Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Famicom Cart Trading

LinkIn addition to the above cover image of the Famicom, another little thing I like about my recently acquired Hisshou Sakusen Mecha Guide is the last page:
This is a page for kids to record which games they have lent out to friends. From left to right, the columns are titled "Friend", "Game's name", "Day it was lent" and "Day it was returned".

This page, incidentally, is the reason this guidebook was much cheaper than the rest: because the kid who owned it had actually filled it out. In the guide collecting world, this is considered serious damage.

I'm rather pleased that he or she did so. The first entry states that the guide's owner lent Bomberman to a friend called "Turbo" on March 13. Either it was never returned or he just didn't bother to fill that column in when it was. The second entry states that Atama no Usenkan Garu, a game I have never heard of, was lent to a friend named "Non-kun". By that time the guide's owner was no longer interested in recording dates of any sort, and thereafter he seems to have abandoned use of the guide for this purpose altogether.

An extremely brief career this guide had as a record of a kid's lending activities, but its kind of interesting nonetheless.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, a lot of Famicom carts out there have kids names on them.
This is mainly a legacy of their having been traded with friends - a way of ensuring everybody knew which cart belonged to which kid.

My wife used to do this when she was a kid too, so much so that a lot of games she isn't sure if she had them or had just borrowed them from a friend. I think that is kind of cool.

Cartridges, I note, are ideally designed for trading like that. They are sturdy and can survive roughing it in a kid's backpack for the trip to and from school or a friend's house. Disc based games were much less well suited to this - the jewel CD cases the PS1 and Saturn games came in are pretty easily broken and the sturdier post-PS2 cases are a lot bulkier than most carts.

Digital distribution, of course, makes this sort of interaction among friends impossible. Which is yet another reason why it is bad.

Another interesting thing about this is that the Famicom's dominance probably facilitated game trading in Japan much more than elsewhere. As a kid in the 80s I played games first on an Intellivision, then a Commodore Vic-20 and later on an Apple IIC. I didn't get an NES until 1989, when I was 13.

My problem - and a lot of friends had this too - was that nobody I knew had a Commodore Vic-20 or Apple IIC. It seemed everybody had different computers or consoles. We couldn't trade games with each other since everybody had software that was incompatible with what everybody else had. If you wanted to play each other's games you had to go to the other kid's house, which always sucked because they (having the benefit of practice) would always kick the crap out of you on whatever game it was.

Probably kids with NES's didn't have this problem so much. One of those rare examples of a near-monopoly producing benefits for consumers. Go figure.

Related Posts:
- 1985 Famicom High Scores
- Famicom Cart Condition: Why Good is Bad and I Never Buy Sealed Stuff


  1. I had no clue in Japan kids did the stupid thing too of writing on cartridges. I never understood that. And now twenty years later, I buy cartridges that has "Property of David" written on it somewhere.

    Very interesting thing to notice. The color of famicom carts and the unique style almost make them little things to collect, trade and lend out. I remember by the time I moved onto the PS1, I never lent any games out (only to my closest friends) just because I would be so scared about the damage they could undertake. Cartridges are fun and easy to pass along. Even years later, I feel this chart could've been so helpful. They're a few carts I'm sure friends from long ago still have... (T_T)

    I suppose the modern equivalent are the DS cards, but they're just not as fun and are so small, you need the whole case to lend it out.

  2. It is kind of interesting, isn't it? I never lent games out either as a kid, though in my case it was because none of my friends had the same computers/consoles that I did.

    And yeah, the DS cards are a little small. I think something between the Gameboy cart and the Famicom cart is about the right size for trading. Super Famicom carts are too big to fit into pockets and anything smaller would risk getting lost/broken.

  3. You know Sean, I think it adds more value. It's a testimony of how important were videogames for us as children. I own myself, a bunch of magazines with names, dates, comentaries and cheats handwritten by their original owners. These kinds of stuff it's invaluable for me. I know mint conditions and purity is something that collectors look forward, but from my point of view, some of us, are just preserving a piece of history in our hands, like some sort of Indiana Jones of videogames, and these kinds of proof are invaluable.


  4. Heh, I have a few Famicom carts with stuff written on them myself. I have the Japanese version of Mickey Mousecapade, and some kid practiced writing "Mickey Mouse" in Katakana on the cart's top. My copy of Super Mario Bros. has the name "Masano Daisuke" written in crude Hiragana on the warning label. My copy of Super Mario 3 has some name written in Kanji, but it's smudged, and even if it wasn't I can't read Kanji. My copy of the Goonies has a name on it's warning label, but it's torn slightly... I think it says "Takeri"...? I can see a Ta and Ke, but the last character is almost impossible to read due to the tear. My copy of Nuts and Milk has a Kanji-written name on the back. It's a joy to see carts previously owned by other people, and it's also fun to think of the previous owners enjoying the games back then I am today.

  5. elfamilygame - yeah, I agree with that. This sort of thing isn't really damage, it is history and it makes the thing much more interesting.

    Skyrunner14 - Yes, I think about 20% or so of my Famicom carts are like that. The preference seems to have been to write them on the back of the cart, though some wrote on the front. Black carts are less likely to have them since the ink wouldn't show up unless they wrote on the label.

    I like the Irem carts like Sqoon and Spelunker. If you look on the back of them the label actually has a space specifically for you to write your name. I wrote my name on my copy of Sqoon.

  6. I was born in the late 80s so my first gaming console was the NES. I soon moved onto the SNES and N64 and PSX and so on and so forth.

    Maybe it was just because we were young, but I can't ever remembering borrowing or letting friends borrow NES or SNES games. It wasn't really until middle school that I distinctly remember trading N64 and PSX games to borrow. And to be honest, I remember borrowing friends PSX games more often than N64 games. So, the discs and jewel cases don't break as often as you'd think. Obviously if they did, you wouldn't let that friend borrow games from you anymore. Playstation (and other disc) games were even easier to lend out and borrow because of the memory cards and stuff. You didn't have to worry about your friends messing up your data (and vice versa) because all the data was on the memory cards. I do remember taking my memory cards and stuff over to my friends house if I was bringing a game with stuff that I unlocked or whatever. But if I left that with my friend, I knew he wouldn't fuck it up. So, if there are games, kids will trade them.

    More on to the point, whenever I buy something used (games or music) I like thinking about how it got to me. Especially vinyl records I bought that were much older than I was. I don't think any of my games or anything have any special markings, but on my copy of Pokemon Stadium, I did write my name on the cartridge in the provided space.

    Also, writing about Playstation games reminded me how cool those black backed discs were.

  7. Nate - that is a good point about the memory cards, I hadn't thought of that. It certainly would make the games easier to trade from that perspective.

    I have a similar fascination with vinyl - wondering who owned them before me, what their story is, etc. Interesting food for thought.

  8. My friends and I traded Gameboy, NES and SNES carts back in the day. NA copies of these games were perfect for trading, as they all had little plastic cases/slips that at least somewhat protected the games from dirt, dust, etc. I know Famicom and Super Famicom never came with such "protectors," but did Japanese Gameboy games, Sean?

    Anyway, I love these little details that you're finding on your carts and other gaming-related collectibles. I used to hate the idea of buying such things myself, but now I can really see the appeal of them :)

  9. Interesting, Bryan, I had also forgotten about the plastic sleeves that NES games came in. And yes, the Japanese Game Boy games come with little plastic protectors.

    Some of these books and other "gaming-related collectibles" are quite interesting. Provided that they are actually things released back "in the day" and not these commemorative blah blah things. I think the Famicom mini-cards are my favorite:)

  10. Bomberman is awesome, I wouldn't lend it to anyone :P I kind of like seeing writing on books and stuff like that but it does mess them up a bit. I wouldn't like it on the carts though. Do you try to clean it off?

    I never really traded games much either, mostly for the same reasons as you. And talking of game cases... Dreamcast are by far the most fragile I've ever known... Grrr!

  11. Names I always leave on the carts. It is like a part of their history and I almost feel it would be sacrilegious to remove them:) I usually just clean any dirt off of old carts but otherwise leave them in the same condition as I found them.