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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

SEGA: Doin' it. Nintendon'tinit?

As a kid there were a handful of things I knew to be hard, basic facts: pudding shouldn't have skin on the top, nobody wanted "purple stuff" instead of Sunny D, and Super Nintendo was better than Sega Genesis.

That this third fact seemed up to debate among my peers was astonishing. And if we're being honest with ourselves, I'm still a little suspicious. Listen. I know that the animation is better in the Genesis version of Aladdin. Big whoop. How's Sonic the Hedgehog doing last time you checked? Ouch.

Yeah, it's a little mean to pick on SEGA right now. I'll spare you the details, but things ain't looking so good. In the long run, if there's a winner to this fight, it's Nintendo. Though like a chocolate bunny in your easter basket, the victory is a bit hollow considering Big N's distant third place to the likes of Sony and Microsoft.

Let's set back that Swatch to the 90s and talk a bit about Console Wars. (Disclaimer: I don't know if Swatches even had a date function and it is still unproven if they are actual time travel devices. Try at own risk.)

Yeah. Every generation has their battle that defines them. World War I had the Lost Generation. World War II spawned the Greatest Generation. My friends and I fought in the Console Wars. I lost friends. We all lost friends. We sacrificed more than just dates with girls. We gave everything. And I'll be DANGED if I'll let those stories be forgotten.

Thankfully, thankfully, Blake J. Harris captured these times in a book. And in the end, you feel sorry for that plucky SEGA of America. They almost did it. They did do it for a while. For two years in a row, Genesis outsold Super Nintendo. And as the book purports, it was masterminded by one Tom Kalinske. The dude who brought back Barbie from the brink of disaster. A person who thought it might be a good idea to make vitamins in the shape of Flintstones. When Kalinske took over SEGA of America, there was a Nintendo in 30% of American homes. To say that they controlled the market was a bit of an understatement. Nintendo was the market.

What Kalinske understood was that people aren't sold a product. They're sold a story.
There was no such thing as a magic touch, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there were, because the only thing it takes to sell toys, vitamins, or magazines is the power of story. That was the secret. That was the whole trick: to recognize that the world is nothing but chaos, and the only thing holding it (and us) together are stories. And Kalinske realized this in a way that only people who have been there and done that possibly can: that when you tell memorable, universal, intricate, and heartbreaking stories, anything is possible.
The story he sold was that Nintendo was for babies. Your little brother played an NES. Sonic the Hedgehog was just so sassy, you guys. At one point teenagers in a focus group were ashamed to admit if if they had a Super Nintendo.

Anyway, Console Wars is fun. It's written more or less like a nonfiction novel. Want to know the story behind the guy who yells "SEGA" at the end of the commercials? Why Mortal Kombat had blood on Genesis but not SNES? What was with those weird black cartridges EA used? It's all here.

Oh, and Blast Processing? What a bunch of nonsense.