Super Mario Nation

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By the time Nintendo finally released its latest system, the Nintendo 64 (N64), in America, Sony had shipped more than three million units here and more than eight million worldwide. By last November Sony had more than a billion dollars in PlayStation sales in North America alone. So as the industry marks its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, it is clearly well out of the most recent down cycle.

Perhaps as significant as any of the inroads the video-game industry has made into our lives is its role in helping drive the computer market. Recent surveys discovered that after word processing, the most common use for home computers is playing games, and games are one of the leading forces that push consumers to upgrade their computers. After all, you can still run most word processors on a 486, but today’s top computer games require a Pentium processor. Such leading computer companies as NEC and Gateway 2000 have launched computers specifically designed to play games, and Microsoft has vowed to make computers a competitive gaming platform.

And it is on computers that video games—the most frenetic and immediate of creatures—can clearly be seen to have become a part of history. They are now the objects of a small nostalgia boom, with collections of older games being reissued for computer play.

As for the founders of the industry, it is a young enough enterprise that some are still active in it. Ralph Baer consults and invents toys and games; Steven Russell worked for Digital Pictures, which created a highly controversial game called Night Trap, until the company declared bankruptcy last year; and Nolan Bushnell has unveiled a new line of coin-operated Internet machines.

What these men and their colleagues have made is, of course, all around us. The plunk and boing and sizzle, those postnuclear landscapes, the waterfront gunfights with casualty rates on the scale of the Battle of Shiloh, the gladiators pulling off one another’s limbs—this is all familiar stuff now. It was a strange, extemporized, intuitive birth, but the child is healthier than its parents could have dreamed a quarter-century ago, and it will likely outlive us all. •

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