Back in the day, the 1980s to be precise, the world was introduced to a new and exciting game system. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) offered a variety of games and better graphics than systems that had been released before it, and kids (and adults) went crazy for the new console.
However, over time, it became apparent that the system had some issues. One of them being that games would sometimes have trouble loading. To solve this problem, kids everywhere took to blowing in their game cartridges to get them to play—sometimes to success and sometimes not. Why and how this became the universal method to get games to work is unclear, but it happened on a mass scale.
Did blowing into video game cartridges really help? Let’s take a look at the mechanics of the issue and go from there.
History of the NES
The Nintendo console got its start in Japan, where early versions were known as the Famicom, or Family Computer. It was red and cream, and the games were loaded into a slot that sat on top of the console. When the system came to the U.S., this design was changed. The familiar console that people in the U.S. recognize is two-tone gray and the games are inserted into a slot on the front and then have to be pushed down.
The goal of this design was to make it look more like a VCR. Kids of the era knew how to work VCRs, so it was assumed they’d have no issues figuring out how to use an NES. For the most part, this was true. But issues arose when it came to the connections inside the console and on the games.
How NES Games Play
For NES games to play, they have to connect with pins that exist inside the console. The original purpose of the front load design was to protect both the console and the games. When games were loaded on the top, they required some force to make sure the connectors connected. If a person pushed too hard, this could break the machine or cause other problems.
NES tried to take into account how users applied force, and the front-load design was supposed to solve this issue. However, it created new problems instead. First and foremost, despite NES games being loaded from the front, they still required pressure to ensure a connection. Most 80’s and 90’s kids probably remember having to push the games inside the console securely so that they could then push down the tray. If they were even a little off, the tray wouldn’t go down.
There was also the problem of dirt and other debris getting inside the console. Because it was front load with a door and a tray that had to be pushed down, this meant that cleaning it or addressing any connection issues was near impossible.
So many things could go wrong at this point. Since the connectors inside the console relied on springs, those springs could wear out. They were also covered with copper, and copper gets a patina on it when exposed to the elements. As such, they would have been exposed to a variety of different things when the console was opened and closed.
Did Blowing Into Video Game Cartridges Really Help?
Somewhere along the line, it was decided that fixing the connection issues between Nintendo games and the console required blowing into the cartridge. It’s a guarantee that every person who owned an NES did this. Ask them. And sometimes the process worked. Therefore, the idea was that if it worked once, it would work every time.
However, blowing into a cartridge was actually a terrible idea. If the system was having issues because of being exposed to the elements, then hot breath was just another element. In addition, it added moisture to the mix. This means that it increased the chances of mold and mildew growing on the games or inside the console. In time, this would cause even more issues and make it so games worked even less. But the action continued nonetheless.
At one point in time, an experiment was conducted to see if blowing on a cartridge was helpful or not, and the results show that it was definitely not helpful. Nintendo even started printing on the back of their games that people should not blow into the cartridges, and they developed cleaning kits so games and consoles could be kept in proper working condition.
Video games have progressed a lot since the first NES came out in the 1980s. Today, it might seem silly to blow on a game disc or inside your console. Of course, back in the day, it seemed foolish not to! For many of the generation, it was all they knew, and every so often, blowing into the cartridge actually worked. And you can’t argue with results.
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