There are numerous reasons why I could never get a job as tech support, since my answer to most queries would be: “Did you blow on it? Maybe you should blow on it. Nothing? Ok, hold on. Try hitting it.”
We all remember doing this hundreds of times as kids. The Nintendo or Sega game (I’m inclusive) begins acting up, and as if you were Sir Isaac Newton developing the theory of universal gravitation after witnessing an apple falling, you grab the cartridge, blow on it with your Capri Sun breath, and restart the now-working game. Hazaa!
This is clearly great scientific work in action. The cartridge probably has dust and dog hair on it because it’s sitting on a pile of textbooks a foot off the floor, and your Superman-like breath swiftly whisked away all the debris that prevented the connectors in the cartridge and console slot from hugging each other.
It Works, Right?
Many have since gotten the memo that blowing likely wasn’t the fix at all. It’s not the act of blowing that made the game magically work, but removing the cartridge and inserting it back in. Connectors wear out over time, and reinserting the game gave it another chance to function. That’s how I get my car to start when it’s stalling—I leave the car and sit back down inside.
Unless the inside of your cartridge was covered with dry leaves or batter because you accidentally grabbed it while making fried chicken, it’s probably not the blowing that gave Mario life again. And the moisture in your breath could even potentially damage the game over time.
Have there been ironclad scientific studies disproving the whole blowing effect? Not really. You’d have to do an experiment where you blew in 10 cartridges and then reinserted another 10 without blowing, and by the time you finished, your girlfriend would be long gone.
But it’s natural that we thought this because the placebo effect made us feel like we were helping. We have all sorts of powers in video games that we don’t have in the real world, so perhaps we enjoy that this advanced video game still needed the old soft human touch to help it function.
Besides, we’re used to blowing on things working, like birthday candles, cooling down hot food, and blowing on a gun to look like a badass after winning a showdown at the O.K. Corral.
Many things are indeed dusty and become less so after we blow on them. Indiana Jones regularly blows dust and sand and cobwebs away from things when saving the world, it’s only natural that we’d do the same when trying to save the world in a video game.
When any gadget in my life starts failing, exhaling a little breath on it is often my initial instinctual reaction. I’ve blown on wireless routers when the Wi-Fi isn’t working, my laptop keyboard when the computer is stalling, and once blew on a giant stalled drill I was using to deposit a nuclear bomb inside a meteor hurtling towards earth. True story.
Blowing on electronics might not be the cure-all we want it to be, but it’s an amusing way to still feel like basic human ingenuity has a role in a rapidly advancing technological world. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that an astronaut tried this on the International Space Station and watched as the floating dust caused even more problems in zero gravity.