On Thursday, in Kyoto, Japan, the leader of Nintendo from 1949-2002, Hiroshi Yamauchi, passed away. And with his death it may be the last time anyone gets a glimpse into the true heart of Nintendo forevermore. When Nintendo made the switch from toys and board games into arcade games it was a bold and trailblazing move by Yamauchi. But quickly the surging popularity of Donkey Kong made his choice seem excessively brilliant.
Donkey Kong became a worldwide phenomenon, and was one of the first giant leaps in the formulation of competitive video gaming. There have even been documentaries based solely around the intensity surrounding rivalries of the world’s best Donkey Kong players. This competitive spirit and competitions did exist earlier with Atari games such as Centipede and Space Invaders, but no one outside of the geek kingdom took notice and it certainly was not something cool to be involved with.
That is where the true heart of Nintendo lies and Hiroshi Yamauchi’s most significant contribution to the video game world, he made video games cool, hip, and socially acceptable to be addicted to. Everyone that grew up in the video game generation, commonly called the Nintendo generation for good reason, knows what it is like to blow in a cartridge or put rubbing alcohol along the edge of the extended chip in hopes of pressing that power button and successfully loading the game. Every time rubbing alcohol was used to get a game working, damage was obviously done to the cartridge itself and was directly decreasing the lifespan of the game. But sometimes rubbing alcohol was absolutely the only way to get a game working, so if it was between looking at the game sit on the shelf or corroding it with isopropyl to give someone just one more chance at defeating the final boss of an extremely long journey, there was no choice.
This also ties in with the fact that first generation original Nintendo games did not have the ability to save games. Sure, some had passwords, but if someone wanted to conquer a game all the way through they had to practice and practice until they were good enough to beat the entire game in one sitting. This kind of dedication is lost on today’s gamers who would prefer to hurl racial slurs at an online opponent rather than push oneself to the limit to defeat a game to the glory of no one.
It was not about prestige in the old Nintendo days, it was about video games for the purity and challenge of it all. Unless someone was lucky enough to have a subscription to Nintendo power they would not know cheat codes or any tips about how to finish a particular level. These things only came from experience and word of mouth. The Legend of Zelda series revolutionized games as well with the ability to save the game’s progress by holding down the reset button as the system was powered off. Even with this feature, a standard rite of passage for any member of the Nintendo generation was being able to beat The Legend of Zelda in one sitting and if they continue on straight through the second quest then they were a god among men. Today’s youthful gamers who take wireless controllers and saving anywhere for granted will never know what it was truly like to be in the world of Nintendo, where video games became something much more than a hobby, they became a way of life.
Written by Michael Blain