Secret Cartridge Messages

March 1st, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Secret Cartridge Messages

In the early 1990s, I rented quite a few video games from my local Blockbuster store. I felt compelled to try any and all new games that showed up for rental — up to the point my parents would allow, anyway.

Around the same time, I figured out how to disassemble video game cartridges. I thought myself very clever and began disassembling NES and SNES games I'd rented to see what was inside. Blockbuster wouldn't have liked this, of course — to prevent such a practice, the chain sealed its game cartridges with tamper-resistant security stickers designed to show if someone had opened them up.

Luckily for me, the stickers didn't always cover the screw holes, allowing me to work around them. With a careful bend at the sticker joint between two sides of the plastic cartridge case, I could examine the cartridge interior with impunity.

Initials in Concrete by ww_whilstIt was then that I struck upon a weird idea. Similar to how kids would scratch their initials on a tree or a school desk, or perhaps draw their initials in wet concrete, I realized I could leave my own mark hidden within the cartridges themselves, gaining a small form of immortality in the process.

The key idea being that I would stick a note on the inside of the cartridge case, so people (most notably, Blockbuster employees) could not normally see it; one would have to open the cartridge again to reveal the secret message.

My youthful imagination fantasized about exchanging covert correspondence between video game renters this way. Even better, I could imagine someone, some day, far in the future randomly opening up an old SNES cartridge and finding a note from me inside. They'd be completely perplexed and amazed, and my goal would have been achieved. But even if no one ever found my message, it still would feel good to have it out there.

Placing The Golden Ticket

The next time I rented a game, I disassembled it and set to work with my plan. I found some small self-adhesive labels and wrote a short note on one, along with a date. After sticking the label to the inside of the cartridge, I closed it up and later returned the game to Blockbuster as usual.

Super Mario Kart Title Screen (SNES)I probably only wrote my initials on the first label (simulated above), but on the subsequent labels — maybe two at most — I might have written a short phrase such as, "Greetings from the past!" I don't recall exactly. I believe I left the first such note inside Super Mario Kart in the Raleigh, NC area around 1993.

If you find it, let me know. It will be even better than finding the Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar. As a reward, I'll give you a personal tour of the VC&G Museum — and I promise you won't drown in a river of chocolate.

12 Responses to “Secret Cartridge Messages”

  1. Dale Says:

    This is the coolest thing I've seen all week. I used to do something similar, rolling up pieces of paper with notes on them and jaming them into the crevices of walls, under floor tiles and other hidden spaces, but I never thought of hiding them inside game cartridges. I've pulled more than a few apart, though! Great post.

  2. Zoyous Says:

    I remember opening up my Master System cartridges to show my mom, who insisted on referring to them as "tapes," that they were in fact cartridges. My mom was pretty computer savvy but for some reason had convinced herself that they were tapes. They were kind of a similar size and shape to cassettes, and she had probably dealt with cassette drives at her work in previous years.

  3. Zoyous Says:

    …I think I also started opening them in order to confirm that there was a real difference between Mega Cartridges, Two-Mega Cartridges and Four-Mega Cartridges (there was), and to see the batteries used in saving RPGs like Miracle Warriors and Phantasy Star.

  4. kyle Says:

    I rented a sesame street game for nes and super mario bros 3 one time and swapped out the boards when i was 10. I wonder how somebody else felt when they popped in smb3 and got big bird teaching them how to spell. lmao good times

  5. Chris Says:

    I did something similar, but with a movie that I rented from my local Major Video about twenty years ago. At the end of a typical commercially recorded VHS tape, after the credits and Interpol warnings and such were over, there was usually between 10 seconds and two minutes of blank, unrecorded tape left on the spool. Seeing an opportunity to do something cool, I connected my C=64 to the video input of my old VCR, covered over the write-protect tab, and added a small text message at the end of "This Is Spinal Tap". I recall writing something to the effect of "Hey, this was a great movie."

  6. Win WOods Says:

    Oh wow, no way dude, I had no idea!


  7. Ethan Says:

    Whoaa…thats so cool :O

  8. Marcelo Says:

    Hey Zoyous, I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and in the early 80′s we also called the cartridges 'tapes'. Everyone did that, even when we knew they weren't really tapes. We even used to ask each other "how many atari tapes do you have?", referring to the titles of the games (the word in portuguese is 'fita', "Quantas fitas de atari vocĂȘ tem?"). Of course with the years people forgot about that and called cartridges by its proper name.
    But the other day, talking to my 9 year old neighbour, he surprised me when he called his Wii discs by the word 'tape' again. Maybe kids are using that terminology today. I'll ask around.

  9. Taylor Says:

    I quickly rushed to my copy of Mario Kart, bought in Raleigh years ago, and unscrewed it. No note, but I added one just in case I ever sell it.

  10. Benj Edwards Says:

    Awesome job, Taylor. Now if everyone would open their copy of Mario Kart, someone might find it. :)

  11. Lewis C. Says:

    It'd be so awesome to be the guy/gal who finds that message!

  12. Kouban Says:

    On the subject of ROM-swapping, I remember a friend of mine in high school rented Maximum Carnage for the SNES, only to find it didn't work. After returning it to the rental place, it was discovered that somebody had switched it for the ROM for Contra III, which they accused my friend of doing.

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