Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Captain Novolin

While George recently discussed his Nintendo Wii, I found an earlier-generation Nintendo game to focus on for my post today. Thanks largely to Dino on TuDiabetes for sharing a YouTube video on a Super Nintendo game called -- get this -- "Captain Novolin", which according to Diabetes Health, retailed for $59.95! (They should have given this game away, but I digress ...) Here's the TuDiabetes description provided (which is somewhat more colorful than the
description (this one is the nicer version, the video down below uses slightly more adult language ... LOL! Also, you may visit here for a list of videos), although there are a number of other funny reviews there, too!):

OK so you newbies probably have no idea, but a long time ago in the early 90's there was a video game system called the Super Nintendo, (Note: Super Nintendo was Nintendo's second-generation video game console and was sold between 1990-1993). Some genius decided to make a video game about diabetes and actually put it out. The result is what you see here...the mildy disturbing and somewhat insulting creation known as "Captain Novolin"...great...the diabetic superhero. Truly a low point in the world of video games and diabetes alike, although I do applaud the marketing effort. Well please enjoy this video with commentary and try not to laugh too hard.

"Captain Novolin" was, according to one writer, apparently developed by Sculptured Software (developers of such games as "Raid Over Moscow" and "Chavez 2"), published by Raya Systems in 1992 on the Super Nintendo, and funded by the Danish insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk's U.S. subsidiary. I have no idea how much money they spent on this promotion.

In this game, apprently Captain Novolin is the first superhero to have diabetes. The goal of the game, according to Diabetes Health, was to help him stop the alien invaders and stay healthy by taking insulin, eating properly, and exercising. Jumpin' Jelly John, Fizzy Floyd, Larry Licorice, and Blubberman are just a few of the aliens Captain Novolin fends off during his journey to rescue Mayor Gooden, who has been kidnapped by them. The basic idea is that sugary, diabetes-promoting snacks are the enemies who can only be stopped by Captain Novolin, who is supposedly the diabetic hero (apparently Captain Humulin was asleep, which explains Lilly's insulin market share plunge from 82% in 2000 to just 43% in 2005 according to IMS Health data published in the Indianapolis Star) in the game.

Aside from the fact that there is no evidence that type 2 diabetes is caused by obesity, rather it tends to increase in tandem with body weight, but that does not render it a cause. There are plenty of obese people who do not have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, and there are plenty of thin people who do. Accuracy issues aside, the game's critics also claim that all Captain Novolin can do is jump, and what's more, they argue that the best disease tips are revealed at the end of nearly impossible play levels, so you'd have to be a national video game Olympic team member to get a significant amount of medical information from the game. And, if your kids are spending that much time in front of the TV playing video games rather than riding their bicycles or playing ball outside, then this game actually hurts the very message Novo was trying to communicate about healthy lifestyles.

I wouldn't quite call it the lowest point, although it is certainly one of the lower points in diabetes marketing. Aside from being a stupid game (at least in the view of at least one blogger) and mixing elements of both type 1 and type 2 together without explaining the difference, the more critical comments pertain to the message this game sent.

Game blogger SeanBaby called "Captain Novolin" the 4th WORST video game of all time saying "the game is so bad, you'll start rooting for diabetes" (it was, however, rated higher than E.T. for the Atari 2600 if that provides any point of reference). I suspect that the game was never updated because the corporate sponsor, Novo Nordisk A/S has since de-emphasized Novolin in favor of more costly and patent-protected insulin analogs, but we should remember that in the early 1990's, Novo Nordisk was a very distant second in terms of U.S. insulin market share, with maybe 20% share of the market relative to Lilly's commanding 80% share and Aventis didn't even sell insulin in North America back then. As a result, the company was a bit more eager to get their name out there to potential customers.

Anyway, back to the "Captain Novolin" videogame. Here are some screenshots:

And, of course, my personal favorite, the slightly edited version:

Finally, here's the video walk-through of this gem:

What can I possibly add to this commentary? All I can say is that I am thankful that when I was diagnosed in 1976, I received a children's booklet from Miles Laboratories (a subsidiary of Bayer now known as Bayer Diagnostics), the maker of Clinitest urine testing kits, entitled "Mr. Hypo(dermic) Is My Friend" which featured a cartoon insulin syringe that smiled (I didn't find that terribly comforting, but I guess it was someone's idea of "cute") and how to test and respond to the colored vials which ranged from blue (negative, the lowest reading possible) to orange (sometimes referred to as 4+, or ++++, which was the highest possible test result). Never mind that those test results were at least 4 hours old by the time they reached the urine, and that I could have died of a hypo(glycemic) [and you wonder why I thought a book entitled "Mr. Hypo Is My Friend" is a dumb title?] shock before it showed up there! But I can't honestly say that Captain Novolin was a real big improvement on that promotional gem from diabusiness, only that it is possibly a collectors item and I'd like to see as an emulator (apparently an emulator of this game IS available, visit here for details)!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I read this post this morning, and was going to zip off a snarky response . . . something along the lines of “here’s proof that even WAAAAAY back in the day, the insulin cartel was already exposing their hand: “It’s not about education . . . it’s about MONEY.”

As I’ve pondered this though, wading again through the ‘adult language’ of the video guide, the ‘spokesperson’ made several valid points, including: (1) The game was of such poor quality, that one might ultimately cheer for DIABETES. (2) That ‘educational’ information was tied to deft game performance. (Only those who are skillful deserve ‘education”?). (3) The promoter had so little true regard for the targeted audience, that the end product was insulting to diabetics, or to the concerned family/friend who purchased it (with best intentions) for a diabetic friend .

I’ve considered this from another perspective . . . leaping forward to today’s diabusiness. [Think here about all the glitzy specialty items in the latest periodical brought to you by your concerned advocacy group, e.g. the ADA.] With 20/20 hindsight, we can condemn CAPTAIN NOVOLIN and its producer/underwriter/distributor for preying on the targeted audience with an inferior product. Unless the game was a true FREEBIE, it was overpriced.

But have things really changed? Have we strayed far from this insulin cartel/diabusiness model, laid down all those many years ago? Will we look back (in 20 years time) and be amazed at the junk that is being foisted upon on us today as ‘technological achievements,’ and recognize that we’ve been duped again and again by those who seek only to enrich themselves, and have no qualms about exploiting a vulnerable population . . . promising one thing, and delivering CAPTAIN NOVOLIN.