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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

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 [email protected].

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