What 'Super Mario 64' selling for $1.56 million says about nerd culture in 2021

Gothenburg, Sweden - April 30, 2011: A shot of the very popular game Super Mario 64 inserted in a vi...
luza studios/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images

Money talks and this weekend it reiterated what has been true for the past decade: nerds rule the world. Over the weekend, Heritage Auctions sold a sealed copy of the classic Nintendo 64 video game Super Mario 64 for a Bowser-sized $1.56 million, the most ever paid for a video game and a clear sign that nerd culture reigns supreme.

That gargantuan figure not only makes Super Mario 64 the first video game sold at auction for more than $1 million, but is doubled the pair of mint-condition Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie cards sold in February for $738,000 each, the largest amount ever paid for a Jordan playing card. Mario's 3D adventure even sold nearly three times more than the $584,250 paid for the last jersey that Jordan ever wore in an NBA game. A piece of the history of the greatest basketball player in the history of the NBA is a fraction as valuable as arguably the greatest video game of all time.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

For those confused how a video game you can buy for less than $20 on Amazon sold for more than the price of a home in most places in America, the auction house points to two factors: condition and culture. Expert video game grading company Wata Games graded the condition of the purchased Super Mario 64 at a 9.8 A++ Sealed rating, according to Heritage Auction in a statement. That means the auctioned copy's was as good as if it never left the factory back in 1996 when the game was released.

Then, there's the fact that Super Mario 64 is arguably the most important video game of the last 25 years. It was the first Super Mario game with 3D gameplay, a fact made more poignant since it was released in 1996 and subsequently became the base look of all Mario games going forward. Around the world, Mario has looked how he's looked in Super Mario 64 longer than his 2D predecessors in its 36-year history. Super Mario 64 quite literally represents the rebirth of one of the most recognizable characters in the history of global entertainment. Michael Jordan had hair as a rookie and was a member of the Washington Wizards in his final game, so a card and jersey from those respective times are more commemorations of moments that changed over time rather than relics of a past that continues to change the present.

SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Outside of its historical significance, Super Mario 64's sale price was buoyed by this past decade showing how nerd culture has left the Dungeon and Dragons basement parties and obscure corners of message boards into the definitions of popular culture. Days before a factory-level sealed copy of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million, a rare copy of The Legend of Zelda sold for a then-record $870,000. Beyond the land of video games, an actual person paid $311,800 for a holographic Charizard Pokemon card which would've had him negotiating trades at any lunch table like Rich Paul in 1999, back in March.

Beyond reselling pieces of nerd history, the past decade has been a complete restructuring of seemingly unchangeable tentpoles of popular culture. By April 2018, Grand Theft Auto V had sold 90 million units to the tune of $6 billion since its September 2013 release. That amounts to more than $1.3 billion per year over that 55-month span compared to the NBA that was generating $930 million a year from ESPN and TNT to allow the networks to air its games. During that time, Marvel and Star Wars snagged three of the five spots on the highest grossing movies lists, blowing away previous box office titans like Gone With The Wind. And most of the only people in the world worth more than $100 billion were behind how you search on the internet, how you buy stuff on the internet, how you stay in touch with people on the internet, and electric cars, which basically run off of the internet.

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Whether it's Black Panther winning an Oscar or an old Super Mario game selling for more than a brand new Bentley, the revenge of the nerds is complete and it is gloriously lucrative.