An Old Letter Reveals the Unusual Story of a 'Donkey Kong' Glitch

Donkey Kong is one of the most-loved and most-played arcade games of all time. It made Nintedo a household name, and launched the character later known as Mario into pop-culture stardom. It also contained a bug that made the game easier for players, and which arcade owners had to pay $125 to fix.

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So, I was about to post something along the lines of this: I find it really interesting how this dynamic of player skill against using failure as a way to pull in cash is largely absent in modern games. Arcades seem kind of ancient in modern games discourse, and a lot of mainstays are long gone. As someone who grew up well after the arcade era, a lot of things seem unfamiliar.

But as I thought about it, the reality is that this kind of thing is absolutely alive today. Modern games are loaded with more “quarter-munching” than was possible in the arcade era. Freemium structures are really good at hiding this kind of malicious design. It was only last year that Hogwarts Mystery tried to scare people into paying up, and hell, even in the “hardcore” market, Let It Die was pretty explicit with it’s torch-carrying, being set in a literal arcade. Now I’m starting to think that these aren’t departures from what Nintendo did with Donkey Kong here; they’re evolutions of the same tactic.

I’m rambling, but it’s weird. I really don’t interact with many games with a lot of monetization schemes, so I tend to often think of them as kind of an ancillary part of games. But, living under capitalism, game design is inextricably linked to the ability to profit. I guess this just goes to show how, well, you know what they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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