07 7 / 2012
I just found this piece I wrote for my college newspaper when I was a freshman, some 11-odd years ago. I give it an A for concept, B for execution, and F- for verbosity.
In the 1980’s, tensions reached a peak between the Soviet Union and the United States. The arms build-up was as large as it had ever been, and both sides were spying on each other using the most sophisticated technologies available. However, the reason that the U.S. prevailed and the Soviets failed was because of an 8-bit propaganda machine, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo was, for many young children, the ultimate patriotism generator, albeit largely unbeknownst to them. Many of the game titles that came out in the late 80s were products of the American government’s ploy to instill a fervent sense of patriotism in their Yankee youths. In every Nintendo sports game that included global competition, the player was prompted to pick the Americans every time. “Super Dodge Ball”, “Ice Hockey”, and “Volleyball” are just a few prime examples. At the end of the game, when the final match was to be played, it was always played against the U.S.S.R., who was dominatingly superior.
They reserved Russia and its inclusive countries until the end, a David vs. Goliath match-up, perhaps created with the ideals of good American Christian faith in mind. In each game, the Soviets had every tactical and technical advantage, making the Americans the underdogs, winning on sheer will alone. This created a sense of grim determination and resolve for the player. Young boys often thought, “I must beat those Commie Pinkos back to the icy tundra from whence they came!” not knowing the full repercussions of their actions, which they repeated for years and years into their adulthood like a group psychosis.
When thoughts of animated juvenile anti-Slovak propaganda come to mind, two games in particular leap to the front of attention: “Rush ‘n Attack”, and “Conflict”. Familiar to almost all gamers, the former is a simple, scrolling-action cartridge that pits one American soldier (or two in 2P mode) against an entire army. Now, the game never directly states that the soldier is fighting against the Soviets, but I think a quick glance at the title might give one that impression. The game, of course, is impossibly hard, and the end never seems to be within grasp, much like the Cold War conflict between the two remaining superpowers in the 80s. (On a side-note there is, believe it or not, an end to the game. It comes after six levels, and you have to destroy an I.C.B.M. tipped with a nuclear warhead. A call to end the arms race, perhaps?)
The second game, “Conflict,” is a lesser-known title. For those of you unfamiliar with this massive party-line propaganda juggernaut, here’s an enlightenment: You are the United States, designated by blue. You are fighting the Soviet Union, designated by red. No arms build-up, no peace talk, just war. You’re given tanks, surface-to-air mobile missile units, commandos, bombers, and fighters to take out the enemy. Seven missions, three levels, twenty-one assignments to keep America “Red-free.” If this game doesn’t encourage you to take a second look at the intentions of the NES, take off your parka and set down your vodka, Mr. Borishnakov.
In the late 80s, the United States had a population of about 226,546,000. The U.S.S.R. had approximately 284,668,000, or roughly what the U.S. has 12 years later. Had the Soviets mass assembled a small machine that would reach the young masses quickly and effectively, they would’ve had a much larger platform from which to work on encouraging the adolescent generations to learn the politics of hating a common enemy, thereby increasing the chances of a Communist victory. Instead, they chose to focus on industrial propaganda (“cement factory means good health!”). Fortunately, President Reagan acted first and thousands upon thousands of American households were sites of juvenile jingoism.
Since the political ramifications and consequences could have destroyed Reagan’s career, country, and home, he chose instead to allow America to fight its war on an 8-bit playground.
The Nintendo Entertainment System played a colossal part in the outcome of the Cold War. Because of it, the government, armed forces, and even parents received the unconditional patriotic support of children everywhere, rallying their elders on to beat the Russians in real life, just as they did in a game. If Hitler had an NES, we’d all be speaking blond-haired, blue-eyed German.
America salutes you Nintendo, and may your battery never burn out.