What are you writing about this week?

This is my second attempt at a column this week. See, I had originally half-finished a column about why Nintendo sucks now. It was pretty good. I made this analogy about how the career of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creative engine behind Nintendo’s locomotion, closely resembled that of Paul McCartney. Both were wunderkind phenoms, both peaked artistically before they were 40 (Sgt. Pepper, Super Mario World) and both of their bodies of work have trended towards appealing to a wider audience, while alienating many of their most devoted fans (Wonderful Christmastime, Wii Music). So yeah. Imagine that, for roughly 800 words. Maybe one day I’ll finish it and put it on the blog that I haven’t started yet.

The reason that said idea is not being run, in its entirety at least, is because I came to the realization that this is my last dance with Pixel Problems™, as my column next year won’t be about this flash-in-the-pan video game fad. With our time together coming to an end, I didn’t want my last foray into the world of video game ennui to be a negative one. Especially one that would have portrayed my views on Nintendo in such a dissenting light. I’m annoyed with them right now, but as my Luigi tattoo uniquely equips me to say so, I love those guys.

When I was four years old, I remember a drive to Bellingham, Washington with my parents. We were on our way to Target, as the Canadian dollar was strong, and my parents were cheap. When the border guard asked what we planned on buying, my mom gave her usual answer of “milk and cheese,” and my expectations for our journey were lowered accordingly. But upon our arrival to the linoleum labyrinth that was USA's largest (now second largest) discount retailer, it became clear that cheap American dairy was not on the itinerary. Soon, we were in the toy department. As my brother and I busied ourselves on Big Wheels, my parents were making a purchase that would change me profoundly. Moments later, we left the store, milkless, cheeseless, but again, profound... ful. In a too-small plastic bag, in the trunk of our 1988, carphone-equipped Ford Bronco, sat the Nintendo Entertainment System.

It was a pretty big deal at the time.

The NES, while now recalled unanimously as an effortless success, actually overcame significant odds en route to making Nintendo the Big Boss it is today. See, back in the ‘80s, the bottom fell out from under the video game industry, ironically not unlike how one defeats King Koopa in Super Mario Bros, but I digress. The American console market was in shambles, mostly because of Atari, but also because of Windows. Atari’s lax licensing procedure (see: there wasn’t one) led to stores being flooded by a deluge of games rife with poor quality, bug problems or compatibility issues. These issues culminated into the blitzkrieg known as E.T for the Atari 2600, a game so legendarily bad that its failure has managed to transcend nerd culture. Famously, the game was so over-manufactured and sold so poorly, that thousands of copies of the game were buried in a New Mexico landfill. In short: consumers had lost all confidence in the idea of buying video games. Coupled with the emergence of personal computers (Windows), interest in a games-only machine were at an all time low.

This sounds pretty grim! I must be pretty good at this suspense stuff. Unfortunately, due to the ubiquitous nature of the Nintendo brand today, you already know how this ends. How did they overcome these obstacles? The same way the Japanese solve all of their problems.

They built a robot.

Namely, the Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B. It really wasn’t as cool as it sounds. It was only 10 inches tall, and its abilities were mostly limited to moving coloured blocks and haphazardly mashing buttons on a controller. But the important thing was that it made the NES look more like a radical robot control station, and less like a video game console. Effectively, R.O.B was a Trojan horse; it disguised the NES’s videogameyness, making it appealing to those burned by the previously mentioned E.T incident. They’d adopt the system, and then be ambushed (if I may continue my Trojan horse comparison) by Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid et al.

None of that would have mattered, though, if these games that emerged weren’t any good. To ensure that the titles were (mostly) bug free, all licensed NES games were required to pass through certification, in order to receive the Nintendo Seal of Quality. The seal helped to alleviate the issue of a lack of general consumer confidence.

Did I mention the NES went on to have the longest production run for a video game system of all time? That robot and that seal worked out really well for them.

And now we’re at the part, for the last time, where I usually attempt to imbue my ramblings with a relevance to our society as a whole. But I know in the case of the NES – it really isn’t possible to capture. To some, it was a toy their older cousin had that they played at Thanksgiving. To others, it was something they sold at a garage sale in 1995 for some Pog money. But for me, as someone who now works in the video game industry, while getting paid to talk about them, well, that grey box may have meant a little more.

//Jordan Potter, Columnist

Jordan Potter is the Courier's Managing Editor. He has been passionate about video games for a long time but has seldom been encouraged to talk about them in public. We have freed his inner Blanka. His surprisingly eloquent inner Blanka.

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com