Most nights, Shaun Boyd leaves his wife on the couch, contentedly cross-stitching in front of Downton Abbey or old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's seven or eight, after they've eaten dinner, when Shaun excuses himself. He goes to the next room: his room, small, with a computer desk along the nearest wall and a shelf full of Stephen King novels. A thick curtain covers the windows. He fills a glass of water. He shuts the door and turns out the lights. He sits down on a barstool and leans forward, his face painted by the lambent orange and the cathode blue of his carefully restored Donkey Kong arcade cabinet. Onscreen, the great ape climbs his ladders and starts to throw barrels. The game begins.

Shaun has spent much of his last three years sitting before the machine. On bad days, he might leave in less than an hour, tired and frustrated, with a sense of some ineffable randomness working against him. On a good day, like Monday, May 21st, 2012, he could spend three hours: that's the day he pushed Donkey Kong to its limit — and perhaps his own. For the first time, he reached the “kill screen,” where a glitch ends the game. His score, 1,037,500 points, put him in fifth place in the Donkey Kong world record books. It took him almost two years and more than 1,000 games to get there.