Totally 80s: Blowing into video game cartridges

Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)

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List item #37 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand

The frustration of having to blow into your cartridges in order to get them to work.

By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a shame that a good portion of you wonderful readers out there will never know the maddening joy incited by blowing upon electronics, video game cartridges in particular.

Come to think of it, we no longer have to abuse, physically or otherwise, our electronics in general. There aren’t components in them anymore that come unstuck or need to be jiggled just right in order to get the things to work. Blowing on your phone might make Siri happy, but it won’t cause its screen to become uncracked or it to send text messages any faster. Plus, what would you blow on, exactly? Phones, tablets, laptops, game systems…none have exposed parts. Save for the USB/charging connections, I guess. But even then, when was the last time you had to blow into a USB port?

Yeah, baby.
Yeah, baby. I’m ready.

This train of thought is getting very weird.

Anyway, video game cartridges. They were quite the inventions, eh? ROM cartridges, as they were called technically and in terms of gaming, were most prolific during the 1980s with your home Ataris, Segas, and Nintendos. (Though we all know Nintendo kept them alive and well into the 1990s and early 2000s.) Encased in sturdy plastic were tiny motherboards full of transistor-this and memory chip-that. Insert “male” connection A (the open end of the cartridge) into “female” connection B (the open slot on the game console), and voila! UR VIDJA GAMINGZ! Or enjoying some personal time. Um. Either way…you were doing something, with or without companionship.

But sometimes, dust and other miscellaneous particles of debris (i.e. more dust), invaded upon those connections, making it difficult for game to load and/or consoles to read the information on the cartridges. That’s when you puckered up your kisser and got to blowing. The cartridge. Blowing on the on the end of…oh…{sigh} fuck it.

 Exactly.

AHEM.

Okay, take a deep breath...got alotta ground to cover here.
Okay, take a deep breath…got alotta blowing that needs to be done.

The funny thing about this whole mess was just how prevalent an action it was. In my circles, “did you blow on it?” became the most common response to “I can’t get (x) game to play!” I remember this most with the original NES, though the practice extended to our Atari and SNES as well. And the cause for blowing mostly arose with Super Mario Bros. 3. Maybe it’s because I played the shit outta that game to no end, but after several months, the cartridge simply would not load. Sure, the NES liked the old Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge just fine, but I didn’t care an ounce about Tanooki-less Mario. Because seriously. Super Mario Bros. 3 was downright awesome, and I was well within my childhood rights to play it until my thumbs turned blue. And when the game failed to load, the blowing commenced. And it always (er, mostly) worked. Blow hard into the open end cartridge and then at the console connection (for good measure), pop the game back in, and Mario was off and running! And we thought Fonzi punching the jukebox was crazy…

Peruse the Internet today with the search phrase “blowing on video game cartridges” in tow and you’ll come up with some wacky results. Besides those are plenty asking the question of whether or not it did any good and wondering if the whole thing was some sort of myth. In terms of the latter, it wasn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be here typing things about it at you. In terms of the former, well…blowing on your cartridges didn’t always work. I mean, I’ll swear up and down that it helped our copy of Super Mario Bros. 3, but sometimes a dead cartridge was just that. Dead. No amount of expelled air could get the thing working. We killed a couple Mega Man cartridges and probably could have filled a hot air balloon with our blowing and blowing and blowing. We had a finicky copy of Super Street Fighter II Turbo that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Sometimes blowing on thing helped and sometimes it didn’t.

Sorry, there's only so much blowing one can handle.
Sorry, there’s only so much blowing one can handle.

There was power in simply imagining that you could make a difference with a wonky game cartridge by doing nothing more than blowing on its delicate parts. No skills required. Take a little lung power, throw in some naïveté about electronics, add in a strong belief in magic, and you too could make any game work.

5 thoughts on “Totally 80s: Blowing into video game cartridges”

  1. I remember I had to blow on the cartridges and the thing you had to put them in with my DS. Well, actually it belonged to both me and my sister. But, anyway, we bought the thing when it first came out, and we still have it (but we don’t really play it now that we have a 3DS). Around the time when the 3DS was announced our DS’s age was starting to show, and we had some problems getting the games to play. Lucky it was just the DS that was have problems and not the games, because now our DS games work just fine on the 3DS. With no blowing required. 🙂

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    1. I don’t remember ever having that problem with my DS, but as with any of Nintendo’s cartridge-based video game players, I’m not surprised. Stinks that you had such a crazy time with it, but I can totally see why you’d favor the 3DS anyway. I’ve heard it’s a good system and have thought about getting one myself…someday. Maybe.

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  2. I will never forget those days. For me it was a NES copy of Battletoads that some moron had jammed full of Ritz crackers…but we most certainly used the conventional cartridge wisdom of the day and blew the crap out of that mother

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    1. Crackers? Maybe they thought the toads needed food. Funny how stuff like that used to happen. Thankfully we’ve evolved past the need to shove snack foods into places they don’t belong…mostly.

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