The Super Nintendo turns 20

The now 20 year old Super Nintendo, or Super Famicom

The now 20 year old Super Nintendo, or Super Famicom

It’s 20 years since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the UK & Ireland. While this event is of little direct relevance to video games and learning, the SNES remains the console that, for me, conjures the fondest memories (with its 8-bit predecessor coming a close second). So, one might argue that the SNES is, at least partly, responsible for my interest in video games in general, and ultimately my PhD. Maybe.

I recall the seemingly endless wait for a European release of the 16-bit machine, scouring the monthly games magazines (imagine having to wait a month – or more – for your gaming news, Kotaku and Eurogamer fans!) for information gleaned from the original Japanese release of the Super Famicom, as it was designated in its home territory, and the North American version that followed. I also recall writing and publishing a guide to finding all 96 levels in Super Mario World with a friend. Pre-Internet, this invaluable publication was created on said friend’s Mac, ‘published’ by emptying his dad’s toner cartridge and sold in the back of C&VG and Mean Machines magazines. While this effort represents my first attempt at writing about video games, it’s unlikely that my current institution will be demanding its inclusion in our next REF submission.

Super Mario Kart for SNES

Super Mario Kart for SNES: hours wasted being defeated by my little brother

These personal, anecdotal and ultimately dull recollections, however, are not why I remember the Super NES so fondly. Put simply, the Super Nintendo’s allure lay in the games. Stone-cold 16-bit classics include the aforementioned Super Mario World, my favourite Zelda title, A Link to the Past, the original Super Mario Kart and a host of spectacular third-party games (Secret of Mana and Super Castlevania IV come to my mind: others would no doubt point to the likes of Street Fighter II and Chrono Trigger).

Luckily, I still have my SNES, proudly presented in my neatly arranged display of past Nintendo hardware at home (my wife thinks this is *awesome*). The Wii’s Virtual Console also provides an alternative (and legal…) means of sampling the classic SNES library. However, if you are keen to get a slice of authentic Super Nintendo action, you will find a brand new machine costs just £899 on Amazon (at time of writing) – small price to pay for the Greatest Video Game Console Ever.


PhD is go

It’s on like Donkey Kong!*

I’m finally officially registered as a PhD student at HATII. I have a pair of excellent supervisors lined up, in the form of Dr Susan Stuart (more informative personal website here) and Dr Steve Draper (see here for much more information). Susan is a philosopher at HATII and Steve is based in Psychology. Both are likely to keep me on my toes, and bring a wealth of experience and wisdom from their many years of teaching and research. Better start doing some work now, then…

* This is a ridiculous phrase. Believed to have been coined by rapper Ice Cube in the early Nineties – more than a decade after Nintendo’s ill-tempered monkey started chucking barrels – it has since grown in popularity on the Internet (of course) and in ‘hip’ pop culture. It was recently used to promote the video game-influenced movie version of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and subsequently (and rather retrospectively) trademarked by Nintendo to drum up interest for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, 30 years after they didn’t think of it in the first place.

Nostalgia, and learning from video games

There are some slightly problematic statements in this article, but it’s interesting none-the-less.

An American sophomore student (presumably at college) makes this comment regarding Assassin’s Creed:

“It’s set in Renaissance Italy. The attention to detail is so great you honestly pick up the layout of Florence and interacting with real historical figures and real events that happened.”

Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin’s Creed II does, indeed, feature impressive reconstructions of Renaissance Italy. Also, killing people.

Now, it’s not clear from this slightly vague statement what – of value – the student feels he has learned from playing Assassin’s Creed, but it’s clear he believes he has gained something from the experience. What might be interesting to find out is whether he subsequently sought any more authoritative information on the “historical figures and real events” encountered in the game, from alternative sources.

The rest of the article deals mostly with Pokémon (presenting the series of Manga-inspired games as something of a Nineties phenomenon, although a Western-friendly version of the game was not released in the US until the tail end of the decade). I had not considered the educational value of Pokémon until now (it’s one of the few Nintendo franchises I’ve never really become obsessed with), but perhaps it warrants some investigation. From the article:

“Marquez [the student in question] said there’s a lot of intelligence and patience that goes into Pokémon games. He researches stats, some of which involve complex math equations, before compiling a Pokémon team.”

Marquez continues:

“I will sit down with a pen and paper… and make sure my team is well-balanced. You can breed Pokémon to battle.”


Pokémon: it's educational!

My main issue with the article, however, probably lies with the fact that late-Nineties games such as Pokémon are considered retro. Contrary to what the seems to sophomore think (and I may be reading more into his comments than is strictly sane), his is not the first generation of adults (if we can be called that) to have grown up with video games.