"Nuts for Nintendo" 20/20 Video from the '80s Proves the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

"Chip shortages?" Still got 'em. "Games make kids violent?" Check. "Japan will eat American industry alive?" Well ... that remained in the past, thankfully.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

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).

"M-mom? What are you looking at? The TV's down here. Mom? Mom!!"

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.

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for Roto13 #1 Roto13 11 months ago
    Kids shouldn't be playing video games! They should be doing homework! Because you can only do one thing after school because real life is like Persona!
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #2 SatelliteOfLove 11 months ago
    I will never understand the 80s media's wierd cognitive dissonance about the NES. Arcades didn't die, computer gaming only grew, that few-year gap couldn't have been a MiB mind wipe of everyone over the age of 20 reguarding what games are, and even if they didn't gel with what these were, they certainly could reconcile the two waves of them.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #3 SargeSmash 11 months ago
    Boy, John Stossel doesn't look like he's aged much at all. Also, glad to see he gave a positive verdict at the end.

    I might be the obsessed kid still, though... still playing NES after almost 30 years. :D (I did have very strict limits on my play time, to my benefit.)Edited April 2017 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #4 LBD_Nytetrayn 11 months ago
    It always fills me with a warm joy to see everyone going nuts over Super Mario 2 and Zelda II..

    But yes, we mustn't ignore the influence on our young minds. Why, I'll never forget the sound thrashing all the kids received a few years earlier for choosing to walk all over their hamburgers instead of eating them.
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  • Avatar for Stepout #5 Stepout 11 months ago
    I wish I still had my hot pink Nike shirt with the blue swoosh. It was bodacious.
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  • Avatar for jay-ban #6 jay-ban 11 months ago
    As a non-American it's always interesting to see the absolute domination Nintendo seems to have had over kids during the 80's and early 90's there.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #7 VotesForCows 11 months ago
    @Stepout You don't see many bodacious things these days, do you?

    @jay-ban Agreed - at that time in Ireland we were all on PCs, Spectrums or (more commonly) nothing.Edited April 2017 by VotesForCows
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #8 Mooglepies 11 months ago
    @SatelliteOfLove In fairness, Nintendo aggressively targeted kids (and kids specifically) in a way that I'm not sure Atari and co were doing before the crash.

    Nintendo's best move (even if it was their only one) was positioning the NES as a toy when they moved in on the US. At the same time though, that aggressive targeting invites the kind of questions raised by the TV programme, as any single product geared towards kids becomes a kind of public interest issue.

    The toy image was something that I think didn't help Nintendo here in the UK (and I think in wider Europe, but I'm less sighted on that) because we were more used to our computers being a little more serious, even when lots of people only used them to play games. I'm pretty sure it wasn't until the SNES/Megadrive days when games consoles firmly took root in the UK at least.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #9 SatelliteOfLove 11 months ago

    Good points, but maybe the old "Japan Takin' Over Errthang!" fear from the same era is the missing piece, too.

    Still, the cognitive dissonance was so strong though, as if Gen 3 was the first video game rodeo for those people.Edited April 2017 by SatelliteOfLove
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  • Avatar for Sturat #10 Sturat 11 months ago
    I've seen this video before and I never get sick of the part at 4:40 when the kid who was intentionally left out of frame shouts his way into the scene.
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