The history of pirates vs. ninjas is considerably longer than most people expect. It has its roots of origin in Australia and it's taken decades to grow to where it is now: on the verge of reaching mainstream culture. It has been mentioned on television, on radio, and in news articles. Pirates versus ninjas is on its way to being a greater phenomenon than anyone ever imagined.
On Monday, December 28, 1964 Ninjamania was born in Australia. It began with the first broadcasting of The Samurai, a Japanese television program about a samurai cleaning out dens of ninja activity. Kids all over the country went nuts for ninjas: "The school playgrounds and streets saw hundreds of children turning handsprings, hurling cardboard 'starknives' (shuriken) and waving imaginary swords as they played 'samurai and ninja'" (source).
In late 1965, the star of the show, Ose Koichi, traveled to Sydney, Australia to perform in a live-action stage show. He was greeted by legions of kids dressed as samurai and ninjas. A group of teenage boys were teasing the kids when one of them made the comment "ninjas couldn't even beat a lot of drunken pirates." The teens were so delighted by that line that they used over again for a few days more and then they started questioning it. It became a running debate amongst them, but it eventually died out as a topic for them.
Four years later, one of those teens attended UCLA on a study abroad program. He was at lunch one day with some of the electrical engineering students and the topic of who could best whom in a fight developed. The Aussie mentioned the pirates vs. ninjas question, but since ninjas weren't known in the US at that time the comment made no real impact. However, one of the students at the table was working on the development of the Arpanet (a direct ancestor of the Internet), which was nearly ready to go live. When the time came to take the system live they needed a message that would sound correct except for a word or two, to help test the accuracy of the receivers as well as the machinery. The one technician suggested, "Who would win in a fight between pirates and ninja?" for the fact that "ninjas" would be a nonsense word. His question was selected as the historic first message. The senders at UCLA and the receivers at the University of Utah had no clue what they had done by asking that question.
Despite the fact that ninjas were unknown in the US at the time, the question gained in popularity because of its historic value. Yet only a few years later the question was essentially dead in this country: by the mid-1970s the question was merely a footnote. Then in 1981 the feature film Enter the Ninja opened and it sparked ninjamania in the United States. As ninjas began to appear in a string of poorly crafted movies, cartoons, and comic books the question awoke from its 1970s hibernation. The 1982 feature film The Pirate Movie had the first cinematic scene depicting a battle between pirates and ninjas. Throughout the decade people began asking the question out of sheer delight without any realization of its place in history. The 1980s closed out with the 1989 arcade game Skull & Crossbones providing us with the first instance of pirates vs. ninjas in a video game – one stage of the game required your pirate character to plunder a ninja camp.
Secret PvN Fact: In 1986 there were 3,076 BBS messages related to who would win in a fight between Wolverine and The Incredible Hulk. That same year there were 2,811 BBS messages related to who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas.
The game Magic: The Gathering was first introduced to the world in summer of 1993. The game was nearly an instant success, with over a billion cards sold in its first two years. One of the byproducts of the success of the game was the bringing together of people who had certain qualities. The game is a somewhat social game and as people made their ways to game and comic shops to buy cards and to find other players, all manner of conversation took place. It is during the early growth of Magic: The Gathering that we see the question of pirates versus ninjas become a larger question in terms of popularity. The game brought people together in the flesh to play the game, and it brought them together on the Internet to discuss strategy and to trade cards. Wherever these "Gatherings" took place, the pirates versus ninjas question had a strong chance of being asked and odds were that if there were three or more people gathered at least one was previously unaware of the question.
Secret PvN Fact: Between the years of 1993 and 1995, the pirates versus ninjas question was asked over 400% more than it had in previous years.
The website Hampsterdance.com went online on 1997. The site was rows of animated hampsters dancing to a cartoonish song (the site is still online, but has changed very much from what it started as). The site was a smash success in no time, as the use of the Internet wasn't truly understood by too many people. Hampsterdance saw itself duplicated many times, with different dancing characters at each different web address. In early 1998, there was a short-lived website that showed pirates and ninjas dancing (ShakeThatScabbard.Com). The website found little appeal with the masses, as the question was still mostly cloistered around the nerdier groups in society and its url wasn't a variation of the name Hampsterdance. The website closed after a scant four months, although in those four months the site had about 800,000 views. The closure of ShakeThatScabbard.com seems to be exactly the boost that pirates versus ninjas needed to find a larger appeal. With the downing of the website, those people who missed it began to discuss it the matter vociferously.
As the Internet become more accessible and as web surfers became more adept in the late 1990s the pirates and ninjas question became more prominent. In November of 1998 there were over 100,000 posts on message boards relating to the subject. The 1998 PlayStation game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, in which the player controlled a ninja, had a level that involved removing Captain Balmer and his pirates from a Japanese village.
In 2001, a gentleman going by the name of Robert Hamburger launched a website known as Real Ultimate Power on the UCLA servers. The site, now found at RealUltimatePower.net has many whimsical scenarios written into stories and "hate mail" that have ninjas and pirates engaging each other. Mr. Hamburger is considered by many people to be the progenitor of the debate.
In the 21st century much has happened to advance the argument of ninjas or pirates. Video games have incorporated ninja and pirate elements into their play (e.g. Ratchet & Clank, World of Warcraft), role playing games (most notably Ninja Burger) have touched on the subject, and on March 2, 2006 Roy Hembree of High Adventure Design discussed the matter on The World Famous KROQ 106.7 FM on the Kevin & Bean Morning Show out of Los Angeles. On July 17, 2006 there was an auction on eBay for a crossbow being sold so the seller could afford kung-fu lessons to exact revenge on the ninjas who killed his pirate family. On September 18, 2006 the argument was mentioned on national television for the first time as one of the co-founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day was featured on ABC's Wife Swap program. In January 2007, Antarctic Press printed issue #1 of a four issue comic book series entitled Pirates vs. Ninjas.
Secret PvN Fact: Until 2003, ninjas were the preferred victors in the fight 67% of the time. In 2003, the feature film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was released. Since then pirates have been the preferred victors in the fight 81% of the time.
The question continues to spread even now. We've heard of people trying to produce pirate characters and ninja characters on massively multi-player online role playing games, we've heard of Halloween costumes based on the theme, we've heard of at least one fellow who’s named his cats Pirate and Ninja, there are films and a song, and now there is us with our t-shirts. There is a distinct allure about having two groups of oppositely curious people clash in battle. Pirates had a very powerful panache that still infuses us with a certain idea of a romantic and exciting life, whereas ninjas are all about discipline and mystery with a mystique that still thrills us.
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