Despite the amazing technological wonders we've witnessed across the past couple of decades, there really isn't anything new under the sun. Redditor "Hugeboomstick" shared footage of an ABC 20/20 news segment from 1988, and the baffled reaction to the subject of the investigation – a hot little box called the "Nintendo" – feels familiar, to say nothing of the word "shortages."
Hugebookstick posted the video on r/Nintendo over the weekend, though they didn't record it themselves. It's been on YouTube since 2010, but it's always a lot of fun to re-visit journalistic breakdowns of cultural sensations as history marches on.
The 20/20 video was shot during the height of the NES chip shortages (or "chip shortages," depending on whom you ask), which made it very hard for Americans to secure copies of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Super Mario Bros 2 was also scarce, and the broadcast even mentions the buying frenzy that made Dragon Quest III a phenomenon in Japan.
Nearly 30 years later, the Nintendo Switch is selling like mad, and Nintendo is having no trouble keeping up with demand. Meanwhile, scores of happy customers relived 1988 through the NES Classic, which Nintendo kept well-stocked through the 2016 holiday season. Clearly, the company learned a few lessons from its tumultuous American debut.
Ha ha. Just kidding.
There's one feature about the 20/20 video that doesn't echo into the present, however: A guarded wariness about Japanese industry, which was standard in the '80s. It's rather subtle in 20/20's investigation, but it's there. Correspondent John Strossel asks the editor of the now-defunct Video Magazine, Bruce Apar, why the Japanese were able to make such a hit out of American technology (computer chips). Apar correctly states that Nintendo is a very old company that "learned its lessons well," but gets cut off before he can say anything else.
More narration follows explaining how the industry crashed in America (true), and Nintendo "quietly watched" and then "bought licenses to the best of the arcade games" (untrue: the Famicom was already a hit in Japan even as the American console industry sickened and died, plus Nintendo didn't enter the US market simply by buying up arcade licenses. It broke in by taking a lot of big gambles – and by strong-arming major US retailers, admittedly).
The actual reason why Nintendo became a household name in the '80s is briefly acknowledged: Its games were unlike anything else at the time. The kids who are interviewed talk excitedly about secret rooms and hidden power-ups, features that were absent from most of the Atari CES's spartan games. Having been alive and very interested in video games back in '88, I can personally confirm that seeing Mario go head-to-head with Bowser a mere few years after being put off by the likes of E.T. for the Atari was mind-blowing. And, of course, the original Super Mario Bros still holds up. The original Legend of Zelda still holds up. It's no wonder the kids in the video are rapturous over their Nintendo games.
The 20/20 video is full of gentle eye-rolling over this crazy new "toy," but to Strossel's credit, he concludes by highlighting the potential good that can come from video games (e.g. improved hand-eye coordination and sharpened problem-solving abilities). He also addresses parents' fears that Nintendo's games will make their kids violent, but ultimately points out there shouldn't be any problems with violent behavior and undone schoolwork if parents set down limits as soon as possible.
Sadly, those of us who remember the late '80s also remember the turtle-stomping epidemic that ensued because too few parents talked to their children about fantasy versus reality. At least turtles the world over found empowerment through the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon, which was also red-hot at the time.