The year was 1988 and “Nintendo Fever” was kicking into high gear. I guess I was slightly oblivious to this, since boys in my school we were arguing about Commodore 64 vs PC, and the joys of Micro Machines. Some of my classmates had NES’s, and some didn’t, but no one care. Yet, history seems to tell us that the country was ablaze with Nintendo fever, and kids seem to obsess about it.
In November of 1988, ABC’s long-running news program 20/20 ran a story called “Nuts for Nintendo” by John Stossel. For retro gaming enthusiasts and NES devotees alike, the “Nuts for Nintendo” piece has become somewhat immortalized, and a point of contention ever since. Love it, or hate it, it exist but I say it’s not all that bad. Now, to be honest unless I was reminded about the piece I never would have thought about it. I mean heck there was even a chance I watched it live and just forgot about it over the years so to say the least I was oblivious to it either way. So when various podcast and internet articles seem to focus on the piece with some animosity, I decided it was something I wanted to take a second look at by myself, and see what I really thought about it on my own.
Some, especially those who were NES crazy themselves at the time, seem to look at the story as an attack on the NES. In a way I can see that since the last 90 seconds or so of the story seem to focus on the down sides of having an NES (or video game consoles in general). One argument brought up in the story about the NES, and I’ve been hearing for years ever since, is that ”video games desensitize kids to violence”. This particular argument Stossel seems to blow off in the piece by saying, “Well, I don’t’ know about that!” with a noted tone of incredulity. But, another argument is that kids seem to “be obsessive” about the games and play games instead of doing their homework. This seems to be the bigger concern for Stossel than anything else, but even his argument here is somewhat more of a warning for parents to use common sense in how much time their kids play. Even nowadays I have to use common sense on when and for how long my son plays Minecraft, keeping him balanced between homework, chores, and game time.
In my opinion though, the rest of the story isn’t too bad, to me Stossel just seems to be walking outsiders (i.e. parents) through what the whole NES craze was all about, and coincidentally just in time for Christmas. He talks about its history, its quick rise into pop culture, and the economics
behind Nintendo’s success, with just the right amount of time and information dedicated to those points. I will agree however, that Stossel has some concerns that could at time be construed as negative such as Nintendo’s Japanese origin, intentional game shortages, and waiting in line for hours to get new games, but these points seem to be out-shined by Stossel’s constant alluding to the imagination that goes behind both creating and playing the games. In a way there is almost a love letter quality to the whole story that I think goes without notice.
Of course I think part of the reason why the report has come under fire over the years is because of Stossel himself. Stossel was bought onto 20/20, after one of their more famous reporters Geraldo Rivera, left the show to pursue his carrier as a serious investigative journalist (we know how that went). In a way Stossel in his 1980’s form is almost a Geraldo clone, mustache and all. But, as time went on we found out that Stossel was far more Andy Rooney, than Geraldo Rivera. His approaches to stories could at times be serious, but for the most part he would go with the cynical questioning “really?” tone, similar to what we see and hear in “Nuts for Nintendo”.
Here is the story off YouTube provided to the world by Screwattack aka The AVGN.
After watching it I’m sure you can agree that Stossel can at times come across as a bit annoying, and even slightly negative, but I still think this story is positive towards the NES. Say what you want about the story or Stossel, but I think the end cap for the story tells it all. After the story ends we cut back to Stossel and Barbara Walters. It’s at this point Stossel tells us that he got an NES for the story, and he says “I’m keeping it”, and that he and his wife “stay up till midnight” playing it. This to me is the point that says Stossel was sent out a hard core investigator, and came back a huge fan instead.
Now, as I said you can think and say what you want about this story, and maybe my attitude to the story comes with 28 years of insight, and/or the fact that I didn’t have “Nintendo Fever” in 1988 so I’m not angry about it, but to me though it’s a nice piece about the NES from that era. So I guess no matter what your opinion is, it’s a wonderful piece of history, from a simpler time in video gaming.