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Game On: The History of Video Games & Gaming Consoles: Middle Era: The Cartridge Revolution

A Virtual Exhibit to Accompany the "Game On" Exhibit in Founders Gallery


In the late 70's Jerry Lawson designed the Channel F which revolutionized consoles by playing interchangeable game cartridges. While the Odyssey brought the arcade to the home, the consoles of the 80's brought interchangeable cartridges to the scene. The 80's and early 90's saw the rise of Nintendo and it's competitor, Sega. Those two companies would go on to create two of the most iconic video game characters of all time: Mario and Sonic.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Gray NES console and controllerWhile Nintendo started as a playing card company in the 1800's, in 1985 it launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America to enormous success (Wolf, 2008). Nintendo released a series of handheld consoles and the Famicom, a full-sized console, in Japan years earlier. The NES was developed on the heels on the video game crash, an event resulted in too many poorly produced games and consoles (Kent, 2001). Nintendo hedged their bets and promised retailers they'd buy back unsold consoles to ease retailers' post-crash fears. It was, in part, the success of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka's Super Mario Bros. that helped establish Nintendo as a household staple.

Image source: JCD1981NL, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Sega Genesis

Black Sega Genesis console with controllerIt was 1989 and Nintendo was in millions of households, saving the video game industry from its earlier crash. Sega, originally started as a slot machine company in Hawaii by Martin Bromley, had evolved to be a Japanese company that created arcade games (Loguidice & Barton, 2014). In 1989 they launched the Sega Genesis, a rebrand of the Japanese release Mega Drive. Sega relied on aggressive marketing, uncensored games, and Sonic, the brand's mascot, to rise to compete with Nintendo.

Image source: Evan-Amos, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

Gray SNES console with controllerNintendo's follow-up to the success of the NES was released as the Super Famicom in 1990 in Japan and as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in North America in 1991 (Loguidice & Barton, 2014). SNES moved beyond the 8-bit technology of the NES to 16-bits, offering games such as Super Mario World, Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Chrono Trigger. Star Fox utilized the Super FX chip, an in-cartridge enhancer that made 3D gaming possible on the SNES.

Image source: Muband, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NES Promotion

Sega Genesis Promotion

SNES Promotion