How the F.B.I. Made 'Winners Don't Use Drugs' the Arcade Motto of the '90s
J Thoendell stashed this in Video Games
Walk into your local retro arcade and you’ll see it. Cycling through the teaser screens on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gunblade, Rambo III, and more is a pixelated image of a blue or sometimes grey background glowing for that moment before you drop in a quarter. In the center is the gold-flecked seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Similarly gold letters on the bottom read: “Winners Don’t Use Drugs.” When the slogan was first introduced in the late ‘80s, kids saw it as a harmless scold among a sea of War on Drugs messaging aimed at them. Aside from the occasional ironic D.A.R.E. T-shirt, it might be the most glaring piece of period propaganda from that era, going strong, now a generation later.
“Winners Don’t Use Drugs” was such a ubiquitous symbol of childhood days spent in darkened arcades that finding a gamer who doesn’t remember it instantly outs them as a hapless n00b. Gamers might assume this emblem of the War on Drugs must’ve been wrung through test groups or some G-man brain trust. But nah. It started with a dinner between old buddies.