Games

One Collector’s Ridiculous Journey to Gather 380 Copies of Super Mario Bros

Sometimes you build a shelf with 380 spots and your life goal becomes finding a way to fill all those spots.
July 20, 2020, 1:00pm
A photograph of video game collector Chris Roberts holding up a copy of Super Mario Bros.
Photo courtesy of Chris Roberts

Many children of the 80s and 90s probably have a copy of the ubiquitous NES cartridge that contained copies of both Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Far fewer people have 342 copies of that same cartridge, and likely even fewer are hoping to acquire another 38 before the end of next year, bringing their grand total to 380 cartridges. But there’s only one Chris Roberts, and you’re hardly alone if you’re wondering what the hell he’s getting up to here.

Yes, Roberts is trying to collect 380 copies of the same cartridge, but there’s a reason, he told me over Twitter DMs. Roberts has been collecting things since the 90s, including old computers, old VHS tapes, and old games. While collecting sometimes involves buying a very specific game, more often, Roberts is buying bundles of junk. Quite often, he doesn’t even know what’s inside these bundles, he’s buying whatever stuff people are getting rid of.

Many of those bundles, it turned out, contained a copy of the cartridge containing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, and the duplicate copies started to stack higher and higher.

“I had initially put them to the side to later bundle up with a console and sell, but at the time I was using them as shelf filler, so I waited,” he said. “As time went on, I had an idea for a picture, did the math and realized I needed 343 to make that happen.”

The “picture” Roberts is referring to is below, in which he used Mario cartridges to depict a unique version of Nintendo’s most popular character. Roberts shared his creation on this year’s Mario day, aka March 10. (Why March 10? Because...Mar10. Get it? I’m sorry.)

As a collector, Roberts is used to trying to keep track of and organize things, so he’d built a small cabinet to hold the 143 cartridges he’d need. But it turns out it would actually hold 380.

“I liked how it looked and well, here we are,” he said.

Here’s how the cabinet stands now, minus the 38 needed to fill out the whole thing:

“My game collection started like most collectors, I wanted to get back the games I had as a kid,” he said. “After that, it was the games I wanted but never got, then I slippery sloped my way into set collecting.”

The collection started at swap meets, paying less than $10 for boxes of random cartridges because “people were just giving them away.” This was before the era of the professional collector; before lists detailed how many games a collector needed to have an entire NES library; before there were authoritative organizations designed around judging the quality of a cartridge; before a rare Super Mario Bros. cartridge would be sold for more than $100,000.

Roberts typically isn’t the person who would excessively pay for a single game, though. The most he’s paid for a single game is $625 for a copy of the NES game Little Samson that, crucially, came with the manual. These days, the manual itself can go for more than $500.

Paying a ton of money guarantees you’ll get the game you want, but Roberts prefers to “hunt them down and get lucky.” He found a Super Mario Bros. cartridge with similar rarity to the one that went for $100,000 for only $30. It wasn’t sealed, which greatly impacts how much it could ultimately be sold for, but it’s in the ballpark and reflects his approach to collecting.

At the moment, he’s currently five games away from a complete NES library.

Though the wider public may only be recently aware of Roberts’ Mario cartridge fetish, other collectors have been supporting his effort for a little while now. In fact, people will send him their extra cartridges in order to help push the journey to 380 along. Every cartridge counts.

380 doesn’t have to be the end, though. He could keep collecting. Roberts claims he won’t.

“There's a fine line between doing something that people think is cool and what your family will have you committed for,” he said. “I don't want to find that line.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).