In the 80’s when Nintendo were on top of the world looking down at their devout followers, I assume one day they thought “I need to find the chosen one, the most skillful player in the art of button bashing.” Bonnie Tyler laid out the description “I need a hero; I’m holding out for a hero til the end of the night, he’s got to be strong and he’s got to be fast, and he’s got to be fresh from the fight, I need a hero.” But where to get one?
The answer was something we take for granted these days, what they needed was a world championship. The interest in competitive player vs player (PVP) video games has been around since ping met pong. The preferred games have over the years changed from the relatively innocent style of games, to first person shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefront.
The idea of video game championships were not new, with kids always competing for the highest score at gaming arcades. There were also several movies that showed variations of video game show downs (I picture Rocky and the big Russian for some reason, weird?) in the 80’s including the movie The Wizard.
If Nintendo had a marketing strategy, The Wizard was definitely part of that plan. This movie was released in December 1989, three months prior to the Nintendo World Championships. It showcased the best that Nintendo had on offer. The movie concluded at an actual video game tournament, with two players competing for the highest score on Super Mario Bros 3. The Wizard also confirmed the existence of the Power Glove, which at the time fulfilled every kid’s dreams. The scene from the movie below sent everyone into a frenzy for this product. Once however, everyone eventually had their hands on the Power Glove, the quote “it’s so bad”, was realised to actually mean “this glove has no power, it’s so bad.”
Following the release of The Wizard, The Nintendo World Championship began in March 1990. The tournament was held mainly in America and Japan, with the word “world” thrown into the title to give it a bit more cocker spaniel. There were cash money prizes and cars thrown in the mix for those on the winner’s blocks, but nothing compared to the potential earnings of today’s competitions.
Just like in the movie, The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the system used, with three modified games to be played; Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer and Tetris. All three games were packed onto one custom cartridge named Nintendo World Championships. This cartridge is considered one of the rarest and most collectable games today. There were 90 grey versions handed to finalists, and 26 gold versions that were awarded as prizes from a magazine competition. The gold version has sold for just over $65,000. That is a lot of clams in anyone’s language for sure.
It is interesting to consider the type of games that were played in this championship. They were considered age appropriate for kids, and gamers played them with fervency and zeal. Over the years these kids have grown up and many continue to play. As an adult I have no problem blowing competitors heads clean off their shoulders in a digital environment. What has changed though is the acceptance that these are the norm for all ages. I am not here to judge, it is just an observation on how the supply and demand of games has changed. When the kids of today grow up, I wonder what they would be willing to pay for their childhood memories?