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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
New Pong king crowned
The grand prize was a vintage 1970s Pong arcade machine
After a hard-fought contest, the Belfast World Pong Championships have a new video game king.

It's not a real international event but 32 players turned up for the knockout tournament, determined to walk off with the coveted grand prize of an original 1970s Pong cabinet.

The third annual competition, run as part of the city's film festival, was won by a contender in his mid-20s known only by the mysterious nickname of Stoney.

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.

Based on table tennis but with primitive graphics and sound, it's all in glorious black and white.

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 was held at the John Hewitt Bar in the city centre on Wednesday.

Belfast author Bernard MacLaverty, who wrote the haunting novel Cal, was one illustrious contender.

He went out in the first round, beaten by the film festival's director Michelle Devlin.

Indeed, a few highly fancied candidates fell early as the beer began to flow more freely.

Early casualties included the winner of the first tournament in 2002 as well as the 1979 Australian Pong champion, an ex-pat living in Belfast.

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
Daniel Jewesbury
Pong commentator
Stephen Hackett, of Cinilingus, the alternative film and art group which organised the competition, said a lot of talented people turned up on the night.

"Maybe not so much talent for playing Pong though," he added.

Organiser Daniel Jewesbury, who provided a commentary on the action projected onto a big screen, said it was "really just a fun event".

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

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."

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.

With a whole year to practice on his own vintage Pong machine, it looks like the enigmatic Stoney will be the one they all have to beat next time around, as long as he stays relatively sober on the night.

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