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 Super Mario Bros.  release mystery raises the question: Does our history matter?
Super Mario Bros. release mystery raises the question: Does our history matter? Exclusive
March 30, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 30, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
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    21 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



A couple weeks ago I had dinner with a few industry friends at a Washington DC restaurant. We had just come from the grand opening reception for The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, rubbing shoulders with legends like David Crane and Don Daglow. Needless to say, the "good old days" were on our minds -- more specifically, the challenge of preserving the history of video games, a subject that just kind of tends to come up when I'm in the room.

Inspired by an article I'd read a little over a year ago, I told the table my favorite go-to example of just how far behind we are: we have no idea when the original Super Mario Bros. came out in the United States. Our history books seem conflicted with this event, and the date that Nintendo officially gives doesn't seem accurate either, based on my prior research.

"Did you check copyright records?" a friend asked. Yes, of course.

"Newspaper articles? Advertisements? Press releases?" Yes, yes and yes again.

This sparked a pretty heated discussion about what could be done. I watched my dinner companions put their heads together, start namedropping friends and friends of friends, figuring out who that guy was they worked with at Nintendo, thinking about which resources they still had access to. Ultimately it made me realize that I wasn't the only one interested in solving this mystery, and that there was still a lot that could be done.

I spent the last couple weeks digging as deep into this as I could. I stretched every resource I had, tracked down former employees through occasionally stalker-like digging, called in a few favors, dug through every news archive I could access and talked to every company involved with the launch that I could think of.

Did I find the date? Sort of. Maybe. I documented my journey in this Gamasutra feature, which ran earlier this week.

What I've come away with is more questions than answers. I'm less sure about when the game came out than ever before, and thanks to a few emails and tips I've received since the article's publication, I'm not even sure we've got it narrowed down to the right year anymore.

My experience was a bitter reminder of just how delicate and mysterious history can be...even if it's the history of a consumer entertainment product introduced less than 30 years ago that sold over 40 million copies and spawned a merchandising empire.

But the feedback I've gotten about my journey, along with the widespread coverage -- being written about in USA Today was certainly unexpected -- just affirms what I'd hoped all along: people do care about this stuff. Preserving the history of the art and business of making games is something many of us seem to value.

The Smithsonian is recognizing video games going back to the Atari 2600 as art. The "Classic Postmortems" series at GDC has been the talk of attendees these past two years. The Library of Congress has started a video game archive (more on that in an upcoming article), we're seeing more history books than ever get publishing deals, and last year alone, two video game history museums found funding to open their doors.

So that raises the question: is more of this kind of content what you, our readers, would like to see on Gamasutra? Would you like to see us tackle history in the same way we tackle game design and business? As a video game professional, is this information useful to you? If you've been around for a while, is sharing your story something you're interested in?

Let us know in the comments below. If you'd like to discuss this with me directly, I'm available at fcifaldi@gamasutra.com.


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Comments


Victor Reynolds
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I love gaming history, so I am all for more articles like this.

Matt Robb
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Does our history matter? Certainly. Does knowing the precise moment that Super Mario Bros went on sale matter? Not really. Interesting, yes. Necessary, no. That said, keep lookin' into it. Would make a good case study in an anthropology course.

Austin Ivansmith
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I think precise dates matter a lot to many of us nowadays because, on the opposite side of the same coin, game consumers today follow release dates so closely. A slip of a couple weeks, or a few days, is met with extreme frustration. But 22 years ago I remember release dates simply being "April" or "Quarter 2", and stores which carried games MIGHT get them within a few weeks of their release. A game might have been released but never shipped to some stores until weeks or months after. Of course knowing the year something came out would be important, but anything more precise than the month doesn't seem too necessary this many years later.

Christopher Enderle
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Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

raigan burns
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Thank you, thank you Frank Cifaldi, for not saying "begs the question" when you meant "raises the question". My faith in humanity has been restored.

Jacob Pederson
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Language changes its meaning / pronunciation because of mistakes. "Begs the question" used to mean arguing via assumption, but in modern usage it usually means raising a question. Also, wife no longer rhymes with beef :)

raigan burns
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@jacob: but in this case the meaning is changing based purely on ignorance. Why not try to rectify this instead of just giving in to the morons?

Adam Bishop
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Words are symbols used to communicate concepts. So long as the speaker's intended meaning is received by the listener/reader/etc., the words are being used "correctly".

Austin Ivansmith
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You put your period on the outside of your quotation marks rather than on the inside, showcasing an adopted change which was once wrong. Language is a living thing, constantly changing and molding to the world around it, and always defaults to the easiest way to do something. The language we use today is simply the "wrong" version of language which has grown to be accepted after hundreds of years. And really, it's OK.

Graham Luke
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I always want to know more about how the significant things came to be.

Trevor Howden
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Learning from the past is as important if not more so for gaming. It doesnt help that games and hardware are marketed as always better than what came before (even if this gen isnt as bad as in the past)

It often annoys me when gamers dismiss things because they look too old for some reason or have some tried and tested mechanic (like lives) that is at the core of the gameplay

k s
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I wouldn't call those people gamers, I play games nearly as old as me (30) because I love game play not because it has shinny graphics.

Florencia Cafure
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I would love to keep reading about history. I think it helps understand how the industry is evolving

Amir Sharar
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It would be interesting to cover history especially since people I know are questioning whether history is repeating itself with the rise in popular "simple" games on the iPhone contrasted to the arcade boom in the late 70s and early 80s.

I'm sure this concept of "history repeating itself" is up for debate, and so it would make sense to know more about video arcade history before engaging is such a discussion.

k s
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I'm of the view history is repeating itself but I don't expect an exact repeat, just a close repeat.

Oh and understanding history is important to avoid repeating mistakes as the old saying means.

George Blott
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With the medium being so young we are at a unique place to record it's history in the words of it's creators themselves. Classic game post-mortems are a great example, but I would say there is definitely more room for the recording of our history at a place like gamasutra.

Matt Ponton
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Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! If only to help me with my ocd ha-ha.

Jonathan George
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Video games are like any other entertainment/art medium. They have a rich history that many people can appreciate, whether they're in the industry or just consumers. I think more spots on game history would be a great idea.

Jacob Corum
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Somebody certainly needs to be keeping tabs on our history. As time goes on doing so will only become more and more necessary.

Patrick Dunlap
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They should check with the cartridge manufacturers at the time. The question I see is if it was released before the official release to retailers. I have no doubt this will be solved by the end of the year :).

Herbert Fowler
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More articles on the history of our industry would be great.


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