David Race logs perfect Pac-Man game at 16-Bit Bar + Arcade

The Dayton native and Pac-Man world record holder accomplished the feat at the Downtown Columbus location in early November

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
David Race at 16-Bit Bar + Arcade

Growing up in Dayton, David Race would make summer treks with his father to watch the Cincinnati Reds play at the old Riverfront Stadium, though the true highlight of those trips were the stops the pair would make at Malibu Grand Prix, a now defunct family fun center.

“And I never rode the go-carts; I just played the arcade games,” Race said by phone from his home in Dayton earlier this week. “I’d say, ‘Does this one have a Pac-Man? Oh, there it is. I’m playing.’ It was like, ‘Forget the ballgame. Let’s just stay at the arcade.’”

This passion for video games, and Pac-Man in particular, remains undimmed in Race, 52, a competitive gamer who holds the world record for the fastest perfect game on a standard Pac-Man machine and is currently the top-ranked Pac-Man player on Twin Galaxies, the organization tasked with documenting and authenticating video game records.

Most recently, in early November, Race visited the Downtown Columbus location of 16-Bit Bar + Arcade, where he completed what he believes to be the first perfect score ever achieved on a “fast” Pac-Man machine. (There are two versions of the original arcade Pac-Man: the factory model and a “fast” version where the PCB board has been soldered in a particular spot, increasing the speed of the game play. “On a fast machine, [level] 16 plays like [level] 21,” Race said.)

Race, who described himself as both intensely competitive and protective of records related to Pac-Man, was inspired to take on the perfect game when another player claimed to have logged a perfect score on a “fast” machine during a video game convention. “And then footage came out that this person didn’t really play a perfect game, and that they were lying about it,” said Race, who has logged nine Pac-Man perfect scores in a tournament setting. “But he was claiming he played a perfect game, and he was trying to say no one else had ever done it. And I said, ‘You missed it by 5,000-plus points, and you want people to believe you got a perfect game.’ And that stuff doesn’t fly with me.”

So, on Nov. 9, Race traveled to Columbus and 16-Bit, where, over the course of five hours, 30 minutes and 28 seconds, he completed what he said is the first perfect game ever logged on a “fast” Pac-Man machine, somewhat to the consternation of bar staff, who allowed Race to linger 30 minutes after close as he pursued the feat. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m going to get this far and it’s going to end up where I’m going to have to quit my game or they’re going to turn the game off,” said Race, who later purchased lunch for the closing staff as a thank you for allowing him to complete his run.

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To achieve a perfect game in Pac-Man under tournament settings, a player must score 3,333,360 points, and Race said the key to achieving this score is to familiarize yourself with the recurring patterns that crop up from board to board. “The one thing I’d suggest for anyone who wants to attempt a perfect game, when you get to board 16 on a ‘fast’ machine or board 21 on a regular machine, don’t mix up your patterns. Choose a pattern and stick with it,” said Race, who achieved a perfect game in 2009, six hours after he fell 10 points shy on his first attempt. “Once you start, if you don’t, you can confuse patterns. … If you’re going on a speed run, there are certain patterns where the timing has to be perfect, and if you’re off a little bit or you break pattern, that can throw off your time, which can really throw a monkey wrench into it.”

While Race has the current record for fastest perfect game, he believes he could still shave a few minutes off that time should anyone surpass his record, which has now stood for eight years, though he currently has no plans to make such an attempt. “If someone comes out and beats my time, congratulations, more power to you,” he said. “But that would be the only reason why I would try to come out and do it faster. It doesn’t make sense for me to kill myself when I’m just competing against myself.”

In addition to Pac-Man, Race also enjoys playing Ms. Pac-Man, though record setting ventures on the gender-swapped machines are left more to chance, since the fruit power ups on each board are randomly generated, meaning one player could see a steady stream of cherries (100 points each) while another might see more bananas (5000 points each). Race currently has the third highest score logged on turbo speed, with 888,280 points.

Most times, Race said, playing Pac-Man feels like work, particularly when he’s appearing in tournaments or making runs at another world record. On occasion, though, he’s able to abandon these outside pressures, recalling the sensations he experienced in the early 1980s, when he encountered his first Pac-Man machine at a Lawson’s convenience store in Fairborn, Ohio. 

“Sometimes I feel that because I hold a world record in Pac-Man others expect you to always play perfectly,” Race wrote in a 2010 message board post. “I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubbles, but the closest I come to experiencing that thrill is when I DON’T do that. Taking risks, close calls, escaping, getting greedy.”

“When you pick it up spur-of-the-moment and you’re just messing around, that’s when it’s most fun for me,” Race said. “I was at 16-Bit last night for a photo shoot, and after I got done, we decided to play on the Ms. Pac-Man reunion machine, and I was just messing around, because I knew I wasn’t there trying to get a perfect game. And those are the times I enjoy Pac-Man most, when I’m not playing for anything.”