“Dissertation Notes” is the oh-so-clever name of my (semi) regular segment briefly highlighting the interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking materials I have come across while working on my dissertation. Aimed at a broad audience that includes media scholars, general interest readers, and gamers looking to know more about their hobby/obsession, I intend to demonstrate through a variety of sources the complex history of video games in America and their complicated, at times hotly-contested, relationship with larger debates over leisure, technology, and mass culture.
According to the fine folks at the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, today marks the 32nd anniversary of the release of Donkey Kong: the “climbing game” (as it was described at the time) that proved to be Nintendo’s first big blockbuster in the video game world and introduced the world to Mario.
Nintendo’s mustachioed, overall-clad mascot is one of the most recognizable figures in modern popular culture. However his appearance has changed a bit over the years. I have recently been looking through copies of Electronic Games around the time of Donkey Kong’s coin-operated and console debut, and back when Donkey Kong was lighting up the sales charts and liberating players from their quarters, Mario looked something like this:
Mario with his squinted eyes, pointed chin, and broad, curly mustache resembles a fusion of Mr. Magoo and a villain from an early twentieth century silent film. Also, there’s this:
Seeing the classic Mario as depicted in the pages of Electronic Games is an interesting glimpse at now iconic characters in the earliest stages of their cultural presence, well before the litany of games to follow changed them to their more established appearances.