The (former) president of Nintendo died this past Thursday. He was 85, and had served as president of Nintendo for 50 years, from 1949 to 1999.
I didn’t know there even was a Nintendo in 1949. In fact, the company was already 60 years old, when a 21-year-old Hiroshi Yamauchi took the helm. Nothing like today’s trillion-dollar-a-year consumer electronics industry existed, and video games were decades away. But Nintendo was already a gaming company: manufacturing a card game from the Edo period.
By all accounts Yamauchi was brilliant and ruthless. Books have been written about how Nintendo first dominated, then came to define a burgeoning electronic gaming market in the 1980s. I was a wee lad at the time, and looking back now, it seems several key moments of my pre-pubescent life revolved around that company in some way. I anticipated the release of games and systems with an intensity I don’t think I’ve been capable of in decades.
For me, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the first real home video game system. I remember seeing someone’s Atari 2600 years later, perhaps already in the Super NES/Sega Genesis era, and thinking it some odd, ahistorical artifact. A video game system put together by someone who’d never seen a video game system, and certainly, that’s no surprise. Nintendo hadn’t invented video games yet, so what did Atari think they were on about, trying to scoop them?
Yamauchi’s first kick at the can (well, second, after Game & Watch), the Nintendo Entertainment System had to take the product-description-as-name approach, but the world quickly learned who Nintendo was and what video games were. By the time Super Mario Bros 3 was announced for its 1990 release, it seemed there was total media saturation (the media in question being radio, television, magazines, and good old-fashioned playground gossip.
I know I’m not the only one who switched to an all-popsicle diet, though unfortunately I never managed to get a free copy. I’m not sure I had the life skills to work out popsicle points and filling out a form and mailing a letter at that time. I probably just thought if I kept eating popsicles, one of them would have a game inside.
I had a lot of Nintendo crap back in the day. Painstakingly collected McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, Nintendo comic books, taped episodes of a painfully bad cartoon show I could never get enough of. Nintendo owned me, heart and soul.
I suppose we all have to grow up some time. But childhood memories should remain a happy place. And my happy place includes Nintendo. A couple years ago, several of my family and friends conspired to get me an old NES and some games for my birthday. I got to show my wife how to insert the old cartridges, blowing gently on them to clear the dust if the game won’t start. One of those vanishing skills, like hand-cranking a car or dialing a rotary phone.
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Thank you Mr. Yamauchi. You’ll be receiving a 21-million NES zapper salute this weekend, all across the world.
Joel Boyce is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer. Links to his writing can be found at his