Stadium Events (Screenshot: YouTube)

Nostalgia and scarcity can make a collectors’ item out of just about anything, even a video game as dull as 1987’s unimaginatively titled Stadium Events. In a piece for ESPN: The Magazine, Justin Heckert explains how this obscure title, originally released by Bandai for the Nintendo Entertainment System, became one of the most valuable and sought-after games in the world, despite not being particularly good. On the surface, this is a by-the-numbers sports game in which faceless, blocky-looking athletes participate in routine track and field events.

What made Stadium Events (nominally) special is that the game was intended to work in tandem with an accessory called the Family Fun Fitness Mat. The idea was that players should “run” in place on the mat, thus controlling the onscreen characters. Sort of a crude precursor to the Wii. Nintendo must’ve thought there was something in this, because the company released its own version, rebranded World Class Track Meet. From that point on, the original Stadium Events became a desirable rarity. It’s a point of contention whether the Bandai game is really all that rare. Some observers feel that this is merely a case of hysteria among gullible collectors. “It draws out the worst of the hobby,” says one discouraged NES expert.

Nevertheless, Heckert reports copies of the game going for $30,000 and more. He talks with various buyers and sellers whose lives have been touched in one way or another by Stadium Events. One very fortunate woman found a copy at a thrift store, sold it, and used the proceeds to put the down payment on a house and pay off some student loans. On the other hand, there is the story of an orthodontist whose fixation on Stadium Events has cost him thousands of dollars. Heckert writes that feels “a little sad” for this guy: “His obsession was not merely acquiring or displaying the games; it was about the quest and some childhood longing that buying the games temporarily sated.”