In this article, I will review original reporting related to a 2000 Nintendo settlement over injuries that people reportedly suffered while playing joystick rotation games in the original Mario Party for the Nintendo 64. The settlement came as the result of a complaint (not a lawsuit) from the New York Attorney General on behalf of parents of children whose palms were reportedly injured when playing Mario Party. Before getting to the main story, which I will cover by referencing original reports from 2000, user accounts from around the web, and my own Mario Party experience, I will explain how I came to write this piece. This piece follows my article about how the joystick rotation minigames were a menace to Nintendo 64 controllers.
Mario Party was a video game first released for Nintendo 64 in 1998 (it made it to the United States in February 1999). The first game launched a long-running series which saw its most recent entry released for the Nintendo Switch in 2021. In short, Mario Party is a video game in board game form. Players use dice to move around a board and play mini games between turns.
The original Mario Party had five mini games which required the players to rapidly rotate the Nintendo 64’s joystick. The most effective way of doing so involved maneuvering the joystick with the palm of the hand, This led to problems, and I discussed the tendency of these mini games to damage Nintendo 64 controllers. Nintendo thought better of rotation games, removing them from Mario Party 2 and disappearing them until it brought back one original joystick rotation game in Mario Party Superstars. All of these games then recently returned again in their original glory when Mario Party was made available through the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass. I came across an article questioning this because the games could cause hand damage, but from my experience controller damage was a bigger threat. The article I read also reported that Nintendo had offered palm-protecting gloves to people who purchased the original Mario Party, which I noted that I did not remember having happened.
(For reference: I was not using the internet back when I was playing Mario Party (1999-2002ish) – a fact that I covered in a different way in my article on a curious Pokémon urban legend from 1999. I did, however, read game magazines like Nintendo Power, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Game Informer (Game Informer reviewers hated Mario Party), but if I happened to have read a story about the Mario Party glove giveaway, I have long since forgotten it.)
I was not content to leave this story at my noting that I did not remember the glove give-away, so I decided to research Nintendo’s “offer” to compensate Mario Party owners with gloves. In so doing, I discovered that the “offer” was part of a settlement between Nintendo and the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which was prompted by complaints by a small number of parents of children whose children had allegedly been injured while playing joystick rotation games in Mario Party. Before covering the story and some original reporting from the time of the settlement, I note that, having not only played Mario Party, but also having played the joystick rotation games in the allegedly dangerous, unapproved way, I maintain that the biggest menace from the rotation games is damage to the controller joystick, not damage to the palm of one’s hand – and it is for that reason that Nintendo should not have brought the games back in its recent Mario Party Superstars compilation and tin he Mario Party revival on the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass.
I began my search for Mario Party-glove stories with the Marginalia Search Engine, a search engine designed for small web and older sites. I came across a promising lead in the form of This Day in Personal Computer and Video Game History March 9 on Mr. Ken Polsson’s website:
2000 – Nintendo agrees to supply protective sports gloves to American owners of the Mario Party video game for the Nintendo 64. The Attorney General’s office of New York had complained to the company after hearing many reports about children being injured playing the game.
The article which inspired me to cover the joystick rotation games in the first instance did not mention that Nintendo’s Mario Party glove give-away was the result of a complaint by then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. I decided to research the issue further.
One of my first discoveries was that the first report of Nintendo’s settlement with the New York Attorney General was written by Mr. Robert Lemos for ZDNet on March 8, 2000 (see original and archived). Where then did the March 9 date come from? I discovered that the Associated Press report on the settlement appears to have been published on March 9, one day after the ZDNet report (see original and archived).
A few secondary sources describe the settlement as having been entered into in 2002. For example, a 2021 article from Polygon relies on CNET reporting on the story “way, way back in 2002.” This passage links to a January 2, 2002 report by Mr. David Becker of CNET (see original and archived). However, I am almost certain that the CNET report was, notwithstanding the January 2, 2002 date, published in 2000. The first sign is that it is written from the same perspective as the two correctly dated articles. The second sign comes from the following passage:
The potentially embarrassing development comes at a critical time for Nintendo, as the company faces renewed competition from Sony and its new PlayStation 2 console, Microsoft’s upcoming “X-Box” gaming device–which chairman Bill Gates will provide more details on tomorrow–and Sega’s Dreamcast.
The Sega Dreamcast had already been discontinued by January 2, 2002, as I noted on The New Leaf Journal. Moreover, Nintendo released its own successor to the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo Gamecube, in November 2001. No one would have described the Nintendo 64 as competing against anything by 2002 since it was no longer Nintendo’s flagship console. If this were not decisive enough, the “2002” article describes as “Microsoft’s upcoming ‘X-Box’ was not”upcoming” at all – for it had also been released in November 2001.
I suspect that the 2002 date on the CNET article represents a “last updated” date or is a relic from a change in CNET’s backend from the early 2000s. Thus, despite the fact that the CNET piece by Mr. Becker is dated January 2, 2002, I will reference it under the assumption that it was originally published in March 2000.
Mr. Lemos of ZDNet led off his report with the main story:
Video game maker Nintendo of America Inc. agreed on Thursday to provide protective gloves to approximately 1.2 million children who play the game Mario Party. The agreement is part of a settlement with the New York state attorney general’s office and could cost Nintendo up to $80 million.
Mr. Lemos explained that the settlement was not the result of a lawsuit, but rather a complaint from the New York Attorney General:
While no case was actually filed, the New York attorney general’s office has received almost 100 complaints from consumers whose children had sustained hand wounds from playing any of five different levels of the Nintendo 64 game.
It noted that the five offending minigames were “Paddle Battle, Tug O’War, Pedal Power, Cast Aways[,] and Deep Sea Divers…” You can see video of the game-play of all the first four of those games on YouTube. While it is true that these five mini games all required rotating the joystick, the two which would be most likely (“likely” being relative here) to cause injuries would be Tug O’War and Pedal Power, both of which required brute joystick-rotating force (Paddle Battle also relied on brute force, but I think that it was a bit less intense). I was thinking most of Tug O’War when I wrote my previous article, and Tug O’War was the only one of the five included in Mario Party Superstars, but I stumbled upon a piece by Mr. Joel Couture of DreadXP focusing on Pedal Power. Cast Aways is the least likely to case injuries because of how the joystick rotating is implemented there.
It is a bit difficult to discern the exact number of complaints received about Mario Party injuries and the nature of said injuries. The ZDNet report from March 8, 2000, reported that the New York Attorney General’s Office received almost 100 complaints. The same article reported then-Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn as stating that Nintendo itself “had only had 90 or so complaints in the year.” The Associated Press article from one day later and the CNET report stated that Nintendo itself had received “about 90” and “fewer than 100” complaints, and made no reference to complaints made directly to the Attorney General. Thus, it is not clear whether Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s intervention was prompted by reports of complaints to Nintendo or complaints to New York State authorities.
Both New York and Nintendo reportedly had their own accounts of the complaints and reports of Mario Party-induced injuries.
Ms. Christine Pritchard, then spokeswoman for the New York Attorney General’s office, was quoted in the ZDNet piece as explaining that “[t]he injuries occured because of the way that the joystick is used to win the game…” According to the CNET article, Ms. Pritchard alleged that “[o]ne kid got a tetanus shot” as a result of injuries which allegedly came from Mario Party. Ms. Pritchard also stated that serious injuries, which CNET explained included “cuts, punctures, blisters, and friction burns,” could come quickly:
‘The alarming thing was how little time some of these children spent playing the game before they were injured,’ Pritchard said. ‘One parent said their child had been playing the game for 15 to 20 minutes when they got a second-degree burn.’
Conversely, then-Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn stated that none of the close to 90 complaints that Nintendo itself had received reported serious injuries.
I used my palm to rotate the joystick in Mario Party for the five mini games in question back in the day. Noting that I mostly played Mario Party against the computer (dark, I know), using my palm was the only way that I had a ghost of a chance (pun intended with respect to Pedal Power) in those mini games. Unfortunately, I must report that I was bad at those mini games even using the optimal method (and probably still would be, although I will not find out). Although Nintendo did not endorse the method, I agree with Mr. Luke Plunkett’s 2021 analysis at Kotaku:
[W]hile you could just use your thumb, to get the thing rotating fast enough to actually win meant using the palm of your hand instead of your thumb.
From the outset, I note that using your thumb is probably bad for the controller, albeit less so than the palm. I would have some difficulty keeping my thumb on the top of the joy stick while rotating it, but some may be more capable of the balancing act. But in any event, “rotating fast enough to actually win” is far more practicable with one’s palm than one’s thumb.
While it is not fun to rotate a joystick with one’s palm, I never suffered an injury. There were no blisters, gashes, or tetanus shots. Perhaps mild soreness, but I encountered the same with some button-mashing games.
Moreover, I have some reason to doubt parts of the claims repeated by the New York Attorney General’s Office back in 2000. The tetanus shot story does not make too much sense. I am not sure what they meant by injuries sustained in 15-20 minutes since all of the rotation games are very short – but I have a theory in my “Analysis” section toward the end of the article. Finally, I am a bit unsure as to how one would incur skin punctures – but perhaps some people have very thin skin. While I can see how it would be possible to obtain a blister, I suspect that would be the result of repeatedly playing a special mini game (not noted in the 2000 articles) where the only goal was to rotate the joystick as many times as possible in 60 seconds.
Being charitable, it is possible that while I used my palm to spin the joystick, I had a better sense of self-preservation than some other Mario Party players.
Modern reports on Mario Party, often most likely written by people who did not have or play it at the time, have a tendency to repeat the claims of the reports of the settlement almost verbatim. It was difficult to find any accounts of actual injuries incurred playing Mario Party. I found a number of people in a forum thread at Restera describing injuries they suffered in general terms and accurately chiding Nintendo for having created the joystick rotation games in the first instance. I will note that there were also complaints about damaged controllers, which has been my main focus. I also found a comment on a 2008 article at Vintage Computing where one commenter, who went by Rockin’ Kat, reported the following:
I had a friend who got one nasty blister in the palm of his hand from playing the original Mario Party on the N64. I remember he was going around showing it to everyone at school the next day. He was so proud of himself.
This sounds more plausible than some of the horror stories presented by former Attorney General Spitzer’s spokeswoman.
The ZDNet article reported that Nintendo agreed to provide each family that could prove that it had purchased Mario Party with up to four gloves, and “[i]n addition to the cost of the gloves, Nintendo has also agreed to pay for [New York] state’s legal fees, totaling about $75,000.” As of the date of the settlement, Mario Party had reportedly sold 1.2 million units in the United States at the time of the settlement. which led to Nintendo having to, according to both ZDNet and the AP, set aside $80 million for providing gloves as part of the settlement. Then-Attorney General Spitzer alluded to the scope of the settlement when he stated that “[t]his settlement is good news for the parents throughout the nation.” (Note: The AP article contains links to Nintendo’s and the New York Attorney General’s resource pages on the settlement, but I could not retrieve archived versions of the pages.)
However, it was clear from the stories that Nintendo’s actual exposure was significantly less than $80 million. ZDNet stated from the outset:
In reality, however, the settlement could cost the company a lot less – even as little as $20,000 total for the gloves – depending on the number of players who request the protective equipment.
The CNET article explained that the cost to Nintendo would have only been $80 million had “every consumer” who was potentially eligible had “taken advantage of it.” While the settlement made gloves available to people who had purchased Mario Party rather than only people who could prove actual injuries, there was no expectation that a significant number of Mario Party players would avail themselves to free gloves. Then-Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn stated that in light of the fact that Nintendo had only received about 90 complaints related to Mario Party injuries: “We don’t know how many people are going to take advantage of the offer.”
Another barrier to Nintendo incurring meaningful costs other than a lack of interest in free gloves was the limited awareness of and the difficulty in complying with of the process for obtaining said gloves. CNET described the proof-of-purchase requirements as “rather elaborate.” The original sources were lacking in detail about the free glove procurement process, but I was able to find one purportedly first-hand account on Reddit, which I discuss below.
I did not find any articles referencing a person who took advantage of Nintendo’s free glove offer, and I am not sure what specifically ZNet’s statement that Nintendo may only have to pay “as little as $20,000” was a reference to (I suspect that Nintendo may have agreed to provide a certain number of gloves to people who had provided information to the New York Attorney General’s Office and aided in the investigation, but none of the articles say so explicitly.) I came across a 2017 Reddit thread (see archived proxy version) asking whether the gloves even existed. One response cited to a 2010 Reddit thread with a comment from someone who stated that he or she did take advantage of the offer.
A 2010 Reddit Thread begun by a user showing off a blister (purportedly from Mario Party) led to a first-hand (pun un-intended) account of the glove give-away (archived proxy version). One Reddit commenter, foilking, reported having received the glove and provided a picture (discussed in our next section). In response to a question about how the commenter obtained the glove, another commenter stated that “[y]ou had to trace your hand and mail it in to an address they gave you.” At first I thought that the “trace your hand” comment was a joke, but foilking indicated that this was true in explaining how he had obtained the glove:
“I had to send in some proof of purchase (I believe part of the box) and a sketch of my hand.”
I am a bit disappointed that the original reports did not mention the hand-tracing requirement, assuming that this account is true. Moreover, the requirement that the user send part of the box would have likely precluded many from availing themselves to the offer in light of the fact that Nintendo 64 games came in cardboard boxes instead of plastic cases.
What Were the Mario Party Gloves Like?
The Associated Press article quoted Ms. Beth Llewelyn of Nintendo as describing the gloves as being “similar to weight-lifting gloves.” Both the ZNet and AP reports described the gloves as having “padded palms.” The AP added that the gloves were fingerless. A 2022 article by Mr. Jason Capp of Nintendo Link which appears to rely on the 2000 ZDNet report described the gloves as “resembl[ing] … a weight-lifting glove, similar to the Harbinger brand, with thick padding on the palms.”
I return to the Reddit comment by user foilking which I referenced in the previous section of this article. The user, foilking, stated that not only had he obtained the gloves, he also still had them and posted a picture (see archived). The picture depicts a Harbinger-branded fingerless weight-lifting glove, exactly like was described in the 2000 reports. Having no reason to doubt foilking or the piece by Mr. Capp, I will assume that what Nintendo was offering Harbinger weight-lifting gloves.
In my previous article on the return of the infamous Mario Party mini games, I questioned whether Nintendo’s advice to rotate the joystick with one’s thumb instead of palm was sufficient for joystick preservation purposes. I discovered after the fact in the form of a 2008 forum discussion that I am not the only person who believes that Mario Party, when played to win, poses a greater danger to controllers than it does to hands. The CNET report noted that it was unable to reach Nintendo for comment on the settlement. However, I reported on Nintendo’s other strategy for mitigating Mario Party unpleasantness:
The recorded message on the company’s “Mario Party” hotline, however, recommends that players avoid injuries simply by manipulating the joystick with their thumb and forefinger rather than the palm of the hand.
This is very similar to Nintendo’s 2022 Mario Party warning, and wholly insufficient for protecting controller joysticks.
Having covered the Nintendo-Mario Party settlement as it was reported at the time, I now offer some additional analysis.
To the extent that people may have been injured while playing Mario Party, I suspect that both original reports had it a bit wrong. They accurately noted that five mini games in Mario Party required the player to rotate the joystick. I added from my experience that two of the five mini games are genuinely tests of joystick rotational force, relying on nothing but how fast the player(s) rotate. However, those mini games are relatively short in duration, so short that I doubt they are likely sources of the sorts of injuries described above.
The most likely injury source, in my opinion, was a different game in the original Mario Party which required spinning the joystick. For those who are not in the know, Mario Party is a board game in video game form. Players take turns rolling a dice and moving around a board. In between turns, the players engage in a mini game (there are some special mini games which may come up during the board game phase). The five mini games noted in the articles are some of the many mini games which may pop up. However, note that when I played Mario Party with a few friends back in 2020, we played for a combined 40 turns and only encountered a rotation game on one occasion.
However, Mario Party includes some single player games which are separate from the main board game course. For example, there is a mode wherein a single player tries to beat every mini game against AI opponents. There is one game on the main menu area of Mario Party which invites the player to rotate the joystick as many times as possible in a short time frame to wind up a toy. The toy flies at the end of the time period, with the distance corresponding to how many times the player rotates the joystick. Mario Party keeps track of the player’s best time.Nintendo Power magazine, which was an official Nintendo publication, albeit an American one, accepted submissions from people and highlighted the record time. (I will note that my 50-ish-year-old baby sitter at the time actually broke the Nintendo Power-reported record, but I never got around to mailing in the accomplishment.) From the wording of the Attorney General spokesperson describing terrible injuries occurring in a short period of time, I would suspect the most likely culprit was not the five seldom-occurring mini games which required rotating the joystick, but instead attempts to set the individual rotation record.
Mario Party’s joystick rotation games were stupid, and the method people used to tackle them was a result of some Mario Party design flaws.
From the outset, I will assume that the team behind Mario Party did genuinely think that people would use their thumbs to rotate the joysticks in Mario Party. The Nintendo 64 joystick does have groves to make it amenable to thumb control. Moreover, Mario Party was (and always has been) designed to be a multiplayer game, and so long as humans were playing against humans, everyone could compete in the rotation games with their thumbs on a level playing field.
Where did it go wrong?
Firstly, having played many of the joystick rotation games, including originally having tried to pinch the joystick with two fingers, it is my position that even when undertaken in the official Nintendo-approved way, those games are bad for the controller. To the best of my knowledge, no previous Nintendo 64 games had demanded that the player violently rotate the joystick. It is as if the controller had not been designed for that purpose. While the Nintendo 64 joystick is excellent and better than modern controller joysticks in many ways, it nevertheless feels delicate and can easily go askew. Nothing degrades it like rapidly rotating it to win at Mario Party does.
Secondly, the joystick rotation games are nearly impossible to win against computer-controlled opponents without using one’s palm. Now I may not be the best person to ask – I tended to lose them even when using my palm – but most other accounts I came across concurred with the view that using one’s palm is a necessity. Moreover, as Mr. Joel Couture noted about his least favorite rotation game, Pedal Power, that game was actually a special single-player game. He found it impossible to beat while rotating the joystick properly. I agree with that assessment.
Even people who were generally able to play Mario Party with three friends would have likely challenged the computer on occasion, or have had a computer player take one of the four player slots. If the computer character repeatedly dominates the Tug O’War game, it may cause the human players to look for alternative methods in their attempts to prevail.
Thirdly, even assuming that you are only dealing with human players, all it takes is for one human player to discover a better way to handle the rotation mini games to cause the other human players to play catch-up.
Thus, we have three problems:
- The Mario Party team did not consider the effect that the rotation games would have on controller durability
- The Mario Party team made the difficulty of the rotation games too high for humans when dealing with computer-controlled characters (the single-player rotation game is also too difficult)
- The Mario Party team failed to consider that the end users of Mario Party may play the joystick rotation games in an unintended but foreseeable way
Separate from the Mario Party design problems, I must also fault Nintendo Power for promoting the joystick rotation record. By that point, Nintendo Power definitely knew how people were trying to break the record. Moreover, it had to have seen the effect that the joystick rotation games were having on controllers. I will grant that given the small number of complaints of injuries, the idea that people could be hurt playing the games was probably not at the forefront of Nintendo Power’s mind. But promoting controller destruction was unwise.
Having considered the issue, the true winner of Nintendo’s Mario Party settlement appears to have been former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
The New York Attorney General’s office received $75,000 from Nintendo (purportedly to cover legal fees) and garnered publicity for itself because the Mario Party settlement appears to have made national news, as evinced by the Associated Press report on the matter and reports in several well-known tech publications.
Those who apparently suffered injuries as a result of Mario Party received next to nothing. The articles only report that they were given the opportunity to obtain up to four free weight lifting gloves. However, free is relative here, for Nintendo implemented a somewhat byzantine process for obtaining said gloves. If time is money, I suspect that even those people who had saved the original packaging and wanted weight lifting gloves would have come out better if they had purchased them in a store. I will also note that Mario Party 2 was released in North America in January 2000. While I think that Mario Party is a fun game 23 years after it was first released (joystick rotation games aside) and it still stands out for being more ruthless than future installments, Mario Party 2 was and is a better game in every respect, including the fact that it does not include joystick rotation games. By the time Nintendo agreed to the settlement, many avid Mario Party fans had likely already moved on to playing Mario Party 2 with their friends instead of the original.
For its part, Nintendo came out neutrally. $75,000 to the New York Attorney General was not a steep price, and there is no evidence that a meaningful number of Mario Party owners took Nintendo up on the offer for free weight lifting gloves. Even had there been significant interest (I doubt that there would have been in any event), Nintendo was able to make the process annoying enough that most of the interested people would have been dissuaded from pursuing it I suppose Nintendo received a small amount of bad PR, but there is no evidence that the story had a measurable impact on Nintendo’s fortunes. According to Wikipedia’s list of best-selling Nintendo 64 games, Mario Party 2 sold 2.48 million units in its lifetime, which was only 220,000 less than the original, thus suggesting that the Mario Party series did not incur significant reputational damage.
The return of Mario Party in the form of its Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass revival has inspired new stories about its terrible joystick rotation games. In addition to the damaged controllers and unfortunate blisters, it is a shame that these few mini games detract from what is otherwise overall still a fun game to play with friends nearly a quarter-century after its release. Having seen the stories, I thought it would be a good idea to write a single resource combining the official reports of the 2000 Mario Party settlement with user accounts from around the web and my own personal recollections as someone who played Mario Party when it was still a new game. After considering all the issues, my position remains that you should not risk destroying your Nintendo Switch controllers by playing any of Mario Party’s offending mini games – especially if you have a Nintendo Switch Lite. With that caveat noted, I recommend trying the original Mario Party if you have a Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass and friends to play with (but note that Mario Party 2 provides the best overall Nintendo 64 Mario Party experience).