A Difficult Treasure Hunt
After a bit of digging, I was able to track down a few sources on our little scavenger hunt:
A Casual Revolution (Jesper Juul)
The Art of Failure (Jesper Juul)
Joystick Nation (J. C. Herz)
The Ultimate History of Video Games (Steven L. Kent)
Game On: The History and Culture of Video Games (Lucien King)
Print or digital archival sources:
Computers and Video Games back issues via the Internet Archive
Electronic sources through Purdue databases:
Vintage Games by Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton
Game Cartridges in my Personal Collection: Super Mario Bros. (NES), Super Mario Bros. 2. (NES), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES), Super Mario Land (GB), Super Mario Land: Legend of the 6 Golden Coins (GB)
The print sources were the easiest to find, at least in regards to secondary sources that spoke generally about games or the history thereof. Finding print materials that dealt with Super Mario Bros. specifically were difficult to find. My search took me to the University of Michigan’s library page, where I discovered they have an extensive collection of game cartridges and strategy guides available for four-hour checkout. These strategy guides (or, if they’re available, instruction manuals) would be potentially useful — whether they’re useful enough to make the trip to the library one weekend is something I’m still considering.
I spent a great deal of time looking through Purdue’s digital archive, as well as the digital archives of other universities that were openly accessible to me. Those resources were of little help to me, unfortunately. The only available materials that had any mention of Super Mario, Nintendo, or video games were old yearbooks that would mention them in passing or minutes from student organizations. However, I discovered late in my search that the Internet Archive had back issues of various gaming magazines scanned in PDF format. While I didn’t have the time to sift through many issues, I was able to find at least one issue that had a large walkthrough/guide for the original Super Mario Bros. that could be worth using. If other gaming magazines are made available through this archive, I should be able to use those as primary pieces of evidence to determine how the difficulty of these games were perceived at the time they were released (or shortly thereafter).
As for electronic sources, I was able to find an ebook and a few articles on my subject. Again, these are mainly secondary sources but they will likely prove valuable to map the conversations surrounding these games and how difficulty is talked about within that conversation (if at all). The ebook, Vintage Games, makes some mention of the history of the Super Mario games, which may or may not prove useful. The historical accounts will be able to give me a better idea of the production and marketing of these games, but not necessarily the fan reactions.
One of the major stumbling blocks that I’m running into with my research is finding enough material that handles the issue of difficulty in these games. The articles in old gaming magazines seem to be my best bet, but I’m unsure whether those materials will be enough to sustain a worthwhile historical account of how their difficulty was perceived at the time. If I was working with contemporary games, I might be able to use forum posts or other online social venues to see first-hand impressions from players, but such resources simply didn’t exist in any widely accessible way for NES/SNES era games. Maybe a more thorough search of gaming publications will yield some interesting results. Otherwise, I may have to rethink my approach or subject of research.
While I’m pleased with the availability of secondary sources on video games, getting access to primary texts/sources is harder than I had pessimistically predicted. Fortunately, I have access to my own library of game cartridges, which would prove otherwise difficult to get access to these materials. I can’t imagine trying to get first-hand access to older games/game consoles, considering there are few collections that are widely available to the public. And while these games can be played as ROMs, there is a definite difference between the original game and its emulated version. This highlights a major concern for games scholarship, as these materials are only going to grow scarcer as time goes on.