Gamer Loses Decades Old Atari Dragster Guinness World Record Over Cheating Allegations


For more than 35 years, nobody has been able to post a faster speed run in Dragster, a racing game for the Atari 2600, than the 5.51 seconds that had been officially recognized as the record by the game's publisher, Activision, along with The Guinness Book of World Records and Twin Galaxies, a gaming organization that tracks video game world records. However, the record has not been without controversy, and Twin Galaxies has decided to remove the score on allegations of cheating.

This story begins way back in 1982 when a man named Todd Rogers submitted a Polaroid to Activision showing his score time of 5.51 seconds. Activision later published the score as being confirmed in its official newsletter, and in 2001 it was also entered into the Twin Galaxies database. Sometime later, Guinness World Records also decided to recognize the score, seemingly cementing his legacy as the greatest Dragster player of all time.

In the years and decades that followed his initial record submission, Rogers would submit several other scores to Twin Galaxies, including a score of 65 million points in Centipede. He also held high scores in Skiing, Stampede, and Grand Prix. This all led to a bit of media attention and considerable buzz in the retro gaming community, with Rogers being featured in magazines and making special appearances at various events.

However, the Dragster score of 5.51 seconds has long been under suspicion, and more recently came under official dispute. A thread on Reddit that was started 8 years ago makes several claims against the record, including that an analysis of the game's code reveals that it is technically impossible to achieve a score of 5.51 seconds. Twin Galaxies investigated and ultimately came to the same conclusion.

"The presented software analysis model concluded that achieving score times of less than 5.57 seconds is not possible under standard and normal play conditions. Further evidence has been presented in this investigation from numerous credible sources confirming the veracity of this software model and analysis conclusion," Twin Galaxies said.

In addition, Twin Galaxies said it received "compelling and relevant" circumstantial evidence of impropriety, and as such has decided to remove not just the Dragster score, but all scores submitted by Todd Rogers. It also issued a lifetime ban against Rogers from participating in any of its competitive leaderboards.

"We cannot change Activision's acknowledgement of this score but we have an overall responsibility for gaming achievements and can no longer accept their historical records as the sole justification for scores set at the time. We were not there, can not find any of the evidentiary materials they used at the time to confirm the score, and could not find anyone who would on-the-record testify that they directly saw the evidence that was presented to Activision," Twin Galaxies added.

While the stripping of the record and ban are both new developments, this has been a controversy for some time now. Rogers had previously explained that he was able to best the computer in Dragster by starting races in second gear and popping the clutch right as the timer hits zero. He also disputes the evidence in how the best score possible could be achieved.

"There’s like nine ways to shift in Dragster—and I don’t share that with too many people—but [Koziel is] going on one specific pattern where you stay in first gear and second gear quite a bit of time," Rogers told Kotaku. "I could sit in front of a TV right now and play for an hour straight and get 650 different types of play and it would never be the same. If [Koziel’s] basing his spreadsheets and his shifting on one particular pattern, then that’s pretty ignorant and closed-minded, because you’re not factoring in the human element of how the game would respond."

While attaining record setting runs is not easy, the best way for Rogers to make his case is to post another run with video evidence, one that comes in lower 5.57 seconds, which is said to be the fastest time a human can achieve without cheating.

Top Image Source: Neo Zone