Did Blowing on Nintendo Video Game Cartridges Help Them Work?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to video games and whether they are true or false.

VIDEO GAME URBAN LEGEND: If your Nintendo video game cartridge didn’t work, blowing on the contacts would help make it work.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, we as a society probably didn’t have what you would call “old wives tales,” but we had our own form of it, just conventional wisdom that was passed along between friends, or heck, perhaps just somehow ingrained in our minds like a piece of the public consciousness. One of those pieces of wisdom was what to do when your Nintendo video game cartridge was not working.

Nintendo video games came in these plastic cartridges that you would plug into your Nintendo video game system to play the games.

nes_super_mario_bros_2

As you can see from the cartridge, the bottom of the cartridge is sort of open…

nintendo-cartridge

Therfore, the belief was that if the game wasn’t working properly, there must be some sort of dust that got into the open cartridge that caused some interference and thus, blowing on it would clear the debris and allow the game to work. And anecdotally, it sure seemed to work for most kids. And if it didn’t work right away, you just kept on blowing and blowing until it DID work.

But, really, DID it work?

No, not in the conventional sense.

The way that the system worked was that the cartridge had a bunch of little pins and then when pushed into the video game system, the pins (72 of them) would be received by connectors inside the box and a connection would be made.

Problems with the game would be caused by poor connections. So thus, the most logical answer is that simply removing a cartridge PERIOD and then placing it back in would give it another chance at making a good connection. The blowing, then, was more of a placebo effect. It made you feel like you were doing something yourself besides simply removing and re-inserting the cartridge, when in reality it was meaningless. Or, actually, if it had ANY effect, it was a NEGATIVE effect, as the blowing could negatively effect the copper coating on the pins in the cartridge.

Here is Nintendo’s official word on the subject:

Do not blow into your Game Paks or systems. The moisture in your breath can corrode and contaminate the pin connectors.

Here, also, is a great PBS short film on the topic…

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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4 Responses to “Did Blowing on Nintendo Video Game Cartridges Help Them Work?”

  1. I used to do that with my Master System II carts and later, my Genesis ones….

  2. Even as an adult who knows all this, it’s SO DAMN HARD not to blow on the cartidge when an old NES game won’t work. It’s just instinctive!

  3. ParanoidObsessive on July 11th, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I always assumed the logic was that, by blowing on the cartridge, you were potentially removing any dust that might be on the pins, and thus, increase the chance of getting a perfect connection.

    Especially since Nintendo cartridges were completely open at the bottom, much like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision carts that preceded them, which meant dust COULD get into them if you left them out in the open, and not in their protective sleeves.

    Interestingly enough, Activision games for the 2600 actually had a built-in mechanical cover that would slide over the circuit board, covering the pins and keeping them dust-free, which would push back out of the way when you put the cartridge into the console.

  4. Michael Frank on July 21st, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Sorry, but I think you have that backwards. The Atari-manufactured games had the cover. Third Party games like Activision and Imagic had the exposed cards.

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