The launch of the Guinness World Records 2009: Gamer's Edition last month brought video gaming out into the fresh air and broke a world record into the bargain. A motley crew of gamers, alongside Tomb Raider's Lara Croft (played by model Alison Carroll), hurtled through the cold, crisp air of central London at 57mph on a mobile gaming rig – achieving the fastest recorded speed for someone playing a video game.
The game mobile, a large office desk on four wheels powered by a Rover Metro 1400 engine, was created by British inventor Edd China, 37. "People associate video gaming with being locked up in a room, isolated from the world," he said. "So I wanted to create a vehicle that made gaming interactive and put gamers out on the road."
One of the gamers on board the rig was James Richards, 20. In August last year, the avid gamer, from Maidstone, Kent, set the record for the fastest completion of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, in 49 minutes, 17 seconds. "I applied to do the challenge through the Guinness World Records website," he says. "Then I had to arrange to have seven or eight people come to my flat to verify that I'd achieved my record."
While it's OK to invite friends round to watch your record attempt, Guinness World Records (GWR) requires that you also have two professionals (small-business owners or video-game shop managers are ideal) who are prepared to testify that your claim is above-board. "One of my witnesses was a writer for a video-game website," says James.
He also had to make sure his bid for record-breaking stardom was photographed and recorded on video. "Once I'd succeeded in the challenge, I mailed all the documentation and recorded material to Guinness World Records," he recalls. "Eight weeks later, I got a letter saying I'm a world record holder."
Like the ever-popular Guinness World Records book itself, the Gamer's Edition is fast becoming an institution – with many hailing it as the "gamer's bible". The first edition came out in 2008 and set the ultimate benchmark for gaming achievement. At last, video gamers had an easy reference book cataloguing the scores they needed to beat to become the best in the world.
Like its predecessor, the 2009 edition is crammed full of fascinating facts, figures and pictures. It's an enjoyable read, too, covering everything from the history of gaming and gaming genres to interviews with developers and champion players.
The Gamer's Edition also includes the "Top 50 best console games of all time", as voted for by the GWR team and the various gaming consultants who contributed to the book. The list has caused some uproar among hardcore gamers. "We've had gamers asking how it can possibly be a definitive list," says Gaz Deaves, gaming specialist at Guinness World Records. "Our experts used their knowledge to compile what they considered to have been the most relevant console games ever. People are bound to disagree. But they can cast their own vote at gamers.guinnessworldrecords.com and we'll include the results in the next edition."
The Gamer's Edition originally came about after the team at GWR asked young people in the UK, Europe and America what records they'd like to see featured in the main Guinness World Records. "It turned out almost all of them played video games as a hobby and many said that's what they'd like to see more of," says Guinness World Records' editor-in-chief, Craig Glenday. "We decided to create a book devoted to gaming, so that gamers and their achievements could get the same recognition as other Guinness world records."
But Guinness world records aren't just about speed records or high scores; they're also about endurance. In March 2008, for example, a now-defunct UK-based gaming trio known as the Frag Dolls set the record for the longest marathon on a first-person-shooter game. They played Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 on the Xbox 360 for a sleep-defying 24 hours and four minutes.
The challenge was held in Newbury as part of the UK's largest multiplayer gaming event – the i33. With only occasional toilet breaks, the three had to eat and drink at their consoles, while trying to duck virtual bullets from terrorists and dish out fire-power themselves. "It was incredibly tiring," says former Frag Doll member Kirsten Kearney, a games reviewer and founder of gaming site Ready-Up.net. "After the first 12 hours, I couldn't see, I couldn't think. But then I got a second wind and thought I could play it for weeks."
Her advice to anyone thinking of attempting a similar challenge is to prepare psychologically. "Within three hours you'll be thinking to yourself, 'I can't do this,'" she says. "What you're fighting is your own doubt, because what you're attempting is not an impossibility. You really can do it. But you have to accept that you'll start off hugely enthusiastic and within a very, very short time you'll have convinced yourself that there's no way you can do it. It's all about getting past that hurdle."
Being a record-breaking gamer is also about dedication. Danny Johnson from Texas put in long hours on Guitar Hero and now he's a hero himself. At the Best Buy store in Midtown Manhattan on 4 February, the 13-year-old scored a staggering 973,954 points on Guitar Hero III – beating the previous high score by nearly 75,000 points. "Records are meant to be broken," he said after completing the game's toughest song, "Through the Fire and Flames", by metal outfit DragonForce.
He came within seconds of playing all 3,722 of the song's notes flawlessly, but at 3,558 his luck ran out when the blue button on his plastic guitar broke. "The bad blue key messed me up pretty bad," he says.
Danny puts in between one and three hours' practice on Guitar Hero a day, after finishing his school work. He advises aspiring Guitar Hero record breakers to "only hit the notes you know you can hit at first. Keep practising and you will get better."
If you think you've got what it takes to set a gaming record, go to gamers. guinnessworldrecords.com and stake your claim. Who knows, you might see yourself in the 2010 edition.
'Guinness World Records 2009 Gamer's Edition' (£15) is out now. To buy it at £13.50 with free P&P, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897 or visit independentbooks direct.co.uk
Another level: The worldbeaters
The game that beat an army
Created as a recruitment tool by the US Army, the PC/Xbox game 'America's Army' ( www.americasarmy.com ) has become a worldwide hit with gamers since its release in 2002. According to official estimates, 'America's Army' has been downloaded an incredible 42,611,601 times. In January 2007, the game recruited its eight millionth registered user, making the virtual "army" 15 times bigger than the actual US Army, which at the time had just 519,472 soldiers.
Jailed for playing Tetris
In September 2002, Faiz Chopdat from Blackburn was jailed for four months for playing 'Tetris' on his mobile phone while on a flight home, "endangering the safety of an aircraft". Cabin staff warned Chopdat twice to turn off the game and he was arrested on touching down in Manchester. "The consequences were potentially very serious," said the judge. "I think this offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified."
In 2004, students from New York University created Pac-Manhattan, a real-life re-enactment of the 1980s video-game sensation 'Pac-Man'. Participants, dressed as Pac-Man and the four ghosts, chased each other around the streets of Manhattan. Each player was teamed with a controller who communicated the player's positions using mobile phones. "Pac-Manhattan represented the first time that I've broken into what might charitably be described as a run in over two years," said player Mike Olson.
Dressed to impress
First it was 80 people on the Millennium bridge in London. Then it was 337 people at the Connichi show in Germany. But on 25 October 2008, the new record for the largest gathering of people dressed as video-game characters was broken yet again when 342 "cosplayers" gathered on the steps outside the London ExCeL centre as part of the London Games Festival. The record breakers were dressed in everything from 'World of Warcraft' armour and flowing 'Guitar Hero' metal-head wigs to sleek Lara Croft suits and revealing sci-fi costumes from 'Final Fantasy'.
The translation game
Hattrick ( www.hattrick.org ) is not only the world's largest online football-manager game, it's also the first online game to be translated into Friulian, a native language spoken by approximately 650,000 people in Friuli, an area in northern Italy. The game is free to play, though there is an optional premium Supporter Service as well as a Mobile Service, both available by in-game purchase. As with any manager game, the player must assign positions to the players and choose among some basic tactical and strategic options.