Mass Media Weighs in on the NES in 1988, and It’s About as Hilarious as You’d Expect

Back in 1988, parents just could not wrap their mind around the video game craze. This would continue to be the case into the SNES era, but for now I want to draw your attention to one particularly ambitious piece of television journalism about the NES.

This comes from a segment of the current events news program 20/20 called “Nuts for Nintendo,” which aired on ABC back in 1988.

One of the more interesting tidbits is the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 and Adventure of Link are the two games that people are going absolutely bonkers over at the beginning of this segment. In retrospect, both the Mario and Zelda franchises are still beloved to this day, but the games mentioned here are almost certainly the worst regarded entries of their respective series for the entire NES era. (Of course, I know at least one person who would disagree with that statement.)

Super Mario Bros. 2

There’s an amusing section about three minutes in during which the narrator explains how the NES works in excruciating amounts of detail while still coming off as completely pedestrian.

They pop the cartridge into this deck, which attaches to any television set. These controls direct the characters. The better your eye-hand coordination, the better you do.

I also really like how 20/20 must point out that NES games “tend to have ludicrous plots.” I suppose it’s true, but it seems like an odd detail to focus on in a journalistic account of this crazy trend.

There’s even a bit later on where a kid yells at the correspondent because he’s an adult, and apparently this makes him incapable of understanding video games. The whole “Nuts for Nintendo” segment almost feels like it works incredibly hard to prove these kids right. It does, in fact, go into the classic moral hypothesizing about how perhaps video games will cause children to become violent, and playing them might even make people “brain dead.”

NES Light Gun at Work

(This guy, however, might disagree.)

The icing on this cake is the dismissive tone in Barbara Walters’ voice as she concludes the segment with this line: “Now on to a much more serious report.”

I should point out that we can still find news reporting that’s hilariously ignorant about how video games actually function, or about how the industry works. For example, there was a 2013 news piece that refers to the Xbox One as the “Nintendo X-Box.”

But, as the above 20/20 segment shows, misrepresenting video games is just a longstanding journalistic tradition. And in some ways, it’s kind of adorable, isn’t it?

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  • Tim Evans

    I always love when mass media tries to tackle gaming, and it was hilariously cute when gaming first gained mainstream attention.

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