Q-Bert Champ Seeks Perfect Score

Most video game champions end up retiring long before they get their first real job.

However, The Early Show contributor Laurie Hibberd recently met a woman whose passion and skill for video games seems to only be improving with age. And, she's nearly 80.

For the "Young at Heart" series, Hibberd went to the classic video game championships in Laconia, N. H., where gaming wizards from across the country gathered to bump, flip, and shoot their way into the record books. Among them was 79 year-old Doris Self of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Her game of choice is Q-Bert.

She tells Hibberd, "Some of the younger kids memorize patterns and all, but I just sort of go with the flow."

Her technique may not be very complicated, but Self is no amateur. She's already listed among Q-Bert's top players in the official Video Game And Pinball Book Of World Records. Ranked No.1 in 1983, Self slipped to second just two years later. Now, after more than two decades, she's mounting a comeback.

The competitive spirit Self reveals in Q-Bert is more often seen during her card games. Self notes, "The girls who I bridge with think I'm nuts going down to the arcade to go play games with kids. 'What's the matter with you?'"

Long before Self was winning money at cards or spending it in the arcade, she was a pioneer in the airline industry, one of the original flight attendants for Eastern Airlines.

She says, "The plane I used to fly on is hanging from the ceiling" at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

It was during her Eastern Airlines career that Self met and married pilot Paul Self. They had two children and were married for 32 years until Paul died in 1980.

She says, "My daughter took me to a movie. I didn't have much to do because I had taken care of him for a good year before he died. And she walks up to a machine. I had never seen an arcade game before, and she said 'Mom, come here you'll get a kick out of this.' Famous last words - there I went."

Not only is Self still playing, but experts say she's at the top of her game.

"Doris is an exciting phenomenon," says classic video game scorekeeper, Walter Day. "Her skill set is even better. What she has done in practice has already been higher than 20-some years ago."

Back at the tournament, Self settled in for a long weekend, complete with snacks and a stuffed mascot by her side.

Ultimately, there would be no new record.

"There were too many interruptions and too many distractions," she says. "I have a stand-up Q-Bert that I'm used to and they put me at a sit-down. They didn't have a stand up and we had to alternate chairs. I had a chair, then put a pillow on it; then I'd get used to the chair."

So is she done with Q-Bert?

"No," she says,."Three o'clock in the morning, I come out and play Q-Bert. It's so relaxing and fun."

And it's easy to play Q-Bert at three o'clock in the morning, when there's one in the den.

"I knew it was her dream to own a machine," says Billy Mitchell, who delivered the Q-Bert to her home. A video gaming legend, Mitchell holds records on several classic games - including Pac- Man. Now, he's hoping to help Self regain her title.

"She was always so giving. So good-willed," he says, "So now it's time to come back to her a bit. Or so I hope."

It seems like such an unlikely friendship, but it works.

He says, "We have the same controlled obsession and passion to win at video games."

And that passion to win has Self training for yet another tournament, this time in London in August and just one month shy of her 80th birthday.

"It's a challenge," she says with a smile. "Why do I shoot craps? Why do I play poker? I play to win."

Self will travel with her friend Mitchell, who hopes to shield Self from the distractions that come with being such a prominent player.

Self already has beaten her old record on the machine in her home. So, if things don't work out in London, she may just go for the record, right there in her den.

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