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EC: The Sweet History of Cereal and Video Games
Credit: Illustration by Lauren Kolm

It's 2016, and the state of cereal is in limbo. Health-conscious granola purists incite bitter flame wars in the comments section of every Kellogg's press release. Meanwhile, a new Ghostbusters came out and we can't even get a funky neon cereal because artificial colors have been sucked away like Slimer in a ghost trap. I'm not here to lament over a little lost Red Dye 40, though. I just want to toss cereal a 1-Up mushroom in this time of low health points. See, the history of cereal and video games is proud, and easily overlooked.

Saturday-morning cartoons are breakfast's more iconic companions. But cereal and video games have way more in common: the instant gratification that comes with every power-up or spoonful, the "go at your own pace" progression of an RPG or back-of-the-box word search, and the prize at the end of the box that you can clutch as proudly as a high score. These nostalgic touchstones need reviving if cereal wants to be all it deserves to be. But to think of a more concrete solution, we'll have to examine the past.

Remember Chex Quest? Packaged in Chex boxes in the ’90s, Chex Quest was a kid-friendly version of the PC game Doom, with a Chex-armored protagonist and logos plastered on every wall. I zorched many slimy Flemoid aliens in this game in my youthful wonder years, and it made me feel more heroic than I ever did passively watching the Trix Rabbit's animated shenanigans.

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Credit: Photo by Flickr User Alex Gorzen

Or maybe that was just Chex's 14 vitamins and minerals filling me full of fortified optimism.

This shoot-’em-up that doubled as an AOL trial disk isn't even cereal gaming's strongest bastion—that honor goes to Ralston's Nintendo Cereal System. This 1988 cereal put two bags of cereal in one box: fruity marshmallow Mario on one side, berry marshmallow Zelda on the other. Today, snack culturists still laud this "twin cereal cartridge" approach. Its memorability—despite only being on shelves for a year—boils down to the freedom of choice it presented. We couldn't very well choose when Sonny went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs on TV, but we could choose our brawler in Street Fighter, which friend we were going to screw over in Mario Party, and the Nintendo Cereal in our bowl.

Then there's the duo of Donkey Kong Cereal and Donkey Kong Jr. Cereal, which featured crunchy barrels and sweetened banana pieces, respectively. This father-and-son breakfast pairing unknowingly symbolized the generation of kids who, after chomping down decades of cereal memories, would grow into 2016's nostalgia-addicted adults. If these parents of tomorrow are going to share this happiness with their own Juniors—just as they'll doubtlessly share a game of Mario Kart—they'll need a modern video game cereal to do it.

That's not to say progress hasn't been made. Cheerios recently had a game-themed commercial, and Kellogg's late-night ad starring Froot Loops and Super Mario Bros generated retro buzz. But as much as I love to romanticize the sweet corn Power Pellets of 1983's Pac-Man Cereal, if cereal and video games want to level up, they can't keep looking backward. It was easy for ’80s parents to scorn video games as a meritless series of beeps and boops, today it's hard to ignore how gaming is actually helping kids. The ever-growing field of competitive eSports has built profitable careers and put gamers on ESPN, while the app Pokémon GO has become a friend-making tool for the socially anxious. Perhaps sugary cereal games wouldn't be so dismissed if they got kids conversing and feeling accomplished.

So what's the solution? Is my inner child asking for too much when he imagines a revival of Pokémon Cereal, complete with a rare, catchable Pokémon GO creature as the prize inside every box? Maybe. But 1999's Cap'n Crunch's Crunchling Adventure proved that a cereal pet-raising game can be made. And last Halloween's interactive Count Chocula boxes showed that augmented reality and cereal can be paired. Heck, even Fiber One still packages its gut-rustling twigs in two bags per box. All the pieces are there. They just need to be snugly nestled together like Tetris blocks.

Maybe then we'll see that cereal's final boss isn't a little artificial food coloring; it's our fear of starting a new game when the old one's nearing "Game Over."