ago. No one is condoning such meetings but by the descriptions there are many questions up in the air about them. Mainly was anyone threatened that they would lose their job if they didn’t participate? Who was “Ms. so and so”? Did she consent? If not, was she threatened or fired? Did she ever file a complaint? etc. etc. Without any first-hand accounts of a woman or women making such a claim, it leaves it as an apple to the orange of the situation surrounding Harvey Weinstein, who is the focus of criminal investigations for everything from harassment to rape (over a much longer period of time with dozens upon dozens of named accusers who have filed legal action against him).

What really bugs me about how this whole situation has shaken out so far, is that when you read those articles, notice that neither site nor the GDC bothered to reach out to women who worked at Atari to get their side of it.  Why wouldn’t you do that, especially when there is no first-hand accuser? Are the women who worked there with Bushnell not capable of providing a fair and accurate assessment of the events that they were present for?

It’s not so much about the award here – a man’s reputation is being smeared which can jeopardize his current (he’s a co-founder and is on the board of Modal VR) and potential future business dealings – something that matters to the livelihood of him and his family. In doing a current internet search of his name, the accusations are all that are getting attention, not any defense. No, we’re not in a court setting here but basic legal concepts such as presumption of innocence and the right to defend yourself against accusers still matters.

Fortunately Historian Curt Vendel noticed this and took action on his Facebook group Atari Museum to ask for comments from any women who did work at Atari during the Nolan days. It’s a closed group so you would only be able to see it if you are a member so I’ll share some of what is there.

Elaine Shirley was the first woman to comment on this as she provided a statement to Replay Magazine. Elaine joined the company in 1973 and stayed on at the coin-op division until 1999. She currently works at GlobalVR where she has been for many years.

Those were the times. He [Nolan Bushnell] hit on women and they hit on him. If the #MeToo movement was active when Atari was alive, I think half our company would be charged. To my knowledge, no one ever did anything they did not want to do.
“In truth,” Shirley continued, “I think there were at least the same or more aggressive women at the company. I am not condoning any inappropriate violations related to the #MeToo movement, but I think the movement needs to relate to the era in which the ‘violation’ occurred. However, there are some lines that can never be crossed (especially with children or sexual assaults) no matter what era it was.”
She continued that there was a time when two salesmen in the industry complemented her at a trade show, saying she had the “best legs in the industry.”
“That would not be acceptable now, but it did not bother me,” she said. “They should give Nolan the award,” she concluded.
I also briefly talked with Elaine about this in an email in regards to another issue and she reiterated to me that she never witnessed any non-consenual pressure around Mr. Bushnell (on the Facebook thread, she added “At Atari, there was NO hostile work environment.”) nor did she have any personal experiences that would have crossed a line.
Loni Reeder, Tanja King, Carol Kantor and Cecile Wood-Legullion all chimed in to share both positive stories of their time at the company and to speak out against the movement to tarnish Mr. Bushnell. Loni Reeder wrote the most detailed rebuttal, pointing out that she not only worked with Nolan at Atari but also was his business partner in the uWink venture some years ago and served as his publicist for a time. She refutted the claims with:
in this regard pertaining to Nolan – there is ZERO sexual assault or abuse – and the alleged journalist did not do their due diligence.

Using the ‘MeToo’ movement and a moment in time for which she [Wu] had no firsthand knowledge…………

And with zero complaints lodged against Nolan or complaints about the work culture by employees working at Atari during that time………..

And based on archival newspaper and magazine interviews with Nolan and others chatting about a work environment, time and culture that existed 40 years ago………

A work environment everyone – men and women – happily worked in TOGETHER… and partied in TOGETHER (or didn’t party in – there was no pressure and no judgement)…. an environment that has resulted in decades-long friendships, marriages, ‘little Atarians,’ business partnerships and frequent reunions……… providing us with amazing memories, and for most of us, spending the rest of our work careers attempting to replicate the MAGIC of the Camelot that we were lucky enough to work at.

By arming herself with a topical movement and being personally disgruntled and ‘offended’ by an environment existing 40 years ago which she played no part in – an environment she had ZERO first hand knowledge of………. and ‘intimating’ those of us who worked with or around Nolan, Al (Alcorn), the Gene’s (Lipkin and Landrum), Joe (Keenan), Steve (Bristow) and the rest of ‘Mahogany Row’ had been sexually assaulted, abused and disrespected by (in her estimation) abominations to the male species…….

Yes, based on her political aspirations, personal assumptions and libelous accusations against a man where no complaints have been raised or filed – she made a big, unfounded noise against Nolan – and the ‘Pioneer Award’ honor was withdrawn.

Atari was a large corporation with many facilities… but I worked in Corporate Headquarters, interfaced with every department in the company as a part of Communications, Security and Facilities groups……. and in being ‘adopted’ by the Coin-op and Industrial Design groups, I also spent a great deal of time in the Engineering (‘hot tub’) building, which would be the two locations where most of the fun and craziness occurred.

From my vantage point and having a first-person perspective of this time and the Atari environment, what has been done to Nolan is falsely mischaracterizing him for a lifestyle that did no harm or wrong to anyone.

Nolan created a company environment which opened the doors to many women into a field where they were never included before: HI TECH. Nolan never discriminated on any level and gave everyone a chance to prove on their own merits that they could be a part of Atari. From soldering boards to building arcade cabinets, drawing schematics and artwork to working on the assembly line.

For me personally, Nolan was the final word in my being hired at Atari – my first full-time job after college… he continued his belief in me years later, when we cofounded uWink in Los Angeles where I became an ‘equally compensated’ Vice President.

Nolan never profiled a person by their gender as to whether or not they were a fit for the job. He based his decision on the person’s skill, ability and passion for the job – because of that belief, we always rose to the occasion! We were a bonded teamship… AND A FAMILY.

Atari also saw a woman – the amazing Carol Shaw – go on to fame! [Carol Shaw is best know for River Raid, which she did while at Activison – Ed.]

For me, and I’m sure for other women who will weigh in……. while this ‘feminazi congresswoman wanna-be’ may believe she is doing ‘Atari womankind’ a favor, in reality, she has done us a disservice by creating victims where there were none.

Personally, I am extremely angered by her words and conduct in this matter… not just for Nolan, but for the women of Atari – all of us!

We ALL were, and remain to this day extremely strong and intelligent women…… and there isn’t any ‘man’ who would dare take advantage of us (not if they intended to procreate in the future!).

My other anger is the callous and unnecessary hurt I’m sure this matter has inflicted on Nancy and their kids and grandkids.

Finally… by not doing their due diligence before terminating the honor, the GDC did a disservice to Nolan, to my fellow Atarians – and to the truth.

Nolan was extremely gracious in this matter via his tweet… Hopefully the GDC will right this misstep on their part at some point in the future.

I likewise hope that the GDC comes to their senses on this issue but even if they don’t, it’s still important that people get the other side of the story beyond the clickbaits. I know that some ex-Atari staff have been by the site before – we’d be interested in hearing your input too. So far, the consensus I’ve read from people that know and have worked with him is that Nolan Bushnell wasn’t a saint but he is hardly the ‘scum of the earth’ either.
We’ll keep an eye on both issues and be sure to update in case there are any other major developments. What are your thoughts on these situations?



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