The most fundamental reason we play video games is because they bring us enjoyment. And no one knows pure joy like children. I believe that kids are likely some of the happiest people on Earth, partly because they’re not hung up on how they’re perceived by others. They’re able to wholly appreciate and revel in the things that bring them joy without fear of being judged. To a certain extent, kids aren’t worried about their self-image, and I think we’d be smart to take note.
I bring this up because it seems that many people, gamers included, are infatuated with this idea of being “mature,” “grown up,” and “adult” — as if there’s something wrong with not taking yourself too seriously. There’s a distinct difference between being a kid and being childish. And when you understand the difference is when you truly grow up. Growing up doesn’t mean you stop being a kid — it means understanding your responsibilities. It doesn’t mean abandoning the passions you had when you were younger.
In my first few years of life, the name ‘Nintendo’ became synonymous with ‘fun.’ Unlike any generation before, those of us born in the mid-to-late ’80s grew up with video games as an integral part of our individual and collective childhoods from the very beginning. A common euphemism says that we were born with controllers in our hands. And while that might not be factually true, it wasn’t long before we’d experience our very first video game. For me, it was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I got the console and the game as hand-me-downs from my older brother, who was moving on to the Super NES.
When I got my hands on that rectangular controller for the first time, I played the game to excess. Sometimes I’d play so much I’d actually get small blisters on my thumbs. I don’t think I was actually all that good at the game, at least not initially. But that didn’t keep me from playing over and over. In fact, I specifically remember humming the ever-famous ‘World 1-1′ theme while riding with my dad in his truck. I recall him saying I must be playing too much if the game’s music had gotten stuck in my head. But to me, there was no such thing as too much, and I soon discovered other games, both on the NES and Game Boy. Thus, my love of Nintendo was born.
To emphasize an earlier point, about how kids are some of the happiest people on the planet, I should point out that kids appear to gravitate towards Nintendo games more than any other. And I believe it’s because Nintendo makes gaming a pure and innocent activity, void of pretentious cynicism.
Nintendo understands what it means to be a kid. Its individual creators are masters of understanding childlike wonderment and turning that into a basic gameplay mechanic. From there, they add on to this core concept with characters, personality, color, music and unbridled panache. They mold and shape the idea until it’s a well-polished masterpiece.
Nintendo is not concerned with how they are perceived, nor do they care about following the established rules. They take more than their share of criticism, but they move forward, innovating along the way. Not everything they do is a critical or commercial success, but they learn from their challenges and mistakes.
Nintendo sees itself as a one-of-a-kind company. While its competitors are absorbed in being total entertainment giants, Nintendo views itself purely as a toy company, making playthings for children and adults alike. Nintendo is for everyone. It is not hung up on creating an all-in-one entertainment device to be powered by sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Nintendo purely makes games and that’s their priority.
Franchises like Pikmin, Animal Crossing, Mario, Zelda and Pokémon all demonstrate a fundamental understanding on the part of Nintendo about making a game feel organic. And I mean that in multiple ways. In a more superficial sense, Nintendo makes a lot of games that espouse an appreciation of the environment and often have a secondary emphasis on the natural worlds around them. Nintendo’s games are also organic in the sense that they are grown from the simplest of ideas and inspirations. They’re not cultivated from results taken from focus groups.
Nintendo’s games aren’t inundated with guns, realistic violence, blood, gore, sex, drugs, profanity and overall hate and chaos. There’s a time and place for games that deal with such things, and I certainly enjoy them as much as anyone, but Nintendo is the lone major developer solely focused on things that are not that. And that’s what I love about them.
Growing up, I didn’t exclusively own Nintendo consoles. I had my share of Sega systems, but I was a Nintendo kid, without a doubt. Some of my fondest memories are of playing my Nintendo 64 on Sunday afternoons after church and lunch with my grandparents. I’d sit on my bed in my room, with blue sky and sunshine beaming in through the windows. And I’d play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. For some reason, that game in particular just felt right when played in as much natural light as possible. I’m not even really sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it’s a strong sense and emotion that’s stayed with me all these years.
Maybe it’s because playing a Nintendo game is like stepping inside the mind of a child. It’s filled with all sorts of colors, silliness, creativity and pure unadulterated fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are anthropomorphic animals and creatures, and certainly eccentric and interesting characters. Nintendo games are the bright imaginations of children come to life.
In a society — and more specifically, an industry — that often emanates cynicism, anger, intolerance, rage, and pure vitriol and hate, it is so absolutely refreshing to have Nintendo practice and preach a philosophy based on the complete opposite. And it’s often in the face of a number of gamers who want Nintendo to give in and become like the rest of the industry. It’s Nintendo’s independent thinking that has led them all along the way, for better or worse. And personally, I’ll take Nintendo on a bad day over most other developers on a good one.
Shigeru Miyamoto — my personal hero and the father of nearly all of Nintendo’s most beloved characters and franchises — says that many of the ideas and inspirations for his games come from his childhood experiences. The Legend of Zelda franchise is said to have drawn inspiration from Miyamoto’s adventures as a young boy in Kyoto, where he roamed the forests, mountains, streams and caves near his house. It is in these most natural of environments that he drew upon his imagination to help create the fascinating worlds I explored throughout my childhood.
It’s safe to say that, without Miyamoto, the gaming landscape would have taken a drastically different path. And while it seems many of today’s game developers are forging their own way, not always down paths I want to travel, I can still rely upon Nintendo to provide fun, new experiences that allow me to enjoy games the way I did when I was a kid — purely and wholly unhindered.
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
― C.S. Lewis