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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Search on for king of Pong
Pong was one of the first popular videogames back in the 1970s
Contenders are flexing their fingers and honing their reactions in preparation for the ultimate video game challenge - Belfast's World Pong Championships.

It's not a real international competition but the prize up for grabs is the machine on which the games are being played - an original 1970s Pong cabinet.

For the uninitiated, the idea of Pong is that two players try to get a ball - or rather, a square white blob - past the other using vertically scrolling paddles.

And it's all in glorious black and white.

In the third annual event which is part of the city's film festival, 42 challengers will line up to do battle in a knockout tournament on Wednesday.

Appropriately for a game conceived by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to be so simple that "any drunk in any bar" could play it, the competition is being held at the John Hewitt Bar in the city centre.

Organiser Daniel Jewesbury, who will be providing a commentary on the action, said it was "really just a fun event".

His group, Cinilingus, organises film screenings at venues across the city.

"We decided a couple of years back that this would be a good counterpoint to the more serious stuff," he told BBC News Online.

They want to return to the purer form of Pong
Daniel Jewesbury
Event organiser
Mr Jewesbury said one particular contender had previous form.

"One of the contestants is the 1979 Australian Pong champion, so he's a bit of a veteran."

Compared to modern games consoles like Xbox or PlayStation 2, Pong now looks pretty basic but this simplicity could explain its enduring popularity.

Part of it is a sense of nostalgia for something which once seemed so futuristic, but Mr Jewesbury said not all the competitors were middle-aged gamers reliving their youth.

"I guess it attracts people of a certain age, who remember playing it the first time around and want to hone their skills again, having seen more recent and less interesting games," he said.

"They want to return to the purer form of Pong.

"It's a pretty wide age range - I suppose the lower age range is not 15 or 20-year-olds, but maybe a bit older, in their mid-20s."

Mr Jewesbury said they had to make a big effort to find a vintage Pong cabinet to offer as a prize.

"Each year we have to track one down - we get them from looking around on the internet and other places," he said.

A few places are still available on the night for anyone wanting to have a go at being crowned Belfast's world pong champion.

Addicts will want to get in a whole year's practice on their own machine ahead of the next tournament.

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