FINER POINTS IN CARTRIDGE BLOWING or A Guide For My Eight-Year-Old Self, Who is Undoubtedly About to Throw the Entire Gaming System Across the Bedroom. And seriously little buckaroo, you should work on those anger issues. Or go outside and get some sun, or something.
First tip: don’t even bother calling that Nintendo customer hotline. They’re absolutely useless. They’ll just tell you not to blow into your Nintendo Entertainment System Game Paks. Something about how the moisture will corrode the pins. Equally as useless: the game tip hotline. Total scam. You’d be better off calling the seedy psychic hotline phone number in the back of the TV Guide. You still won’t be able to land the plane in Top Gun.
Alright, let’s see what the problem is here. You’re trying to get the game to play in the Nintendo. You’ve put the cartridge in, pressed it down, pressed the power button, and…
Blue screen. Static. Blue screen. Static.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
You want the technical explanation for this? Faulty zero-insertion-force socket. You want the real-life explanation? It’s a piece of crap.
When the Nintendo was released in the United States in 1985—or perhaps the better word is unleashed—it paved a new way for video games. It deeply influenced American culture and entertainment, and it changed the way we play, rewriting a history that was supposed to have died and been buried somewhere in the New Mexico desert. But it had a damning design flaw that made it prone to collecting dust—not to mention the socket itself actually bent with repeated use.
Basically kid, the Nintendo dies a little bit inside each time you play it. And if it lives long enough, it’ll just be clunky and old and in the way. Its life is a slow, graceless lurch towards obsolescence. But I guess that’s why I still love it. It’s human. And like 8-track collectors and laserdisc enthusiasts, dust is our greatest enemy. We seek purity and fidelity. We’re a spiritual people. Or maybe just sentimental.
There are a few methods for getting the cartridges working. You might have heard of the licking method, but it’s for only the most advanced, and besides, it’s kind of gross. Whacking the game violently against the palm of your hand is for the brute. A diluted mixture of only the purest of rubbing alcohols and the most distilled of waters is for those with refined tastes. But what am I talking about? You eat macaroni-and-cheese and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.
And that official Nintendo-licensed Cleaning Kit? It’s for suckers.
The way—the one, true way—is to blow. And by the time you’re my age, you will have spent a lifetime perfecting this skill, this art form. And yeah, it feels like a lifetime, but it also feels like five minutes. Aging is a weird thing. What age am I? Old enough. Young. Am I still young? Hard to tell some days. About to turn thirty-two. Ancient. Wrinkled. Withering away. It’s not that dramatic.
My wife thinks I act about your age. You’ll meet her later. First you’ll have to meet other girls and get past obstacles and other stupid crap. It’s kind of like a video game, actually. Some days you feel like you’re doing the same exact thing over and over. If life was a game, it would be a button-masher in some parts, and a precision-jump platformer in others. And then when you win the game and the girl and get married, you just find out there’s yet another freaking quest to complete, like parenthood. But hey, it’s not all bad. Sometimes I eat cake for breakfast. Throw in a multi-vitamin and it’s a part of your balanced breakfast.
There are some things I cannot remember. There’s so many secrets of childhood that we forget. The voices our toys spoke in. The things they said and how they said them. One day it all goes silent. Tell me, who was the first kid to blow into their Mario cartridge? Who came up with that idea? And how did we all learn it? Know it? Did we hear it whistling through the wind across the playground? Whispered on tire swings? Shouted from the tops of jungle gyms? Or was it something more instinctual than that? Something innate in each of us? Something a bit like hunger, a bit like faith?
Try this. Take a cleansing breath. It’s not just hee-hee-hee-hee-hoo, huff and puff. Inhale through the nose and out through the mouth. Slowly, now. Like an infant. Contentment, up and down. Now take the game between your hands, and pretend you’re holding a sandwich that you’re about to take a juicy bite out of. A really good sandwich. The works. Cheese and pickles and mustard. This is important because you’ve got to blow positive energy into the game. It’s more than a technique. It’s a philosophy, too.
Now blow into the cartridge like you’re blowing out a candle. Or one million candles. Lined across the biggest birthday cake ever. This is one of those awesome cakes—the kind behind the glass showcase in the bakery. It has FUN FROSTING and PLASTIC DO-DADS and FLAMING HOOPS WITH MONSTER TRUCKS JUMPING THROUGH THEM.
Another cleansing breath. Now gently insert the game back into the slot. Hold your breath. Meditate using the Konami code as your chant. Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right B, A, Start. Om.
I think my work here is done. And after this game, I mean what I said about going outside.