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With decades of video game history behind us, some of the most iconic games and hardware have become valuable collector’s items. Copies of classic NES games like Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda routinely pull in more than a hundred of thousand dollars at auction, but the newest record-holder for the most valuable video game is a bit of a head-scratcher. Last weekend, someone paid $1.5 million for a copy of Super Mario 64. 

There are plenty of grown adults reading this who probably never had an N64, but Super Mario 64 was one of the system’s most popular titles. It helped that the early consoles came bundled with the 1996 game, which was the first 3D Mario adventure. Its place in gaming history makes Super Mario 64 potentially valuable — a sealed copy sold last year for $38,400. That’s undeniably a lot of money for a single video game no one will ever take out of the box, but it was in mint condition, rated at a 9.4 A+ by the game experts at Wata. 

This newly sold copy isn’t some special printing or a rare early demo cartridge. It’s just in perfect condition. Wata graded the game at 9.8A++, which is apparently the best possible condition for a sealed N64 game. Anyone who was buying games in the 1990s will remember how prone to damage the N64 boxes were, so most sealed copies are in much worse shape. Wata says that it occasionally gets “case-packs” of unopened N64 games that were intended for retail sales. Even then, it says there are usually just one or two 9.8 ratings in the lot. A 9.8A++ is on a different level of rarity, which apparently justifies the exorbitant price. 

Many observers of the rapid increase in video game value have expressed healthy skepticism of the record-setting sale. Yes, this is probably the most pristine copy of Super Mario 64, but $1.5 million? Nintendo sold millions of copies of this game; same box design, same art, and (presumably) the same cartridge inside that no one will ever see. 

Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale of this game, has pushed back against the controversy. It says that it is common practice to vet interested parties before allowing them to place such an enormous bid. In this case, staff verified the winning party was qualified to pay $1,560,000. If a game that sold millions of copies can get this much, just imagine what’s waiting in the wings. This might be the first million-dollar video game, but it won’t be the last.

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