Editor's note: This story from Nintendo Stadium Events was originally published on November 28, 2016. National Video Game Day is July 8.
NOTHING it would have happened if Jennifer Thompson hadn't spared. That was in April 2013 and she was looking for $ 1 clothing and DVDs at Steele Creek Goodwill in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, when she noticed this behind the glass counter. The video game title sparked a memory, a Yahoo article about the world's rarest games. Jennifer carefully drove her Honda Accord & # 39; 99 across the street to McDonald's, just to use the restaurant's Wi-Fi to make sure she wasn't wrong. She then crossed the street again and bought the game for $ 8 out of $ 30 in her bank account, praying that the employee would not recognize what it was and prevent it.
When she took him for validation at a used video game store in Charlotte, the young man behind the counter opened the plastic bag and saw the game – untouched in his cardboard box covered by much of the original cellophane – coughing the words "Oh my God . " He offered her all the registration money for that. She refused it.
Before Stadium Stadium for the Nintendo Entertainment System came into their lives, Jennifer and her now husband, Jeff, were passing by. They lived in a double-width trailer with a mouse problem and a folding floor, so close to the Carolina Speedway that the sounds of the dirt track engines kept them awake at night. Jeff had been fired from his job working on the power lines, and Jennifer was taking classes at Belmont Abbey College, collecting coupons so they could get free deodorant and shampoo. The couple was slowly saving money, had plans to buy a house, but did not know how many years it would take.
This game can change all that. It had a strange mythology and a cult of people obsessed with it and who were crazy enough to spend their mortgages just to get it.
THE WANTED ORTHODONTIST the game, more than any other of the thousands he had already accumulated. He dreamed of what Stadium Events would be like in the window in his basement games room, the compliment that would give him.
The only orthodontist in Bedford, Indiana, Tod Curtis was 41, a wife and two children, and was popular in the small town. He had a free games room in the front room of his clinic. Like many children of the 80s, he enjoyed the NES – launched in the USA in 1986, it remains one of the best selling consoles of all time – and Tod kept a spreadsheet with the names of all the games created for him, all with more 750. Stadium Events was the last he needed. In 2008, he wrote "Hooray!" on the margin after buying a cartridge for $ 1,475, but when he put that game alongside others, the joy he brought was fleeting. A few years later, he found a second copy on eBay, earning it for $ 11,518.19. This one was in good shape, a cartridge in its original box with a single shiny cut running down the back, just missing the instruction manual. But again, something was bothering him.
It was difficult for him to explain why he wanted an even better copy. Anyone who saw the extent of his game room – safely behind the key-locked door – would not only be amazed, but would also feel a little sad for him. His obsession was not merely to acquire or display the games; it was about the search and some childhood longing that the purchase of games temporarily quenched.
Obsession was also an emotional investment. Growing up, he collected baseball cards. "I never had a newbie Honus Wagner," he lamented. "That's how this game is for that hobby. I don't know how many Honus Wagner cards are out there compared to how many Stadium Events there are. If the game is really that rare, you can see Christie & # 39; s 20 years from now. , where people will pay $ 900,000 ".
TIM ATWOOD DISCOVERED copies of the game. In 1992, he was on a team cleaning an abandoned warehouse near a JCPenney, on the east side of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at the time he didn't know much about Nintendo. The word was ubiquitous – the NES had been gone for six years – but it meant only Mario to a guy like Tim. Warehouse workers threw everything in a trash bin, including dusty cabinets. Tim saw a pallet of small cardboard boxes in the corner of the warehouse; these boxes were about 250 sealed boxes of individual games for the NES made before 1991, all waiting to be discarded. He knew someone with a storage space. For reasons he still cannot explain, he decided to keep the pallet for himself, instead of throwing it away.
Twenty-four years later, he became a myth, the 60-year-old boy who loved Mountain Dew and played the now retro NES, who could be sitting on a fortune. Even those closest to him did not know the whole truth of the cases. Finally, his friend Tom Curtin convinced Tim to take just one photo, to send a message to the video game collector community. It was a blurry photo, but the words on the side of the box were clear enough: BANDAI AMERICA, INC. STADIUM EVENTS. 6PCS. Tom posted the photo on NintendoAge.com, the biggest online meeting place for fans and collectors, with the title: After years of waiting … it's here and it's beautiful!
"That's when the shit storm happened," says Tim. "I should have kept my big mouth shut."
THE FLAME GAME for collectors. It is seductive because of its rarity, but also a testament to the dark side of a hobby that reaches new heights of popularity.
It is not a good game. It is a boring game. Launched in 1987 by the Japanese company Bandai, Stadium Events was manufactured for a piece of peripheral hardware called the Family Fun Fitness mat. To play it, it was necessary to jump on the sensors of the carpet to simulate the race, the characters of the game running, running according to how fast the player could go. The graphics were nothing special. The easiest way to play was to give up running and crouch in front of the block and beat your hands on the sensors as quickly as possible – cheat.
However, Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa thought the technology could be huge, so the company bought the rug and relaunched it as a Power Pad. Stadium Events was then renamed the World Class Track Meet, in order to "not confuse the market", according to Gail Tilden, who worked for Nintendo at the time.
But what happened to the stadium events that had already been held? Nintendo and Bandai refused to clarify the matter, leaving speculators of collectors. There were rumors that the game had been sold in just one Woolworth & # 39; s, which turned out to be fake. Other collectors agree with the theory that Nintendo destroyed the remaining copies.
Even Howard Phillips doesn't know the truth. He was the face of Nintendo of America between the mid-1980s and 1990s, testing and promoting NES games in Nintendo Power magazine. (A child of the '80s may remember him as the bow tie guru in the "Howard and Nestor" comics.) "Perhaps there were 10,000 copies produced," he says. "It seems an absurdly large number, since few have appeared. Ten thousand copies for the North American release were almost at a minimum. If there were 10,000, I don't know where they ended up. I don't know." remind us to bury them in a landfill. Destroying or reworking them would have been a laborious task. Making the label would be very laborious in one unit per unit. So … rarity is a mystery, isn't it? "
Over the years, the myth of the game has only grown, a confusing back story with wild collectors' threads about how they got it and where they kept it. Someone in Atlanta named Cory (who was afraid to publish his last name) paid $ 35,100 for a sealed copy he kept in a UV-protected acrylic box, which he then hid inside a Kashi cereal box. Dain Anderson, who created the Nintendo Age website, called the game his "white whale" for years – he traded more than $ 34,000 in Atari games to get just one copy. Another collector exchanged a $ 30,000 work of art for a sealed copy (five have been confirmed). A Wisconsin lawyer got his divorce: "I don't have enough to pay," said the client, "but I hear you like Nintendo games …"
Pat Contri, co-host of one of iTunes' most popular game podcasts, the "Completely Unnecessary Podcast", owns all of the other officially licensed NES games, but he says he will not buy Stadium Stadium on principle. He recently published "Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library 1985-1995", a 437-page book that ranks NES games on a five-star system, and Stadium Events earned 1.5 stars. In the meantime, hundreds of other games are hardly worth anything; Super Mario Bros., arguably the best Nintendo game of all time, is worth about $ 11. "You can buy an identical copy of the game [World Class Track Meet] for $ 3, "says Pat." Stadium Events is placed on a pedestal. I despise the aura around you – an aura of elitism. This attracts the worst of the hobby. "
Obviously, much of the value of Stadium Events is driven by its perceived scarcity, which means that if more copies appear – copies that may be in an attic or perhaps in an abandoned warehouse – there can be turbulence. the collecting community, a sudden erosion of the value of the game. And if the game loses its value, what about people obsessed with it, let alone spent small fortunes on it?
TIM ATWOOD SAT quietly at his home, near a dairy farm in central Michigan, smoking a joint, his own pot mix grown in his backyard. He named him Kid Icarus, after the famous but annoying NES game. He was thinking: would he really consider selling his sealed Stadium Events case?
When his friend Tom posted the distorted image of the case on Nintendo Age, collectors called him a dangerous hermit, and some questioned whether the image was real. Others were happy that he could destroy the value of the game by flooding the market.
"This is really my last case," Tim finally revealed. In fact, he continued, he originally had not just one, but three sealed boxes of stadium events, each containing six copies – more than $ 300,000 in games. He had already opened the other two and sold the content in recent years. He chose collectors he liked and got those lucky ones to sign a confidentiality agreement, keeping the source of the game and its price a secret. That would mean that instead of having five sealed copies of Stadium Events, as verified by the Video Game Authority rating network this year, there were actually 23, when you include the six who are still in Tim’s possession and the 12 people who had one, but failed & # 39; don't tell a soul.
Tim insisted that he didn't need the money. Occasionally, he sold some games on eBay when he needed money, removed his disability from a car accident, and led a peaceful life. Once, he said, he had given someone a $ 1,000 game for a single dollar, just to see the expression on that person's face. He did things like that to irritate other collectors, whom he blamed for inflating the value of the game.
As for those who speculated that the remaining case was false, Tim didn't care, although he admitted that he had shown it only to the lawyer and the person who had rented it in the storage space where he kept it. He also had a huge collection of NES in his barn, virtually every game, sealed. A fortune in plastic cartridges that had never seen the light of day. Everything he claimed about the stadium's event cases seemed credible.
Tom, who had traveled from Boston to walk and play with his friend that day, kept on joking that if he beat Tim on the Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour on the GameCube, Tim would have to take him to see the infamous box. Not a peek at the copies of the Stadium Events inside. Just the box.
Tim rolled a cigarette. The blue of the middle of the afternoon disappeared into the dull sky, the black of the middle of nowhere. "You can smoke my weed, cigarettes, you can even stay here," he said. "But I'm going to tell you the one thing you can't do – see the Stadium Events box."
He would never sell the remaining box. He would leave it as an inheritance and let his grown children "figure out what to do with it."
ORTHODONTIST SENTO in front of your computer, near the end of the auction on GameGavel.com, hoping to buy the copy of the Thompsons and fearing that your account will not work properly or that there will be a delay on the site for your attempt to fail.
His hands, normally steadfast in their craft, were damp and uncertain. Perhaps it was the most beautiful copy of the Stadium Events that Tod had found. There was no way he could let it go: a primitive copy of the game, complete with the manual, the cellophane still attached to the box. He got up, paced, sat down again – a wreck. His wife was standing behind him, shouting, "Buy it! Purchase he typed in the offer at the last second: $ 25,000, an admittedly scandalous amount.
There was a delay. Finally, the words appeared: Tod was the winner.
He jumped from the chair towards his wife; they fell into each other, they danced. He did it again. More money thrown after this obsession. But this was different; he knew it was the end, nowhere else to go. He fell back into the victorious chair, suddenly recalling the practicalities of a bank transfer to a couple in a small North Carolina town.
"No matter what I collect now, it cannot coincide with the experience of collecting this set of NES. It is not possible," he said later. "It's like being a Red Sox fan, like I'm growing up. I wanted more than anything for Red Sox to win the 1986 series. I was devastated when they didn't. But if they did, it would mean losing the thrill of hunted for the next two decades ".
The game arrived in the mail, packed by the Thompsons like a Russian doll, box in box. Sitting in his basement, he was attentive to the mechanics of every deep breath – lifting the box with the Japanese art style illustration on the cover, two moving runners, one in red shorts and the other in blue shorts and bandana, competing in a sprint Olympic. It had a stitch on the left edge of the Nintendo case for the box, where it joined the other copy. He even put on his white orthodontist gloves to play the game for the first time. "Wow, it's beautiful," he said.
He hasn't played yet.
THE GAME PLACED an advance in a brick house with black shutters in Gastonia for Jennifer and Jeff. He bought a microfiber sofa and a pool table. He helped pay off Jennifer's student loans. He paid for part of his Pyrex collection stacked in bright colors in the dining room, with only $ 2,000 to spend at the bank.
One day, not long ago, Jennifer was in her kitchen, frying bacon and laughing. "I don't know if it changed our lives," she said, calling the "me" "ah" with a brash accent. Jeff, a tall, robust guy in a cap, shook his head. "Ah, but it definitely accelerated everything," he said. "This has been wild."
After breakfast, the couple looked at each other, in a moment of holding hands, almost in comical statement of their journey together, via video game, which led them to an orthodontist in Indiana and that. Every time they hired someone new at work, their co-workers begged Jeff: Tell us the story! Tell the story of the game …
Jeff laughed. "But it is such a horrible game."
IN 2015, TOD I heard about a man named Jay Bartlett, who loved video games so much that he made a commitment to meet other collectors, trying to acquire all licensed NES games within a month. It was literally a mission from Nintendo, a documentary with the same name that followed him on his journey. Stadium Events, the anticipated film, would be the most difficult of all.
At the end of the film, Jay visited the only orthodontist in Bedford, Indiana.
Jay was in Tod's basement while the orthodontist held his copy of Stadium Events, considering whether he would sell it. Tod knew he didn't need three copies of the game. He didn't want to keep them and he knew that other collectors did. Tod saw Jay a lot, that feeling of wanting to be complete. He extended the game, his long-cut copy on the back of the box – abandoning his property, passing it on as a family heirloom from one obsessive to another.
"He was the perfect buyer," says Tod today. "Someone who was passionate about it, someone with a great backstory." But even now, Tod admits that he dreams of what might be inside Tim Atwood's remaining box and if anyone can convince Tim to sell. Obsessions don't stop just because you have everything you obsessed with.
To Jay, while carrying the game in an Indiana leather bag to his London, Ontario home, Stadium Events looked like an archaeological artifact. He felt incredible power; he was a new member of an arguably crazy club. Hearing him describe how he landed in the game is like listening to someone tell an athletic feat, as if acquiring it were a matter of endurance: "Not many people could do that …"
He wanted the game on display, where its importance would cast shadows on all the other games in his collection. He felt the game changed as people saw it. He had events at the stadium, he was worthy; it has passed an invisible threshold.
"No other game changes you like this," he said. "You can't go back."
Almost every night before he could sleep, Jay walked down the hall, past the games room, opening the door a crack, looking for a few seconds into the darkness, then turning on the light switch, lighting the box with the corridors on the cover. one with the sweatshirt band and the other with the red shorts and the revealing scar on the back.
He had to make sure it was really there.