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San Jose Rockage Festival Brings Old-School Gaming and Chip Music to Silicon Valley

In Culture, Music

Ghost Chasers

Silicon Valley was home not just to the companies that made the games, but also to the world’s first and best video-game players.

A famous photo shot for Life magazine in 1982 featured the world’s top arcade players, including Todd Walker of Milpitas. Walker competed in the first “Video Game World Championship,” held on the TV show That’s Incredible in 1983.

Walker came in second, but in the 2007 documentary Chasing Ghosts, the player who won, Ben Gold, basically admits that his victory was a total fluke.

“Todd was the best player,” Gold admits in the film. “At that point in time, he was the best player in all of the United States.”

Crashfaster

CRASHING THROUGH Morgan Tucker, a.k.a. Crashfaster, is largely credited with fostering the rising Bay Area chiptune scene.

Walker was on the first U.S. National Video Game Team, also founded in 1983, with Eric Ginner of Mountain View and Mark Bersabe of San Jose, among others.

One of their teammates was Billy Mitchell, who went on to cult fame in another arcade-nostalgia documentary, The King of Kong, as the supposedly ruthless and Machiavellian player obsessed with holding on to his decades-old world-record score on Donkey Kong.

Competitive video gaming remains popular, and there will be tournaments at this weekend’s Rockage festival. One of those competing is Alex Esquivel, a gaming devotee who competes in tournaments for Street Fighter and other fighting games.

At only 29, Esquivel missed the golden age of the arcade, but he did spend a lot of time catching up on his Nintendo, and in the arcades still scattered around the Bay Area.

“When I was a kid, I used to beat all the older kids,” Esquivel recalls. “As I got older, I met more people and played with them. There’s sort of an underground scene that has a bunch of really dedicated players.”

More importantly, Esquivel will also be performing at Rockage, under his stage name A. Rival. He is best known for his chiptune music, like his 8-bit cover of Busta Rhymes’ “Break Ya Neck.” His most recent release was a tribute to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for which he plans to release an actual game as a companion piece.

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