Okay, there’s something about game fans that has always baffled me, and a recent news event has triggered me to talk about it. Fair warning: it’s going to get vulgar.
I grew up playing coin-ops and Atari 2600; all my nostalgic warm fuzzies about videogames stem from those experiences. A few years after I got into gaming, the NES inspired a whole new legion of fans. At the time, Nintendo meant arcade games like Donkey Kong and Popeye. To me, Nintendo was a really good game developer and publisher. But to the next generation, that NES generation, Nintendo became something more. They became…a hero. Or maybe something much more salacious.
Now, just like actors or bands or authors, I am a fan of some game development studios. I think Harmonix does really good work and I am always interested to see what they are working on. I like David Jaffe‘s games quite a bit. Valve knocks things out of the park more often than most. But, just like Van Halen has put out some lousy albums, every game has to be taken on its own merits — in no way do I believe that any of those creative, talented development teams is more than just a bunch of people doing their best work on that project at that time. They are very fortunate to be able to make artistic products and creative statements while they pay the bills by selling the games they make. They do it because they love it, but they sell it because we all gotta eat. The video game business is — as it was since Al Alcorn went to Andy Capp’s Tavern to find out why Pong had broken down — a business. Buying the games of talented people is the best way to show my appreciation, and them making more is the best way for them to say thank you.
To Nintendo’s biggest fans, these common-sense rules do not apply. Nintendo’s track record of quality first-party software is undeniable; more often than not (and more often than just about anybody else), they make games worth playing — too many consistently fantastic franchises bear this out. But since these people’s first videogame experience was a Nintendo game, Nintendo is not merely some incredibly talented people making games. To the otaku, Nintendo is unimpeachable, godlike — perfect. The company inspires a blind loyalty that I find frightening and cultish.
I finally figured out why: Nintendo took their gaming virginity. Whether it was Super Mario Bros. or Pilotwings or StarFox or The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo gave these people an amazing experience they had never had before, and one which they would never forget. They had been searching for something personal, something special — and in the definition of appealing to all their senses, something sensual — in their prepubescent lives, and Nintendo was the first company that gave it to them. Nintendo was not only the prettiest girl in class — a voluptuous dare of color and sound and lights, a little older and more experienced and mysterious than everyone else they knew — but she came with a power button, so she was good to go any time. To borrow a term from Jonathan Coulton, she was the town crotch.
What’s more, their friends all did her too, with ubiquitous NES decks and Game Boys and N64 consoles in the hands of all the other kids at school. Everybody played with her, everybody blew into her slot when she wouldn’t cooperate, and everybody felt loved. You were an outcast if you didn’t have intimate relations with Nintendo.
But it’s a one-sided relationship. You love Nintendo, but she doesn’t love you. She thanks you, takes your money, and moves on; she makes a new console and a new game with a new price on it. You were just another notch in her sales belt; she doesn’t call. Yet to the gamer, there’s a relationship there; what do you mean you don’t love me back? “What about King Koopa?” you stammer. “What about the Triforce? What about Princess Peach, whom I have now sexualized in several erotic pinup portraits? You gave me a fairy wonderland and I intend to live there! That was special! We had something! I love you!”
To which Nintendo replies, “Kid…who doesn’t?”
The latest bit of self-brainwashed naivete comes from this story. Bob uses homebrew tools to create Bob’s Game, a DS RPG that has reportedly consumed 15,000 hours of his life. That’s really cool, that the single-person dev spirit is still alive and active. But now he’s ready to become a legitimate licensed developer and get Nintendo’s SDK so he can see this passion project made real. So he applies to be a developer…and Nintendo says no.
So, to be taken seriously as a game developer, Bob locks himself in his room for 100 days, calling it a “tensai sit-down protest” (there’s the Japanese word for “genius” in there, so Nintendo knows he’s looking right at her through the webcam) to tell the world how angry he is that his former imaginary girlfriend doesn’t want to get married.
Keep in mind: He applied to become a full developer, and Nintendo denied his application. That’s entirely within Nintendo’s rights as a company — he’s not entitled to the princess, even if he did collect all the stars and find all the secret warps. Nintendo does not want the SDKs for its systems to get out into the wild; they will only approve people who they trust to be serious business partners.
Unfortunately his protest only lasted 30 days, after which he trashed his room in a gesture of professionalism. His melodramatic farewell letter (“Why does this HURT so much?”) is a riot, but it does contain some very hard-learned lessons…that the rest of us, who respect and buy Nintendo’s products by choice instead of compulsion, already knew:
In reality, if Link approached the castle gate, a guard would just throw him out. It doesn’t matter how much courage he has. It doesn’t matter how talented he is with his sword, or how pure hearted he might be. He’s wearing a dirty tunic and he has no credentials. “Get out of here, you stupid kid.” The evil kingdom of Ganon (Or should I say “Gantendo”) spreads across the land, Zelda dies, and the credits scroll. Game over. That’s the real Nintendo, I guess.
Nintendo sells all these games about “doing your best” and “being the hero,” telling kids “you can do it if you try,” but in the end that’s just a story, a marketing lie that sounds good. They’re just another heartless corporation, only interested in the biggest profits.
Bob had sex with Nintendo years ago, but on this day, he became a man.