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The Mailbox: Video Game Mailers

When I was younger, mail was magic. Mark the Mailman was a blue-collar Santa, and my mailbox was Santa’s bag. Though kids didn’t have to worry about bills, and even junk mail had its appeal, the real treat was sending away for free goodies. Cereal box tops, Kool-Aid points, and postcard sweepstakes were the order of the day. Pen pals and music clubs rounded out the choices, but really, the possibilities were endless, and I was keen on exploring every surprise my mailbox had to offer.

Nintendo. The single word still retains the ability to send a shiver of excitement up my spine. As a child, that excitement was tenfold. These days the anticipatory shiver is more about the nostalgia and memories old video games carry. In the ‘80s, the excitement was borne of something wholly new, miraculous, and wonderful. This technology was at the forefront of home entertainment, and we stood at the feet of this hulking beast, heads tilted back, eyes wide with wonder.

As with any innovative technology though, it came at a high cost, a price many parents were loath to pay. For me, as with many of my friends, new NES games came only a few times a year. Birthdays and Christmas were a lock, and there was always a chance, small though it may be, for a random purchase due to a sale. The in-between times were often the killer. Those long weeks and months when we only had our small library of games, trades with friends, and weekend rentals.

It’s no wonder I spent so much time scouring magazines and television commercials for any opportunity to score some free video game related material. As always, I looked to the magic mailbox. That wonderful metal container might house a summertime gift, free of charge and arriving without warning.

What follows are a few of the video game mailers I still have from those in-between times, when anything with an NES symbol was a welcome distraction. It must be noted that these selections are all from the early ‘90s, yet still represent the continuation of our adoration with Nintendo that started in the ‘80s.

Nintendo Power Mailer

I never subscribed to Nintendo Power, and at this point I couldn’t tell you why. I don’t remember ever even owning a copy. I’m sure it wasn’t because my parents disallowed the subscription, as I did subscribe to Disney Adventures as a kid. Either way, because I’m weird, I saved this Nintendo Power mailer advertising the “Fantastic Adventure” I might have with the magazine. Inside the envelope was a two-sided mini poster advertising the many reasons I should subscribe. I guess it didn’t work.

$5 Redemption Certificate

In November of 1991, eleven-year-old me received a $5 redemption coupon for any Nintendo product. The included letter explained that the coupon was issued “…as part of the settlement of State of New York v. Nintendo of America Inc, an antitrust lawsuit filed by [Robert Abrams'] office on behalf of New York State Nintendo Console Purchasers.” The Attorney Generals of all 50 states and the District of Columbia alleged that consumers were overcharged for consoles due to Nintendo’s resale pricing policies, and though Nintendo denied the claim, they settled out of court.

A Letter from Nintendo

Young Tony wasn’t pleased with the accusation that his beloved Nintendo had done something wrong (as evidenced by the unused $5 coupon still in my possession). I don’t remember doing this, but apparently I wrote a letter of support to Nintendo, and they replied with their thanks as well as a news release about the settlement.

Game Genie Mailer

The Game Genie was a godsend for young gamers like me who couldn’t seem to beat any of Nintendo’s games without some kind of cheat code. Imagine, a piece of hardware designed for the express purpose of cheating. With a single purchase, suddenly all those old games I’d gotten bored of had a second life, reinvigorated by the possibility of seeing the final screen.

As cool as the Game Genie was, even cooler (to me at least) was the notion that new codes were coming out all the time, and we could subscribe to receive packets with those new codes! I’m sure our parents saw the subscription for what it was (a way to suck even more money out of us), but to me it was another thing to look forward to getting in the mail. How else, in a time before the Internet, was I to find these codes?

The Pit II

Last up is Issue #2, Volume #1 of The Pitt II from Acclaim. I’m not sure how I ended up getting this mailer, but I must assume it was a freebie from somewhere. Maybe I purchased a Mortal Kombat game that came with one of those postcards to send away for a free newsletter. However it happened, I received this small packet about all things Acclaim, including news about the Mortal Kombat movie, the release of Maximum Carnage, and a Mortal Kombat II sweepstakes (that I can’t believe I didn’t enter).

Although all these examples came from the early ‘90s, I know there were just as many opportunities to receive fantastic video game mail in the ‘80s as well. I’m sure I have some of my own around here someplace.

What kind of video game mail did you send away for as a kid?


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May 09, 2023

I do remembering having a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine when it first started and looking forward to each issue. The only mail interaction I remember with video games was for Atari 2600 Activision games. They encouraged you to take a picture of your TV screen if you achieved a certain scoring level on their games and mail that in to receive a patch commemorating your achievement. I received 3 such patches and still proudly have my Pitfall patch, but sadly do not have the others. (I also remember taking a picture of your TV screen was harder than it sounds and often pictures were just a blur after being developed - which was especially frustrating since you usually …

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Oh wow, that's pretty awesome! I think I was too young to have know about the Atari thing, but it sounds like something I totally would have done. Oh man, waiting for film to be developed only to find all the bad and blurry shots! Definity an experience of its time.

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