Most G.I. Joe action figures came with file cards printed at the back of the cardboard they came with. A file card is the profile information of a character. The owner of the action figure is encouraged to cut out the file card and save it. The file card has information on the G.I. Joe or Cobra character. This trend started with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series. Over the years, the file card has evolved, although rather subtly, but they generally contain the following information:
For the enemy characters, most of the details are dispensed with, usually leaving only the picture, code name, function, descriptive paragraph and the quote.
The file cards for the first eight or so years were primarily written by comic book writer Larry Hama. They were known for giving much needed details about the characters such as their specialties, education and training. So detailed were the file cards that they even mention the military schools the G.I. Joe characters attended. The 1982 to 1984 file cards even contained information on weapons specialties but this was removed afterwards with due to concerns that children may be being given knowledge on firearms and the feeling that a character would only be limited to what he knows to use. Most fans generally regard the 1982 to 1987 file cards to be the best written.
The file card information would later be reprinted in a G.I. Joe comic book mini-series Order of Battle. The mini-series contained all new art by Herb Trimpe. The first two issues focused on G.I. Joe, the third on Cobra and the fourth on their vehicles and equipment. The mini-series also corrects some of the grammar and misspellings from the original file cards.
The 1987 G.I. Joe toy line saw the release of Cobra hypnotist Crystal Ball, whose file card was supposedly written by bestselling horror novelist Stephen King.
By 1988, the file cards no longer contained details about education and focused more on the character's upbringing or what he or she did prior to joining the Joe Team. In addition to the regular information, this new design of card also included a listing of which vehicle the character is licensed to operate. This would remain largely unchanged until 1991.
1991 saw a major overhaul of the file card format. The paragraphs and the quotes were replaced by a short quote from the character him/herself followed by a paragraph that hypes up the character's abilities. This would be the general format for all the file cards that followed.
The new G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 series saw another significant change of the file cards. The names, the security number, and the birthplace information have been removed. The new format consists of: