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Iowa town's claim to gaming fame gets cornier

An Iowa burg continues to insist that it is, indeed, the Video Game Capital of the World. This weekend the town of Ottumwa will induct game luminaries into its International Video Game Hall of Fame.
Image: Crowd of video game enthusiasts in Ottumwa, Iowa.
The good folks of Ottumwa, Iowa, insist their town really is the video game capital of the world. And to prove it, they're inducting the first round of video game luminaries into their new International Video Game Hall of Fame. Key players in the town's gaming history include, in the foreground, Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day (left), classic game champ Steve Sanders (center) and Billy Mitchell (right), the first person to achieve a perfect "Pac-Man" score. Rodney White / The Des Moines Register

Call me biased, after all, I do live in Seattle. But I'm not the only gamer who's wondering where Ottumwa, Iowa gets off calling itself "The Video Game Capital of the World."

This weekend, the city — which, yes, was something of an arcade gaming hub waaaaaay back in the early 1980s — will celebrate the first inductions into its new International Video Game Hall of Fame.

That's right, the International Video Game Hall of Fame. In Iowa.

The Hall of Fame's "Grand Induction Ceremonies" will take place Saturday as part of a four-day video game festival also taking place in Ottumwa (population 25,000). The Big Bang festival runs Thursday through Sunday.

Twenty-nine video game creators and visionaries, as well as high-score holders, will be inducted to the Hall of Fame. Among them: Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo mastermind behind such famed games as "Donkey Kong" and "Super Mario Bros."; Seamus Blackley from the Xbox design team; "Galaga" champion Andrew Laidlaw; and "Spy Hunter" champion Paul Dean.

One game will also be inducted: "Pac-Man."

Meanwhile, both Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell — stars and rivals from the — will both be honored as "Champions of the Arcade Age." (Check out the complete list of inductees .)

It was a year ago that a group of Ottumwa citizens and city officials to make their town the video game capital of the whole dang universe and to open an associated hall of fame.

According to these folks, Ottumwa "is recognized as the historical birthplace of organized, competitive video game playing" thanks to Twin Galaxies arcade and the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard.

A travelling salesman by the name of Walter Day opened the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa in 1981, and it soon became a hot spot for competitive arcade and pinball gaming. Day also founded the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard, which kept meticulous track of pinball and video game scores. You can read all the history you want at the Twin Galaxies website and at the .

Day recently told the Des Moines Register that he thinks big things are in store for the Video Game Capital of the World and its International Video Game Hall of Fame.

"I have a vision of 100,000 people coming to Ottumwa every year for a four- or five-day event," he said. "I want it to be a major cultural event nationally and internationally. People will plan their vacations around coming to Ottumwa to visit this hall of fame."

As for this year's inaugural event, the Register reports that Namco Bandai, keepers of the Pac-Man flame, will be sending a team from its American offices — including the official traveling Pac-Man mascot. Nintendo's Miyamoto, however, will not be turning up in Iowa, though he did send the organizers a letter thanking them for the recognition.

While I'm all for the celebration of video games and the honoring of video game legends and pioneers, still ... when it comes to video gaming, certainly Seattle or perhaps some city in California or, you know, pretty much any burg in South Korea has far more right to "The Video Game Capital of the World" title here in the year 2010. I mean, Ottumwa, Iowa? The '80s are long gone, my friends.

Bragging rights are a sensitive thing in the world of video games. In this case, the grumbling can be heard the Net over.

"It's some podunk town in middle-of-nowhere Iowa using a video game score-keeping company (which, in itself, is irrelevant due to the Internet and online leaderboards) to generate money from tourists," wrote a commenter going by the name Kanji08 "The whole thing is a joke."

But not everyone has a problem with the little town taking on such a big title.

"I, for one, am sick of every single gaming event being held in California, New York, Boston, Chicago, etc (but mostly Cali, or worse, overseas)," wrote a Kotaku commenter called Kovitlac. "I think this is fantastic, and I really hope to make it over there fairly soon."

Kovitlac added, "Not everything has to happen in some huge, inflated city with an equally inflated ego."

Touché Kovitlac, touché. And ouch.

You can find Winda playing video games in the other Video Game Capital of the World (aka Seattle) or follow her virtually on Twitter.