I’ve been thinking of how Nintendo Power is closing its doors. I just sent some New Yorker article about it to Instapaper, so I’ll try to not write some long-winded article about it. Instead, I’ll just share an observation and a story.
Who moved my princess to another castle?
A whole generation was raised on Nintendo.
I believe that many kids who grew up in the mid 80’s and early 90’s were touched in some way through Nintendo and Nintendo Power. Family gatherings, sleepovers at friends houses, Nintendo was a big part of our childhoods. Ask friends of yours. Sure, maybe there are a few times when Nintendo was the source of all their problems, like low grades, or turmoil because nobody wanted to share. But there’s a good chance that they have a heartwarming story from their early life that may not have been possible without Nintendo.
Read the letters that Nintendo Power printed every month. This was a company that was completely aware that, although they had readers of many ages, they were for kids.
For all the weird, and perhaps unethical, business practices that Nintendo used back in the 80’s (like price-fixing, the licensee program, and making it so that they created a healthy cart-manufacturing business for themselves by ensuring that only THEY could create carts for their machines, and if you didn’t want to pay to play there’s the door – you could leave) you can’t ignore that at least they embraced that they were a family company.1
I would write letters to Nintendo Power offering tips to the game counselors that maybe they didn’t think of yet. I wrote them letters like “Hey, did you guys beat Jaws yet? I did! Here’s how you beat2 the shark!”
And they would write back! Not just some form letter either. I wish I saved some of these letters. They made me feel awesome as a little kid. None of this “we’ll certainly take your idea into consideration” garbage. The responses were more like “WOAH! Sounds like you could give Jeff Hansen a run for his money!”
You might not know who Jeff Hansen is, but if you read Nintendo Power, or Sports Illustrated, you may know that he was the 1990 Nintendo World Champion. He was 11 years old. He also did the best during that Super Star Fox Weekend.
Anyway, if I got an envelope in the mail with a Nintendo logo on it it made my day. Maybe my week.
I think of those times and how kids today might not get to experience that. Before the Internet, Nintendo Power created a kid-safe-Haven. It would show up once a month. You (read: me) would see it waiting to be read after getting home from school. I’d flip through the pages, read the letters, read the comics, read Classified Information—the section with cheats and codes. I can’t remember the last time I read a magazine cover-to-cover without skipping anything.
Today we’re in the age of instant gratification, Gamefaqs, Xbox Live, Call Of Duty, and racist 10-year olds with headsets.
I used to think that Mortal Kombat changed all that. Mortal Kombat was the first huge title that led Nintendo to bend their core values: games that the entire family can enjoy.
I used to think Mortal Kombat changed that, but nope…maybe it was NARC—a game in which you play as cops with rocket launchers you could shoot at dopeheads and blast their body parts everywhere. To little kids, these are addicts and dealers, not people. So it was okay.
But then Mortal Kombat came out and, well, these kids must be saved.
While Nintendo tried to protect its brand with its edited version of Mortal Kombat (that’s sweat, not blood! Things are gonna be fine!) Sega came out with a Genesis version of Mortal Kombat with a blood code. Due to market pressure, Nintendo relented. Mortal Kombat II would be the first incredibly violent game on a Nintendo system. Blood. Fatalities. No kid was safe, because even to this day Mortal Kombat II is the best MK game ever made.
It was a blast, but also a turning point. I, and all the other bloodthirsty teens, made them become something they didn’t want to be. Nintendo tried to protect me from myself and themselves from a changing, growing audience.
I think this is why as an adult I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of the mainstream video game market, picking and choosing a title here and there, and I watch with interest at what the indies are doing. Machinarium. Sword & Sorcery EP. VVVVVV. These indie games remind me of what video games were like when I was a kid. Strange. Different. Weird. Innocent. They hearken back to what I believe to be the golden age of games. They aren’t like today’s games: a slight update of the previous year’s game. Maddenization didn’t exist back then.
I feel old.
Nintendo Power taught me to enjoy reading
In first grade I had a lot of problems learning to read. I didn’t do well in school. I remember reading sessions where we’d all sit in a circle, in broken off groups, and take turns reading. I always had problems.
Around that time my family brought home a NES. I think my teen sister had played it at a friends house and asked our parents for one. I don’t know how it went down. We had an Atari before. We didn’t ask for one. My dad bought it.
Nintendo packed Nintendo Power subscription cards with games. my parents bought me a subscription to Nintendo Power. They must have thought, “Well, he doesn’t like what they’re using in school, and he’s playing these games anyway…”
They bought games that were heavy on text. 1990-era me completed Final Fantasy, read through all that text, explored many dungeons, and expanded his vocabulary. Today I don’t know if I’d have the attention span for it.
In Shadowgate I beat the evil wizard and the behemoth, but I didn’t say “Bee-Hee-MuTH” – I said something more like “beh-heh-moth”. I didn’t know any better, but it was progress.
Nintendo games and Nintendo Power carried me through my early school years and instead of being an illiterate weird kid I became a weird Nintendo-freak kid who could read.
I stuck with Nintendo Power for a long time, until 1996. That’s when I let my subscription lapse. Shortly after the N64 came out I felt like we had become different people; me with other game consoles and Nintendo Power with its coverage of disappointing N64 titles. It was a major life decision.
Without Nintendo and Nintendo Power I may not have the skills I need to perform the responsibilities I have at NASA today.3