The 6 Darkest Moments of The Great Console War,
The console war that occurred between the fourth and fifth console generation is one that most gamers look back fondly on. After all, it was lovably stupid, with more trash talk being thrown out than at a Mr. T convention and some of the goofiest advertisements this side of a Snuggie.
Well, I’m here today to tell you that those commercials aren’t fever dreams that advertising execs had three hours before a deadline. These are records of a corporate war the likes of which even the cyberpunk genre couldn’t dream up. So today, let us mourn the fallen and play in memory of the most catastrophic console war in recorded history.
6. Control of Retailers
Back in the day, your local retailer’s electronics section was a lot different. You weren’t dealing with wasn’t-supposed-to-be-here-today Jane or I-have-no-idea-how-a-PC-works-in-the-21st century Steve, you had straight up pushers who only tolerated the other systems being sold because they didn’t want to get fired. My personal video game dealer was named Dean, who would be happy to converse about everything from Ecco to Sonic Spinball when you were looking at the right display case, but would freely pull out his Sega-issued “Persuasion stick” if you so much as glanced at Donkey Kong Country. He was such a devout soldier of the brand that he eventually got fired for stealing batteries to power his Sega Nomad.
In fact, if that commercial had gone on even a second longer, you would have seen the salesman break out a Game Boy and start clubbing the young kid before sending him off to the Nintendo labs (more on that later).
5. Espionage and Kidnapping
If the console war was the Cold War, then the rumble pack was the ICBM. The ability to actually feel your game was mind-blowing back in the day and many sacrifices were made to aid in its creation (more on that later). So it’s little surprise that Sony and Sega were more than happy to kidnap two Nintendo employees to find out about it and the killer app it would be released with: Starfox 64. You might think that this is just a goofy promo and not a re-enactment, but that’s only because footage of Mischief Makers and GoldenEye 007 is playing over the part where Bob and Peter are getting garroted by Sega and PlayStation.
You also might have laughed at how Bob and Peter were so distressed by seeing a doll of Mario get tortured. This is not a joke, but an accurate portrayal of how indoctrinated Nintendo’s agents were: they could not even fathom the slightest sullying of their company’s mascot. Speaking of brain-washing:
4. Re-education Camps
Yeah, you’ve seen this commercial before, haven’t you? You thought it was a retrospectively hilarious ad where a high-strung woman screams about how the Jaguar has superior speed while some severely choppy gameplay shows up on screen. You thought it was just an extension of the “bit wars” that plagued the nineties. Sorry folks, this is a mere re-enactment of the horrors that went on behind the scenes.
The world of marketing has always been cutthroat, but during the console wars of the nineties, marketing teams became warlords who lived above the law and led bloody revolts against each other. You could be at your desk, planning a fun commercial for Battletanx when you suddenly would find a bag over your head and then hear a “crack” as an unsold Atari 5200 would be broken over your head. You’d wake up in a classroom surrounded by fellow advertisers and marketing execs, being screamed at by a “counselor” who would brainwash you until Attack of the Mutant Penguins made sense and you were ready to promote the Jaguar and create advertisements for music-less DOOM and Alien vs. Predator.
Fortunately, the camps were shut down with the failure of the Jaguar CD, both figuratively and literally (most of the captured marketing teams were able to break out, while Atari personnel tried to get the dang thing to work).
3. Attacks on Civilians
Like I said before, even your average consumer wasn’t safe from the Console Wars. When you weren’t carving shivs out of broken controllers to survive cafeteria fights or dodging the glances from your local pushers, you had to even be careful about watching TV. One day, Sega finally decided to skip normal advertising to broadcast their message and brainwashing rays worldwide. Just watch as this normal, slightly slow, boy is transformed into a “Sega!” spewing mutant who will inevitably buy everything from the Sega Nomad to the Activator. Sega planned to broadcast their new type of advertisements and Nintendo prepared to do the same.
Luckily, through the hard work of the FCC’s top secret strike force and a united effort of intelligence services from around the world, this dastardly plot was stopped and liberal amounts of amnesia rays kept the general populace from finding out about the horror they barely avoided. Between this and the Eugenics War, it’s a surprise we actually remember anything from the 90s.
Of course, there was something far worse going on during the Console War.
2. Child Testing
One day you’re at a store when a guy in a clean suit and a bleached smile comes up to you and your parents, asking if you want to test the latest video games. You naturally say “Yes” and your parents, after making sure the guy is legit, sign a release form, thinking you’ll be able to get out all of your hyperactivity while also gaining counter evidence for the day when you accuse them of being the worst parents ever. They then walk away, completely unaware of what you’ve been drafted into.
The testing done in those labs wasn’t to find bugs or even focus groups. It was to find out if gamers could SURVIVE. The original version of Starfox 64 had olfactory disbursement units that let you smell sweat-soaked fur as the game goes on, a pair of pants that wet itself with fake urine when you were close to death, and a small explosive patch that would char your flesh and leave glass embedded in you when your Arwing was destroyed.
Of course, Nintendo wasn’t the only one doing this. The Sega Saturn had to do multiple tests before the console stopped sending testers to the hospitals due to sudden blindness, nervous breakdowns, and crushed sphincters (seriously, it can happen, look it up):
And let us never forget what happened to the 3DO testers. May they rest in peace:
Was it worth it? WAS IT?
1. The Bombs
So what made things change? What made the console wars go from flippant attacks on civilians and the console makers to the way they are now?
Sega went too far. True, the loss of missile post 78, the most incompetent post on the planet (DEFCON 5 is actually the lowest level of readiness), was a minor loss, but blowing them up with a mutagenic bomb that even makes roaches into “Sega!” mutants was the last straw. Strict sanctions were placed against console makers and reforms were put in place that prevented console makers from owning military-grade ordinances. The last military action taken by a console maker was a retaliatory attack made against Sega headquarters that was bravely thwarted by Segata Sanshiro (who was simultaneously one of the greatest human beings who ever lived and Sega’s most brutal enforcer). His death brought the past incarnation of the console war to a close as shown by this video.
So that’s the list. If you’d like to share your prayers for those who fell during the console war of the 90s, please do so. If you’d like to accuse me of throwing something together in three hours to meet a deadline, well, I would have to frown at you. These commercials were completely serious recounts of the darkest portion of video game marketing’s history. The fact that nobody remembers it that way but me is completely irrelevant.