On Nintendo Cartridges

One thing I really appreciate about this class are the visits to the archive to see and experience technological pieces of media creation and consumption technology from the past. Part of the reason I enjoy these visits are due to the nostalgia I have for the media I interacted with in my past.

One of these are RAM cartridges for Nintendo and other game consoles. Now largely obsolete, cartridges have been replaced by CDs, DVDs, and now internet mediums of transferring data. As far as my understanding, the technology of RAM cartridges is similar to that of a memory card, so in this strange way, I interact with this technology on a daily basis from the perspective of a media creator today, while I did so primarily as a consumer when I was a kid.

One thing I’m sure everyone remembers about these cartridges is their propensity for not working when turning the system on. In order to fix this, the common technique was to remove the cartridge, blow on it with your mouth to “remove the dust” or some such, and to reinsert it, then turn the console on. As this typically worked, it was considered a solution.

Here is an article about the technology of the RAM cartridge and the phenomenon of blowing on their connectors to remedy issues with the game: http://mentalfloss.com/article/12589/did-blowing-nintendo-cartridges-really-help

According to this article, the act of blowing on the cartridge was ultimately a placebo and did not help the bad connection: simply removing it and reinserting it solved that. In fact, the article goes on to say, blowing on the connector was detrimental as it opened the opportunity for corrosion of the contacts.

Despite all this, I still have really fond memories of blowing on my Nintendo games, as it allowed for a greater sense of interactivity than provided by the gameplay. As a kid, I was fascinated by the physical nature of the electronics technology that allowed for gameplay (media delivery) and I enjoyed engaging with it physically and tangibly. It gave me a sense of purpose and pride in troubleshooting a technical problem.

To me, this is fascinating. Part of engaging in playing Nintendo games as a visual medium was this ritual of overcoming the limitations of its delivery technology. A single work in media can engage people in both virtual and physical realms with different modes of thought simultaneously. By blowing on these cartridges, people are engaging with media and technology in a way I had never considered before.


One thought on “On Nintendo Cartridges

  1. This hit me right in the nostalgia. Definitely blew on a fair number of cartridges in my day. Your last two posts both hit on the physicality of visual media, some lost, some displaced, some just less romantic (SD cards are lacking in cool 80s artwork). I think some of the appeal of that interactivity with the cartridge had to do with technical mastery as well, or at least the illusion of it. There was something cool about being able to “fix” a game. So I could be good at Contra (I wasn’t, really, I just used the Konami code, which is yet another form of technical mastery), but I could also fix it if it broke. I imagine one could track this sense of mastery into the digital era and, like the physicality of the media, see where it “went.” To that end, I wonder how many contemporary engineers got their start messing with Nintendo cartridges.


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