Sometime in the mid-00s Google undertook a project to scan and index newspapers. Time passed and Google got bored with it. Meanwhile some papers asked for their content to be removed so they could put it behind a paywall. I wasn't smart enough before all that to capture any articles about video games I could find. So today I'm grabbing what I can from the eclectic assortment of papers still there. I figure it's just a matter of time before Google decides to shut the whole thing down for reasons. Most likely that will happen when they remember it exists.
These various articles are a strange narrow view into video game history. A lot of it fits into the "moral panic" department, enough to justify a separate section on this page. The rest follows the story of a booming market in the early '80s that quickly deflated. When Nintendo came to dominate the market the news was mostly interested in the various related lawsuits
As far as I know these scans were posted under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. That's the same license I use for more or less everything here. It's still possible I'll be asked to take something down from here, who knows? I believe the papers that wanted their content off this archive already pulled them.
Most of these articles are fairly large so I'm posting the headlines as a thumbnail. Click on them to see the full article. You probably figured that out by yourself. These are broken into a couple sections and are usually in chronological order within them.
Let's start with an ancestor of video games - pinball. There aren't a ton of pinball articles but they share a common theme around gambling. I'm not an expert on the history of pinball, I just know that ties to gambling were a re-occurring argument against it. Pinball machines aren't explicitly gambling devices, neither are pachinko machines. I don't know how much actual gambling was tied to pinball, it sure seems like local governments believed it was prevalent though.
First up, one that dates all the way back to September 29, 1948:
It also looks like religious groups were opposed to pinball. I wonder which passage of the bible they misinterpreted to get there?
On to March 7, 1949, where a very, um, interesting legal argument against pinball is made:
You read that right, winning a free game constitutes gambling. I get that maybe it's a gray space depending on how precisely you define gambling. This feels like a stretch to me though. I'm not a fan of loot boxes today but wouldn't label them as gambling either.
Fast-forward 20 years to February 20, 1969 and there's still a debate about pinball and gambling:
"No, no, no. This other gambling-like thing is OK but pinball is different." Now this appears to be talking about pinball machines that payout coins which is new to me. Regardless, this theme of people holding electronic games to different standards than everything else is going to come up a few more times.
Boom and Bust
Now let's look at articles that document the rapid rise and fall of video games over fewer than three years. There are many postmortem articles about this time period and I find it interesting to see how it was reported as it happened.
We'll kick it all off with some great news for shareholders in Warner Communications from October 16, 1981:
350% growth for Atari before the Christmas season. That trend would continue for about another year. I don't think it's a coincidence the US divorce rate also peaked right around this time. There's this stereotype of gen-xers being latchkey kids raised by TV screens. That was not the experience for all or even most but there's a reason the stereotype exists. Many of us indeed came home from school to an empty house with a game system in the '80s.
Here's a quickie from October 27, 1981:
Look, I'm a terrible writer. You know that by now. I feel like I just maybe could have pulled that article off.
This time period saw the beginning of marathon high score gaming sessions. They were well known enough to receive some press coverage, like this item from November 29, 1981:
I tried to see what this person is up to now but his name is just common enough that I'm not confident any of the matches are him.
This is the largest article posted here. It's a multi-page feature about the growing popularity of arcade games from January 20, 1982:
There are two points buried at the end that are foreshadowing issues:
This is one of my favorite articles, from July 17, 1982:
Will there ever be a Star Wars game one day? The weird thing here is this article is from July 1982 which is the approximate release date of Empire Strikes Back on the 2600 (which was the first licensed Star Wars video game). The article makes it sound like a Star Wars game is maybe just an idea they were sort of thinking about. In reality there was a game about to hit the shelves, or possibly on the shelves.
As a gen-xer I'm somewhat jealous that millennials get all these great headlines like "Millennials are killing [industry that was already failing for many reasons]". So I like to imagine this headline from July 29, 1982 being rewritten as "Gen-xers are killing jukeboxes":
The "illegal use of FM radio"? I wish they would expand on that point. I don't believe it's ever been illegal to play FM radio in a business. It's not like broadcasting a PPV in bar or whatever. Now it's possible a jukebox operator in 1982 would call that illegal, I'd believe that. They could be referencing low-power unlicensed stations I suppose but I don't see how that is more of a threat to the jukebox business than licensed stations. Either way people are hearing music without paying per listen (a model no doubt the music industry would love to have). So I have to believe they are asserting that playing FM radio in an arcade or roller rink and so on is inherently illegal. Also, yes, I know the term "gen-x" didn't exist in 1982.
Today it's not debatable whether video games are protected by the first amendment. That wasn't yet the case on September 24, 1982:
It was something like 23 years later before a ruling that formally cemented video games as protected by the first amendment.
By October 28, 1982 video games were ubiquitous enough to earn some fluff pieces:
There are much better pictures of this online.
You know video games are mainstream when organized crime decides to get in on the action. From November 1, 1982:
Later on in the section dedicated to moral panics there's a story about video games being banned in the Philippines related to this.
On November 24, 1982 we have someone professing their love for Donkey Kong:
Donkey Kong was the first arcade cabinet I saw and it became my gateway drug for video games. That xmas I got the Intellivision version which to my young brain seemed arcade perfect.
Another fluff piece from January 25, 1983:
The best I could manage was a Pac-Man Halloween pumpkin.
So 1981 and 1982 looked pretty great right? By February 23, 1983 there were clear signs of trouble:
No matter how they try to spin it, businesses that are doing well generally don't have layoffs. This is the beginning of the 1983 market crash in action.
Now of course there are many who like to point out that the 1983 crash impacted game consoles while home computers continued to grow. Computer games started to get a little attention in these old newspapers, like this review from March 19, 1983:
Please don't confuse this with the future Dilbert creator. These are two entirely separate Scott Adamses. I've met this Scott Adams and he is a very friendly person who is still passionate about text adventure games.
I've heard some debate over whether people in 1983 were aware of the game market collapsing and specifically whether they thought ET was the cause. This article from March 25, 1983 should clear things up a little:
I attended a screening of Atari: Game Over hosted by Howard Scott Warshaw - he's pretty nice too, definitely has a strong sense of humor around ET's notoriety. ET was not the cause of the game market crash, it was symptom. It's not the worst game ever made by a wide margin. It's not even one of the worst Atari 2600 games. It is a symbol of the types of decisions that led to the 1983 crash. In this case, yeah Atari over-produced the game but stores also ordered more than they could sell.
Onward to May 29, 1983, which brings more bad news for the game console industry:
Mattel did not file for bankruptcy but came darn close and sold off the Intellivision in 1984.
Hey, computers are still doing well though. See this item from June 2, 1983:
I went to computer camp around this summer, they taught LOGO and I blame that for being a programmer today. My father really would have preferred if I played little league baseball, it was my Mom who figured out computers were a better fit for me. She was obviously right. The little league thing would have worked out better if I was just 80% more coordinated and 200% faster and didn't hate baseball.
Back to the video game market crash of 1983.. remember when Atari launched a system with a controller everyone despised? By November 4, 1983 there was a third-party solution:
So that was a sponsored post right? It doesn't say so but c'mon. I see the author is still working in journalism today. I wonder if he remembers this random article from (presumably) early in his career well enough to explain if it is.
More Atari news from November 11, 1983:
Even if home computer sales grew in 1983 the companies making them were losing money along the way. Wait, maybe I have that all twisted around... computer sales grew because companies were selling them for low profits or even a small loss. So really companies making computers lost money because of high sales.
The stores selling home computers weren't making bank on them either. On December 19, 1983 some stores were already planning their exit from the business once the holiday shopping season ended:
These last two articles reinforce the narrative of computers selling extremely well but nobody was making money along the way. Tons of computers in homes was a good thing though. It was the seed for the dot-com boom in the '90s when everyone who got a cheap computer as a kid on xmas morning 1983 was now an adult.
File this article from December 18, 1983 under "whatever happened to this?":
I guess this would have been OK. I'm sure the hardware you'd need to buy would be like $40,000 adjusted for inflation but hey, free Pitfall maybe. It's reminiscent of the Satellaview, another product I wish we had in the US.
It's April 4, 1984 and the video game market is in shambles. At least we have some good cereal to enjoy with Saturday morning cartoons:
This was a great cereal and it's way overdue for a comeback. Remember when scalpers bought all the Super Mario cereal back in the late 2010? So Kellogg just kept making more and more until stores had to clear it out for 75% off. That's how a re-launch of Donkey Kong cereal would go. Exactly like that. I hope the Super Mario cereal scalpers are stuck with their 100s of boxes until they're in the grave. You just know they're the same people who thought "Global pandemic? Better go buy all the toilet paper and put it on ebay." I wish nothing but the worst for them.
Insert Coin to Continue
There's a nearly 3 year gap in articles about video games in the archive. This next section covers the return of articles about the video game industry. Please note, further down are sections that specifically battles against Nintendo and moral panics around video games.
As noted in the 1983 discussion, home computers didn't suffer the same crash as game consoles. On March 30, 1987 Waldenbooks decided to get in on the action by launching Waldensoftware:
You can read more about Waldensoftware here: https://www.huguesjohnson.com/features/loser_phase/1995.html#July%201995:%20Waldensoftware. The short version is they eventually offloaded the chain to Electronics Boutique who eventually became GameStop.
On April 6, 1989 the computer division of Atari was apparently doing alright:
This is the Atari STacy right? That launched in September 1989. I don't recall if I've seen one in person.
Now for some news about 3 exciting handheld systems from June 3, 1990:
We all know who won this competition. It was never close. Maybe it wasn't crystal clear in the summer of 1990 that the cheapest system with the best library would clean house. NEC and Atari beat Nintendo in terms of specs. Nintendo had the games people wanted. It's not hard to see why they soundly crushed their competitors. A good chunk of gaming history in the '90s is exactly this - high tech systems with weak libraries get demolished by cheaper systems with great games. That story repeats about every 2 years in the '90s.
If you're a gen-xer then you know all about being sandwiched between two larger generations. When we were kids the media focused on baby boomer nostalgia. How many times did we see a commercial for Freedom Rock or have to suffer through songs on the radio by ex-Eagles members? When we were adults the popular culture pivoted to younger millennials. For like a week in the early '90s we were the center of attention. January 4, 1991 was the around the start of this:
Also noteworthy in this article, the Game Boy has already outsold the Lynx 10:1 by then.
Nice condescending use of quotes in this article from April 4, 1991:
See he can't be a real celebrity because only video game nerds know who he is. Still, he was just famous enough to land in a newspaper.
Remember what I said about how in the '90s we had a new high tech system with a weak library pop-up every few years just to get demolished? Let's look at one from April 5, 1991:
The CDTV would be a fun system to mess around with, like the CD-i or Tandy VIS.
I could record an entire podcast about this September 5, 1991 article:
I don't think the picks here are bad. Sonic the Hedgehog as being the best Genesis game of 1991 is predicable. It's not what I would go with but I won't argue about it. Picking Splatterhouse over "Spirit of the Ninja" (I assume a pre-release name for Ninja Spirit) is the main thing I'd object to. The TurboGrafx-16 as "best value" is a little shaky, and this is coming from a fan. The TurboGrafx-16 was retailing for $99 but the Genesis was $149 *with* the author's proclaimed best game for the system that year (source). Of course I have the gift of hindsight here and know that in 1991 it wasn't a good time to get into the TurboGrafx-16.
On or around May 28, 1992 the Sega CD was announced:
Since I'm a little odd this is another of my favorite systems. Sega CD, TurboGrafx-16 CD, PSP, Vita, Intellivision, and Wii U are the odd assortment of things I tend to play the most. Has anyone coined the phrase "participation trophy systems" yet? If not, you heard it here first.
I did not specifically look for an article about It Came from the Desert for TurboGrafx-16 CD. I swear I didn't. That doesn't mean I didn't find one from July 7, 1992:
I wrote a walkthrough for this game: https://huguesjohnson.com/guides/icftd-tgcd/ - I know it's not for everyone, maybe only people who like bad antenna TV horror films.
The CD systems just keep coming, from January 30, 1993:
Yeah, $1,200 to play either Sega or TurboGrafx-16 CD games but not both. I hear there's something called the Polymega that may or may not exist trying this same idea today.
On June 25, 1993 we have another system being announced:
This contains the same sort of vague language about sales expectations you'll see ~25 years later when [holding company that owns the Atari IP] announced the Ataribox (later renamed to I don't care).
Random infographic published on July 27, 1993 related to the previous item:
Yeah, there you go.
Here's a story I forgot about from February 3, 1994:
I can't find anything about how this project ended-up, I didn't look especially hard though. I suspect it's buried somewhere on a SourceSafe backup tape never to be found.
On November 6, 1994 there's a fun preview of the xmas shopping season:
If you enjoy xmas 1994 then might I recommend - https://huguesjohnson.com/scans/SoftwareEtcXmas94/.
The week of August 21, 1995 was a good one for the Mortal Kombat film:
This is still my favorite movie based on a video game. For a long time it was the only watchable one ever made.
Some news of things that didn't happen from May 28, 1997:
I don't really know how this would have panned out. I think it would have benefited Sega when they became a software publisher only. The short term cost could have completely wiped them out after the Dreamcast failed though. Or maybe nothing at all would be different.
On July 16, 1997 we have more troubling news for Sega:
This makes it sound like Sega was planning to revive the Joe Montana series on the Saturn.
Random acquisition news from August 8, 1997:
This was just the start of the buying spree for Activision.
The Dreamcast had some small early stumbles on September 11, 1999:
As bad console launch things go this was mild.
This headline from November 22, 1999 didn't age well:
In all fairness, the author is really advising against buying stock in a specific toy company just because they have a Pokemon license.
The 21st Century
We're entering the era where print news is declining, this is a brief section.
On March 2, 2000 we have an ahead-of-its-time product announcement:
This is all very good forward thinking but zero chance it would have worked in 2000. It took another decade for this kind of technology to become barely minimally usable.
Microsoft announces the "X-Box" on March 8, 2000:
I guess this turned out alright for them.
Sega is taking to the high seas in this article from July 21, 2000:
Piracy was obviously a big issue for computer games already. Game consoles were largely immune due to the high cost of creating platform-specific cartridges. Even the first CD systems had zero copy protection since CDR drives retailed for $700-$1,000 with blank CDs fetching $10 a piece. Even if you found a game rip it would take about 3 days to download. By 2000 CDR drives were $30, blank CDs were under a buck, and consumer internet was a lot faster.
Wait, what? From December 28, 2000:
I thoroughly believe this would have been amazing if it happened. I mean, I'd rather see the Phantasy Star IP go to Falcom or Square-Enix but the rest of Sega's portfolio in Nintendo's hands would be grand. I know we get Mario-Sonic crossover games occasionally now. Yeah, yeah, sure. I mean let Nintendo produce New Sonic the Hedgehog or Alex Kidd Maker, that's what I want to see.
Goofy headline from July 10, 2002:
It's really about a dystopian world where people strap game consoles to their bodies and walk around like that during the summer for minimum wage.
I know there's a lot of the 21st century left but we're ending it at February 10, 2004:
I didn't find a whole lot post-2004. That could be a combination of things. People looking for video game news certainly weren't turning to newspapers for it. As noted at the top of the page, this archive was mostly misfit papers when I started capturing articles. Also I don't know how much Google indexed before they stopped caring.
Let's turn our attention to a pair of themes that re-occur in these archives. The first deals with Nintendo's various battles against, well, everybody.
Everybody vs Nintendo
Sadly I couldn't find anything about the early lawsuits over Donkey Kong. The first thing I found is from December 13, 1988:
I totally forgot about that weird time when Activision renamed themselves Mediagenic. The whole multiple companies called "Atari" thing makes this story harder to follow than it should be. Tengen made some solid Nintendo games so I'm sympathetic to their claim Nintendo shorted them on cartridges. I think most Tengen games could have sold quite a few more copies than they did.
A couple weeks later on December 28, 1988 Nintendo gets ready for a fight:
This section is in chronological order so you'll have to scroll for a little bit to see how this ends (you already know though).
On August 7, 1989 Nintendo decided to pick a fight with Blockbuster:
I have to give them credit for coming up with a novel approach to try and stop game rentals.
On December 26, 1989 one movie reviewer was no fan of Nintendo commercials disguised as movies:
It's time to admit I've never seen The Wizard. Don't think I will either.
On April 11, 1991 Nintendo outsmarted the Federal Trade Commission:
Sending out tons of $5 coupons for $50 games isn't much of a punishment. If anything Nintendo came out ahead.
That wasn't always the case though, from July 11, 1991:
It's also a novel argument to say the Game Genie is creating derivative works. If you get a completely tech-illiterate judge it might even pass.
Now we move on to August 20, 1991 and another lawsuit against Nintendo:
I doubt the person behind this lawsuit foresaw a day when there would be this massive search engine and that everything they've accomplished in their life would be completely drowned-out by this search engine that summarizes their existence as someone who sued Nintendo when they were 17.
From the Department of Bad Ideas is one from September 28, 1991:
I can't fathom that Nintendo had anything to do with this idea.
The 16-bit war is escalating on November 3, 1991:
A quick scan of MobyGames turns up 25 Tengen games for the Genesis.
Big victory for Nintendo on May 3, 1992:
Swing and miss for Atari. I'm not qualified to judge the legal merits of their case but can agree in general that Nintendo's policies were unfair to many developers.
Another (small) blow to Nintendo on March 9, 2000:
OK, so, yeah, um, did people not figure out to wear gloves on their own? Also can't you just grab the little N64 analog stick and spin it? This is such an odd thing to get the government involved in.
If there's a new thing young people are into there's bound to be a moral panic around it. The same people who were teens during the moral panic around rock & roll started blaming video games for various societal ills. Of course the same crowd that complained about rock & roll (and later disco) would get in on the action too because they refused to die.
Going over these chronologically starts us at December 29, 1976:
The striking thing about these articles is how we're having the same debates today. Replace "Death Race" with "Grand Theft Auto" and the article mostly holds-up.
Another angle for moral panic around video games is noted in this one from June 16, 1981:
Although this has a happy ending it illustrates the fear that kids will ditch school to play video games. Kids who want to ditch school are going to ditch school. The thing they're doing while ditching school isn't the problem. It's like thinking "a lot of people rob gas stations, we should get rid of gas stations".
This article from September 6, 1981 is really about video games and the first amendment:
Like ditching school, this seems like a problem for parents and not something the government needs to regulate. Trust me, I know parents can't monitor what their kids do 24x7. My kids have 5G phones, they can access all kinds of horrible stuff we didn't know existed in the '80s. It would never occur to me to ask the government to sort that problem out for me. Yeah, I said 5G, I also vaccinated them, take that conspiracy nuts. Go complain to the advertisers on this site.. oh wait.
On November 21, 1981 the Philippines officially solved all their problems:
And after this, nothing bad ever happened there again.
Around February 21, 1982 a couple towns in the US decided to follow this lead:
What exactly is a "honky-tonk center"? Is that a bad thing? It sounds kind of fun really. I've spent most of my life in the north so I'm only familiar with The Honky Tonk Man and he seems cool to hang out with. I'm 100% serious here, I have no idea what the term "honky-tonk" means now. I just thought it was another term for country music. Is that what they're afraid of? That video games will lead to country music? I must be missing something.
On November 10, 1982 we're not letting the lack of scientific evidence get in the way of our conclusions:
Re-enacting video games in 1982 would take some effort. Have you ever tried to find a giant gorilla let alone train them to throw barrels at specific times?
Also from November 10, 1982 is a defense of video games:
Nice to see some early clinical use of video games. I think that's something that doesn't get mentioned enough.
Before Beavis & Butthead we have this article from November 11, 1982:
Way back in college, let's say 1997, I took a course called something like "Computer Simulations and Modeling". One of the assignments was a forest fire simulator. That was a good assignment, for me to remember it says something since I forgot 90% of the others. It only caused me to start 2-3 minor fires in real life.
This page from February 12, 1983 covers two towns. One doesn't want arcades and the other doesn't want mentally disabled people. Let's see these awful people try to justify their positions:
So they're collectively afraid of kids ditching school and mentally disabled adults (living with full-time faculty) randomly starting fires. Maybe they're all playing Fire Bug a little too much?
More parents that can't control their kids turning to the government on February 25, 1983:
What arcade is open at 7:00 AM anyway?
Before you get too excited about this headline from May 24, 1983 I'll note the study being cited was financed by Atari:
The last paragraph in that article is really going to trigger some people. As I have to explain to my kids all the time... it was the '80s and it was a different time. I realize that paragraph reads like something even 50 years older. I guess two articles ago has a similar issue. It uses a term that was acceptable in the '80s but is considered offensive today. Go complain to the 1980s about it, I can't help you.
June 14, 1983 was too soon for video games to be considered speech, at least in one state:
This judge had obviously not seen any early text adventures or RPGs. Yeah, they're not arcade games but make for a great counter-argument about whether video games were just glorified pinball machines.
Time to clutch your pearls, there are teenagers hanging-out. From August 3, 1984:
The last sentence sums it up. Go ahead and move the arcade, teenagers will just loiter somewhere else. It's about all they're good at. I looked this spot up on Google Maps because I wanted to see the sketchy alley. The arcade is long-gone but dang if that theater they mentioned isn't there and still looking like the 1980s.
On May 17, 1990 we have a bad headline:
Epilepsy is absolutely a serious condition that I would never mock. It's the headline I have an issue with. If TVs can trigger an attack than obviously the thing running on the TV can too.
Going out of chronological order for a minute to show a better headline from February 21, 1994:
It's a better headline and a more rational look at the problem. Video games have more flashing effects than the average TV show and therefore present a higher risk to epileptics. OK, that makes perfect sense and is explained in a non-menacing way.
Early reference to video game addiction on May 8, 1993:
I know this is controversial today for some but I think it's a no-brainer. Of course people can develop unhealthy addictions to video games. Calling it a different illness from gambling or alcohol or drug addiction makes sense because the behaviors and treatment are different. Some people get really worked-up over the "video game addiction" label and I think they're misguided. I think they view it as an attack on video games when it's about categorizing an illness and selecting the right treatment. I've never known anyone who enjoys gambling to get upset about the term "gambling addiction", all of us who enjoy video games should take the same attitude. This article also covers a number of things still being debated today (and probably even whenever you are reading this however far in the future that is).
In 1993 a pair of games became synonymous with the moral panic over video game violence. Let's go back to September 24, 1993 to look at the first:
Why won't anybody think of the children?! Do you have any idea how hard it was for a kid in 1993 to get a $60 game without their parents being involved? Again, my kids with their 5G phones can download free apps that are 1000x worse than Mortal Kombat and visit web pages that are 10,000x worse. Yet it's not a problem I think about for one second.
And the other was of course Night Trap. A game that is less violent than a Saw movie commercial. From December 17, 1993:
At this point Night Trap had been out for over a year and was largely unnoticed. It was well on the path to being cleared out for $5. It's an illustration of how out of touch the people upset by it were. If they were 2-3 months slower in outraging it would already be out of stores.
All this drama led to a new rating system, described here on January 4, 1994:
Joe Lieberman is of course strongly opposed to violence except for when he's not (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_positions_of_Joe_Lieberman#Military_intervention). Make sure you scroll down to his views on the Geneva Conventions too. For Herb Kohl this is fairly consistent with his other views. I'm not here to take sides. I'm just calling out the inconsistency where someone is against kids seeing violence on TV unless it's from an actual war.
The outrage over Night Trap was so great that by January 10, 1994 Sega decided to act:
Except Night Trap was already out of stores. I can personally vouch for this. Once some stores pulled Night Trap it immediately sold out at the locations that still had it.
At the end of the '90s, first person shooters received a ton of negative press. From April 25, 1999:
Hey, it's his store and he can sell whatever he wants. As you can tell from my previous comments I'm a big fan of people who are consistent. He felt it was wrong to sell shooters so he stopped. He didn't demand everyone else do the same either.
February 18, 2004 was just before the "hot coffee" incident, making this headline somewhat prophetic:
Oh, forgot to note that there's a second moral panic on that page.
Getting back to people being wildly inconsistent on December 23, 2005:
Arnold Schwarzenegger was very concerned about exposing children to violence. Very concerned I tell you.
So that's all I have. There's always a chance I'll scour the archives again and expand this page. Until then, thanks for sticking around to the end.