Retronauts Pocket Episode 5: The Media vs. NintendoMania

Retronauts Pocket 5 cover

Libsyn (36:38 | MP3 | 25.3 MB | SoundCloud)

Hey, it’s another episode of Retronauts Pocket! And this time around, we decided to take a look at the always-misinformed media’s reaction to late ’80s NintendoMania. What is this mysterious grey box from Japan, and how can we free our children from its pixellated tentacles?  Modern media giants Bill O’ Reilly and John Stossel asked these questions 25 years ago, and we recommend you check out their respective segments before digging into our own discussion:

Inside Edition (1988)

20/20 – “Nuts for Nintendo”

“Video Mania” (1991)

This episode’s description:

“In what could be the most John Stossel-heavy Retronauts episode of all time (we hope), your favorite classic gaming buddies and special guest Henry Gilbert (of GamesRadar) take a look at how the media reacted to Nintendo conquering a generation of children in the late ’80s. Sit back, relax, and get ready to hear middle-aged adults growing progressively crankier about how kids can’t stop playing those damned vidya games.”

This episode’s outro music:

“Super Mario Bros.” arranged by Motoi Sakuraba for Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Sound Tracks

Thanks again to Henry Gilbert, and be sure to check out his work on GamesRadar and the Laser Time Network!

59 thoughts on “Retronauts Pocket Episode 5: The Media vs. NintendoMania

  1. I just wanna say, that this is like the perfect podcast in my eyes. Informative episodes from people who really love what they talk about. I haven’t even listened to this episode yet, but just the title of it made me write this comment. I already know it’s gonna be a great listen.

  2. Hmm I hate to defend John Stossel… but the tone of his video came across very different to me than how you seemed to interpret it! I guess once I heard his conclusion at the end (which seemed very positive) my memory viewed the rest of the story as just inquisitive.
    You kept mentioning that he was coming from a place of ignorance, which seemed fine to me because in the end he was educated and came out with a positive conclusion towards video games.

    • Hmmm I’m seeing your disdain for Stossel on twitter, Bob, so I understand now why my impression of the video was different than yours!! You can ignore my above comment :)

  3. Bob, I’m not sure I’m seeing the cynicism that you see in John Stossel’s and even Bill O’ Reilly’s coverage. Sure, they’re concluding that it’s for kids, but you have to remember that this was 25 years ago. This is how ALL media saw video games, and you do have to admit that the NES was absolutely marketed as a toy with R.O.B. The play for the adult market didn’t begin until Tetris on Gameboy. The first two videos are older than that.

    O’Reilly is remarkably upbeat through the entire Inside Edition clip. It’s not my usual M.O. to defend O’Reilly, but I’ve never seen the man that happy. In fact, that may be the only time I’ve ever seen him with a genuine smile. Usually he’s too busy looking smug and arrogant these days. The 80s was probably the last time that man ever felt joy.

    And Stossel (who, by the way, is not a horrible human being) not only spoke well of the NES but ended the segment admitting that he and his wife stay up late at night playing. Stossel’s got his faults (appearing on Fox News being one of them), but the guy is a puppy dog.

    Even the local story in the third video is fairly positive, and I thought it was adorable that they took the time to superimpose the anchor onto the F-Zero car.

    I’m just kind of shrugging my shoulders wondering where the crankiness is. I don’t see it. This is how all media viewed games back then. Not just O’Reilly and Stossel. It’s not they were disrespecting games. It seemed more to me that the media just didn’t understand what gaming was. It took a generation to grow up with them for it to be what it is today.

    I think you’re kinda reaching here.

    • Bill O’Reilly is the crankiest guy on earth, and he spawned a character (Stephen Colbert) who’s arguably more popular than him, so I think he’s an okay target. He didn’t have much of anything to do with the segment, anyway, outside of feigning interest in the subject.

      As for Stossel, a lot of the mockery was me projecting his current status as a money-worshipping defender of Big Business at all costs, rather than his role in the 80s-90s as more of a consumer advocate (I believe he regularly had a segment called “Gimme A Break” where he called into question certain business practices). These days, he’s known for advocating price gouging during states of emergency, so yeah, I don’t have much of a problem poking fun at the guy.

      • I think the problem here (at least for me) was I didn’t know these things about Stossel that you’ve been bringing up. So you just sounded like an asshole the entire episode. I was completely baffled at what the hell your problem was until I started doing some digging around on your twitter and general Google searching. I watched the video before listening to the podcast like you asked, and I felt completely lost because, like the above commentor, this seems like a rare instance where he was actually being a good guy (if he really is so wretched). So this episode turned into a real bummer because I didn’t know it was so personal to you, Bob. Now that I understand your disdain for him, the episode has a little more context… but it’s too bad I’ve only learned all this in the cross fire.

        • To be fair, I viewed him as grumpy within the context of this segment, even if he comes around a little in the end. But it fits with his “reluctant skeptic” persona at the time.

          No more Stossel-related responses. Please direct all further inquiries to mustache experts.

        • Actually, even with Bob’s personal disdain for Stossel, I don’t see what that has to do with the subject of the episode. I mean, is this a show about video games in media, or is this a show about why Bob doesn’t like John Stossel?

          And John Stossel’s views aside, I think my criticisms of the show still stand. Nothing in the three videos seems even remotely as hostile as Bob seems to think they are.

          I’m just kind of baffled.

          • If you guys are getting steamed about us poking fun of valueless news magazine fluff from the ’80s, maybe you need to have a beer or hug a cat or something?

        • Spoiler Alert: Bob has always been an insufferable asshole, and he and I agree politically on almost every matter.

  4. “He’s a wretched human being… not to get too political”. Get a grip, already. But hey, it isn’t all bad. At least you fixed your RSS feed after over a week of malfunction.

  5. Before I unsubscribe, please tell me if future episodes will continue this trend of belittling all things opposed to your political views. This is two weeks in a row. I don’t want political hackery in my podcasts, just some good old fashioned video game talk.

  6. Yeah, I’m not seeing what was wrong with that Stossel clip. He was actually pretty fair to Nintendo in that. I mean, the worst thing he said was that video games can be addictive but as long as you are not a shitty parent and actually regulate how much time your kids play, they’re fine.

  7. I called the hotline once! I didn’t know where to go next in Castlevania II. The answer was “squat next to a cliff” which I guess I should have seen coming.
    PS: I don’t recall a toll-free line, was that a 90’s innovation? I had to dial a regular long-distance number back when long-distance numbers actually cost money.
    (seriously, you kids have no idea how the Internet & Skype have changed the world)

    • I’m guessing the Latchkey Child Nintendo Hotline was around 1990, because I remember talking to them about what Nintendo Power Player’s Guides would be out next. (In the era of the red-bordered ones.)

  8. Fun episode. Weird hearing Henry introduce himself without his twitter handle. Weird hearing “These people play VIDEOGAMES for a living!” outside of NoMoWo.

  9. Ill try not to talk about John Stossel, I think you guys kind of nailed the mentality. It’s not like games hadn’t been around since the 70’s. it was more like media was noticing that they had returned from the dead. And it was a Japanese company instead of an American one. (Atari). I didn’t think those clips were too bad. It was typical 80’s prime time journalism. I think pieces about the Wii in 2006 came off in the same vein.

    I know you might lose perspective working in the games industry. But it is still really awkward an not socially accepted liking games as an adult. I have a co worker who I found out was into games Harcore like me who I had been working with for years. It’s just usually something people don’t like bringing up without an open for acceptance still. Just like we aren’t realy in a post racial America, we really aren’t in an America where being an adult game player is a widespread acceptable thing. Like my neighbor across the street, our kids play together but when she saw all my games, (my son is 3) she immediately commented, ” You still play games Sean?” . So while news story’s tell us gaming is for adults now, there realy are a lot of people who dismiss it. Maybe when I’m 60 it will change. I mean if we can have Kevin Spacey as a senator playing Xbox in House of Cards, surely we must be getting closer right?

    Also great to have Henry Gilbert on. I always enjoy those guys on VGMpire.

    (And John Stossel want so bad in the 80’s. Don’t ask me what the hell happened to him lately.)

  10. Right now I am just getting angry cause these clips remind me of the “defensive driving” course my Provence required me to take to remove the new driver status from my license allowing me to drive after midnight and some other stuff.
    The “course” consisted of locking us in a room and playing 1980s/90s reports on seatbelts and airbags. It was torture. I have to imagine the idea is not that we gained any new skills(hell there wasn’t even a test) its just to scare you not to need to go through your license again because if you eff up you will need to spend another Saturday doing this pointless shit again.

  11. I thought this was a video game podcast. I listen to the show to GET AWAY from all of the daily political tripe and bickering that permeates the television, internet and newspapers. I listen to a gaming podcast to hear the host discuss a gaming topic he is an expert on. I don’t listen to a gaming podcast to hear the host give us his political views.

    Keep in mind that the country is pretty much split evenly at 30% Democrat and 30% Republican with the remaining 40% being independent. So when you go on a far-left or far-right diatribe, about 70% of your audience doesn’t want to hear it.

    Please leave the political rants on your Twitter account.

    • I agree. At least Jeremy was tactful when he did political jabs on the old show. Bob just comes of as mean-spirited and vindictive.

      One star on iTunes from me until Mackey tones it down a noch or two .

    • We were equal parts complementary and critical of Stossel, and I briefly mentioned his political beliefs in an attempt to define who he was and is — I don’t recall a “diatribe.” If you consider maybe 30 seconds of a 36-minute episode the podcast equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or Diane Rehm, I’m not sure what to tell you.

  12. Great episode! This really brought me back to the uncomfortable moments in my youth, but in a nostalgic, I’m-glad-those-days-are-over way. Despite buying us our first console and most of our games, my parents never liked video games and often grumbled about them, in addition to forbidding my brothers and me from ever playing them on school days — starting the very moment we unwrapped the NES on Christmas.

    I would always do the child version of the “loosen your tie and collar to cool down” cliché whenever news pieces like these would air because I felt like my parents were always a hair trigger away from dumping all our video games. (I had a similar reaction when we were in a book store once in ’89 or so and my mom saw a book about cartoons brainwashing kids, and it had a Ninja Turtle popping out of a TV with hypnotic eyes on the cover.)

  13. I’m going to have to agree with Jason and others on this one. I’m not seeing why there was such a reaction against those videos. It came off as feeling insecure that someone would dare to question our hobby, especially when it was in its virtual infancy.

    Also, I would be careful as to how you characterize Christians. I heard several comments in the episode about Christians being like Ned Flanders, disallowing children from playing video games, spreading paranoia with church counseling groups, etc. However, having grown up in a conservative Christian home throughout the 80s and as a committed Christian today, I have to say that you are pretty off base. I am 35. My Dad bought a C64 when I was 5. He bought me Pac-man, Defender, etc. We also had an NES and shockingly had no Wisdom Tree games! All Mario, Megaman, Double Dragon and Ninja Gaiden.

    All of my friends from church had an NES or Master System. We were all allowed to play video games and watch movies and go trick-or-treating at Halloween. In fact, I knew very few people who weren’t allowed to do these things. Today, we have an aspiring game journalist who is a member of our church. He asks for prayer regularly about traveling to game conventions, etc. and from what I can tell, everyone supports his ambitions.

    In other words, I think it may be worth a trip to a good solid church in your area to actually meet and interact with some of these people before applying the stereotype.

    All in all, I plan to continue listening to Retronauts throughout this current run. I have appreciated many of the episodes so far but this one did raise concerns. Look forward to listening to future episodes.

    • Our personal stories are anecdotal and should be treated as such, and the fact of the matter is a lot of the more vocal opponents of video games (and movies, TV, etc.) have used their religion as the moral basis for their activism. Just because we point these facts out doesn’t mean we’re implying that all members of this vast and varied religious denomination all subscribe to the same systems of belief.

  14. Political rants sparking arguments in the comments? Before even listening to the episode, I blame Henry. Keep that stuff to the proper channels, Hank. Like Cape Crisis.

    (I’m just goofin’. I love Retronauts and all the LaserTime shows. I’ll keep listening as long as you guys keep putting out episodes.)

  15. This episode was just odd. Why all the hate on John Stossel?

    I feel like the contention over the politics of the reporters detracted from what could have been a more informative episode.

  16. itt libertarians whose ideology of faux-balance already dominates national politics and news media weep about how a person said a mean thing about one of their heroes on a podcast

  17. LEAVE JOHN STOSSEL ALONE. He single handedly saved the United States from the spectre of teachers getting higher paychecks. He taught us why EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS WRONG. He’s the only person to have gotten the GOOD ending to Shadow of the Colossus. He and Geraldo Rivera are secretly clones of Big Reporter from the 60’s. Just let his alarmism wash over your soul.

  18. My mother did her best to stave off an outbreak of Nintendo-mania in our household in the late 80s, but eventually gave in and blessed me and my siblings with an NES for Christmas in 1991. Of course, everyone else in town was getting upgraded to Super Nintendo at that time, but that only meant my friends were happy to lend out copies of their NES games for extended periods of time. It was a glorious couple of months…

    But then summer 1992 arrived. My mom (who was actually a big 20/20 watcher) shared Stossel’s worry that video games could be a big time sink at the expense of valuable outdoors time. When an early June NES session went long and I refused to log off, my mom simply tore the system off the shelf and told me I wouldn’t get it back for a week. In some kind of moronic attempt at reverse psychology, I assured my mom I was fine with that. In fact, she could take it away all summer. I didn’t care!

    So anyways, August came around and my mom was still holding me to my words. I hadn’t seen the NES in weeks. Summer was coming to a close, and I was due for it to be returned, but oh no: The Summer Olympics were starting and we as a household needed to have the tv tuned in at all times to this global event. Why even bother fishing out that NES out if I was going to be watching America compete for gold? Another two weeks were tacked on to my sentence.

    Finally, when the torch in Barcelona went out, I went to my mom, completely humbled and broken, begging for the NES back. She agreed it was time to give it back. Only she couldn’t find it. She had hidden it from me somewhere in the house, and completely forgot where she had put it. She had lost* it, and it would be well into the school year before she stumbled across it again, high up in her bedroom closet.

    *My mom lost a lot of stuff she didn’t approve of us having. My mom once lost my brother’s Warcraft III disc for years after confiscating them for a week. They turned up in the same place the NES was hidden. I think there is still a significant stash of fireworks “lost” in that spot.

  19. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of episodes looking back on gaming violence and now Nintendo mania. In fourth grade I had decided when I grew up I would move to Seattle and become a game councelor. It really did seem glamorous at the time.

  20. People need to relax. It is possible to disagree with somebody and not have so much damn hate. If you are offended that somebody would dare offer their opinion on a subject then you can either a) stop listening to the podcast or b) pull the stick out of your ass.

    I would recommend the latter, I’m sure you will find it liberating. Great podcast, I look forward to the future and hope you don’t let the comments sway how you approach the future episodes.

  21. Now, I want to preface this by saying that I love this podcast, I financially supported this podcast, and I love you guys. In addition, I’m as liberal as the day is long. With all that being said, this was definitely the least entertaining Retronauts episode I’ve ever heard. I don’t take issue with you guys making fun of curmudgeonly old coots; I just think the structure of this particular episode wasn’t very conducive to interesting discussion. This episode really isn’t a look at the media’s reaction to Nintendomania at all. It’s just four guys poking fun at low hanging fruit. I loved the last episode because it explored the societal and cultural context across multiple decades re: video games, but this one just seemed really uninspired.

    I know I’m just piling on the criticism, but I hope you understand that I mean this in the most constructive way possible.

  22. It’s incredible how fast Nintendo had gotten into the public consciousness by the turn of the decade. I only ever remember how Hudson Hawk coming out of prison and asking “What’s Nintendo?” was a joke in 1991.

    Also, have Greg Fischbach and Rob Holmes ever been “video game designers”?

  23. There was some interesting discussion about, when the next form of media rises, and well that already happened. Social Media, thing is the games industry (along with many others) hitched onto it instead of saying it was the new thing to deride. Which is sort of amazing given the current public issues with cyber bullying and such it would have been so easy for Game companies to look at the photo sharing and say well even though bullying goes on in chat, you can mute it and you don’t have to post photos. They could have drummed up some relativism and maybe there was and I didn’t see it. Thing is we are currently in a new wave of media impact and its a doosey.

    • I think a big part of this is that, to many companies, “social media” is a magic phrase they think will instantly bring in money. As someone who’s been forced to dabble in it, I can tell you that social media success is 99.9% luck.

      • I concur that because Social Media was seen by old media types as a means to grow their business they decided it was not worthy of scorn. I also agree on the second point that its pretty hard to pin down what will and won’t work.

  24. My only complaint is that for a over a decade now I was able to wash away all my memories of 20/20, but this episode brought down my mental blockade. Thanks, Bob, lol! I look foward to next week’s insightful retrocast.

  25. Boy, people sure do love to complain when something isn’t exactly what they expected, huh? Good to know the Internet hasn’t changed. Anyway, in light of some of these (frankly bizarre) criticisms of this episode, I just want to say that it was a lot of fun; the video segments cracked me up, as did your analysis of them. Not once did I wonder where my video game podcast had gone, since you specifically designed the Pocket episodes to stretch the boundaries of conversation, and have been doing brilliantly at that. Your opinions and viewpoints have always been central to this show’s success, and I thank you for them.

    p.s. The cover art continues to be effing genius.

    p.p.s. THEY’RE CHARACTERS ON NINTENDO

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