Three Classic Letters That Show How Much Easier It Is to Be a Video Game Fan in 2019

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Like everyone else who possesses basic reading comprehension, I often find myself dismayed at what a mess the gaming community has made of its corner of social media. Harassment, rudeness, entitlement, endless yelling campaigns at developers and publishers…as soon as one controversy cools, five more slither in to take its place.

And yet, as someone who’s been playing games since before communities even started to congeal around the pastime, I can’t say I want things to go back to the way they were. For all the bad bits about our hyper-connected space, there are also precious interactions with industry legends that even our wildest dreams couldn’t conjure up thirty years ago.

I particularly like how gaming feels much more like a unified hobby than it did when I was a kid. As I’ve previously noted, there was a time when the Japanese side of game development was mysterious to the point of being alien. Nowadays, kids are a YouTube video away from learning everything they need to know about Shigeru Miyamoto, whereas for years I had to make do with a small pic and a blurb in 1991’s Mario Mania guide.

Over the weekend, I received a reminder of how far opportunities for fan communication have come. Several Twitter users shared letters they wrote to Nintendo and other game companies in the ’80s and ’90s, as well as the (typewritten) responses they received. Some of the nuggets contained within are precious, seeing as the responses come from U.S.-based staff who, nine times out of ten, knew as much about upcoming projects as we did, i.e. nothing.

The sharing started with Kotaku’s Chris Kohler posting a response to a letter he wrote to Nintendo after seeing a preview of the Super Famicom in an EGM magazine. Nintendo’s response, circa 1990? “We have no plans to release a U.S. version.” Ho ho, of course you don’t. Nintendo also included a wry lecture about how graphics aren’t everything, and points to RPGs as an example. Hmm, a budding Blood God disciple?

But nothing says “Nobody had any idea what they hell they were talking about back then” like the Nintendo employee telling Kohler that “We have no plans to make a sequel to Super Mario Bros. 3.” The Japanese release of Super Mario World was due out two months from the date of the response.

Another Twitter user, Kevin Hainline, shared a letter Nintendo sent to Nintendo Power contest winner Chris Houlihan. If you’re not aware, Chris Houlihan was awarded the chance to cameo in a video game after defeating WarMECH from the original Final Fantasy. You can find his name hidden in a failsafe room from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For years, I thought it was a little crummy of Nintendo to hide Houlihan’s name in such an out of the way location, but after reading this letter, I realize Nintendo of America tried very hard to get his name front-and-center. Slow communication between America and Japan made this task difficult. Seems like “slow communication” was par for the course in ’90s gaming—for fans and employees alike.

Twitter user Jason Marshall shared a real heartbreaker: A letter from Squaresoft that says Final Fantasy 7 is coming to the “Ultra 64.” As someone who clung to a mislabeled Silicon Graphics workstation demo as proof that Final Fantasy 7 was bound for the N64, this one hits me in the deepest pit of my soul.

I didn’t write to game companies as a kid, but I did write a fan letter to GamePro magazine once. OK, scratch “fan letter;” it was more of a “What’s wrong with you?” missive. In winter 1995, GamePro published an ongoing mini-guide for Final Fantasy 6 (nee 3) that claimed Shadow had five secret backstory dreams, not four, but your chances for seeing the fifth dream when sleeping at an Inn was only 1 in 32. It was a lie. It was impossible. I have the wasted hours to prove it. I was furious about being misled. How could GamePro print something that wasn’t true? Had it no shame?

The “Fifth Dream” urban legend survived for a very long time thanks in part to magazines like GamePro torturing kids with misinformation, but it’s since been squashed now that people can dissect games into tiny pieces and confirm “Nope, nothing’s here.” I suppose that’s something else I’m thankful for in this modern age of gaming: It’s much harder for crazy rumors to find purchase. That means there’s no longer any reason to waste hundreds of hours jumping on one foot on the night of a full moon because the troll who sits behind you in English class swears that’s how he resurrected Aerith.

So, as much fun as it is to look back at these old letters and marvel at the typewritten misinformation within, I can’t say I’m nostalgic for the days when the gaming community was so fragmented, so mysterious. I’m not. I’m really not.

Major Game Releases: October 28 to November 1

Here are the major releases for the week of October 28 to November 1. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King [PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, October 29] – Speaking of the ’90s, a couple of licensed games are rising up from the age of slap bracelets to haunt us. The Lion King is particularly unforgiving, even though it still looks and sounds beautiful. Hello darkness, my old friend.
  • Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD [PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, October 29] – Monkey Ball is back! Well, I mean, a remake of the Wii version most fans still don’t like. [Muffled angry monkey screams in the distance]
  • Afterparty [PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch PC, October 29] – Can you outdrink Satan? You’d better try, unless you want to spend eternity tied to the Rack in the deepest pits of Hell. We can already confirm this one’s a lot of fun.
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3 [Switch, October 31] – “Maaaario!” Once again, Luigi must overcome his deepest fears and track down his wayward brother. This time, you ascend a freaky hotel instead of simply exploring a haunted house. Fans of Luigi’s Mansion will be happy to know this is another great installment of a great series.

This Week’s News and Notes

Banner image via The Cover Project

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