Earlier this week, a copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES sold for over $100,000 USD at an auction. That's enough to put a down payment on a nice house in a major city. Ha ha, that's a little joke. Still, a hundred grand for a Nintendo game isn't exactly Cheep-Cheep feed.
There are caveats. We're not talking about the copy of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt that came bundled with the NES and orange Zapper you bought in 1987. This is a very rare version of the game that's not shrink-wrapped but is instead sealed with a Nintendo sticker. This "sticker edition" of Super Mario Bros. was available exclusively as part of the limited test market NES launch Nintendo conducted in New York and Los Angeles in 1985 and 1986.
I'm not exactly in a position to roll my eyes at people who missed that vital detail. When I first heard the news, I honestly thought for a crazy second that vanilla shrink-wrapped Super Mario Bros. is now worth $100,000. Don't judge me too harshly. The growing popularity of video games' secondary collectors' market has caused previously-manageable prices to balloon. And even if retro games worth thousands of dollars are still very rare, something inside me still said "Yeah, not surprised" at the news about a mint copy of Super Mario Bros. selling for a hundred thou.
In any case, rising retro game prices combined with the very idea of regular Super Mario Bros. costing $100,000 got me thinking about the state of video game preservation. Yes, it's wretched: We know this. We also know some companies with the biggest obligation to preserve gaming's legacy, e.g. Nintendo, goes as far as to actively tear it down.
But while much of the onus is on game companies to preserve this pastime, us players bear no small part of the responsibility, too. That's why I'm hoping to see a complete end to videos of games and consoles being destroyed, whether for "comedy," for education (barring videos about preservation or repair), or to make a statement. Doesn't matter if we're talking about the rarest Nintendo World Championship cart, or one of six billion copies of NHL 93. Taking hammers, flamethrowers, hydraulic presses, and streams of human urine to Shaq-Fu stopped being funny in 2011. It's also wholly unnecessary to direct an elephant parade over an old console to demonstrate how "tough" it is. We already know Nintendo makes solid hardware, left-hand Nintendo Switch JoyCons not withstanding.
"Lighten up," you might snort. "What's the big deal about destroying some shitty games?"
Well, we can look at things from a practical standpoint as well as a cultural one. First, practical. When a game stops being published, its supply immediately becomes finite. Even games that roost by the dozens in every Goodwill across North America will inevitably dwindle to near-extinction as they're bought (and then possibly made unplayable and unsellable by some joker with a sledgehammer and a YouTube account with 30 subscribers). That drives prices up on the secondary market, which makes retro game collection—and by extension, preservation—that much more difficult.
Next, cultural. We're not going to waste too much time on the "Are video games art?" question (yes), but I imagine nobody who plays games will argue they're an important part of human expression and culture. We extend our protection to other mediums of expression and culture; why should video games be any different? Even poorly-made books and movies are sheltered under a general umbrella of reverence that makes it controversial to destroy those things. The Twilight books are terrible, but the idea of setting them on fire, even just to be funny, makes me a little ill. Ed Wood's cheesy Plan 9 from Outer Space is a bad movie, but nobody's going to be impressed by you making a production out of melting copies into slag.
No matter how common, no matter how rare, respect video games for simply existing. Even the bad ones. To quote Castlevania's Alucard, "If you cannot live with them, then at least do them no harm." He was referring to humanity, not bad video games, but good enough. Point is, vanilla copies of Super Mario Bros. might seem like an inexhaustible specimen whose numbers will never fade to the single digits—but so did the passenger pigeon.
Thumbnail image from GiantBomb