Lauren Featherstone played her first arcade game in 2015. Less than two years later, she holds the world record for one, on a machine that is 10 years older than she is.
After a 24-hour marathon session at Free Play Arcade in Arlington, the 24-year-old from Plano set a score of 14,000,600 points on the 1983 arcade classic Tapper, blowing well past the previous world record of 10,361,550.
She was surrounded by friends -- some of whom stayed up with her for the entire daylong event -- as well as a number of onlookers who were watching her play live on Twitch.tv. They offered support with words of encouragement and with stat tracking (her score actually went far higher than the game is capable of showing on-screen) and by making sure nobody in the arcade got too close or ruined her concentration.
Tapper comes in two primary versions: Root Beer Tapper (you know, the family-friendly one) and a version that has Budweiser branding plastered all over it. The game is simple: You are a bartender who wants to slide full glasses of beer to incoming customers while taking care to not let empty glasses fall to the ground. If you feel lucky, you can run down the bar to pick up tips for extra points.
Featherstone doesn't fit the stereotypical "gamer" mold. The University of Texas at Dallas graduate is a yoga and fitness instructor, a student pilot, and doesn't spend most of her free time playing video games.
"I didn't have any arcade experience," she told me over the phone on the day before her world record run. "I'm not of a generation where arcades were still alive when I was a kid. So it wasn't until Free Play [in Richardson] opened that I even saw most of these arcade games. Tapper is just a pretty fun, pretty simple concept. It was pretty accessible. I like those games where you have one goal and you just work level-by-level."
But what got her most attached to the game, she said, is that she realized she was pretty good. She didn't go into the arcade with the mind-set of being the best player in any of the games, but within a few months other people were starting to notice that she was a natural.
"I started reaching levels other people had never seen before," she says. People started referring to her as the "Tapper Queen," which was a title she didn't expect to earn.
Free Play Arcade has an official community Facebook page on which players keep track of the highest scores for each game set by players locally at the arcade's two locations. "Through that, I realized I had the highest score of anybody in the nearby arcade community," Featherstone says. "So I said, whoa, [the record] might be a real possibility."
She's so good, in fact, that skill was never really anyone's concern when it came to whether or not she could set the world record. Instead, it was a test of endurance for both Featherstone's body and the body of the 35-year-old arcade machine. She never sought outside tips for the game itself, but she got plenty of advice on how to make it through a 24-hour gaming session. One suggestion she took advantage of was to wear glasses, because contacts dry out.
And then there's the tricky question of bathroom breaks. How do you keep a game going when nature calls? The answer, as it turns out, it pretty simple on paper: Just build up extra lives.
"Say I have 12 lives," she says. "When I go to the bathroom, I lose four to six lives. When I come back, the game's not over." She did, however, make sure she was conscious of how much water she was drinking throughout the day.
While her score has been noted and her entire play session is saved on video, is her record official yet? She and the people in the Free Play community group are working to get the score recognized by Twin Galaxies, the long-running arbiter of video game high scores that is trusted by Guinness World Records for game-related feats. But the organization has encountered many noticeable hiccups in recent years, so getting Featherstone's score acknowledged might take a bit of time.
Chris Delp, community liaison for the Free Play Community Group and one of Featherstone's biggest supporters during her run, is optimistic, and he's determined to make sure she's recognized for her accomplishment. "I can tell you with every fiber of my being that Lauren just smoked the world record on all the settings listed as standard and an original machine," he tells me over Facebook. "She's the best. She did it live in front of a crowd, streamed on the internet, exactly at the time she said she would. She is the real deal and I couldn't be more proud of her."
You can watch Lauren Featherstone's full world record run on Twitch.
Correction at 5:57: An earlier version of this story stated that Featherstone was 25. She is 24.