How old is Nintendo? Older than computers. Nintendo was started back in 1889! Sony (founded in 1946)! Sega (1951)! Microsoft (the youngest at 1975). Long before the transistor existed, Nintendo was making playing cards called hanafuda. Back in 1633. Japan banned foreign playing cards because of gambling problems. That didn’t stop people from making other types of card games they can use instead. Hanafuda cards used images instead of numbers and the laws were relaxed a bit. A combination which let Nintendo’s founder Fusajio Yamauchi to step in.
Nintendo dabbled in a wide range of different businesses. Nintendo owned a taxi service, a TV network, and even a love hotel chain. Yeah, the company that made Mario owned hotels where people could find the princess in her castle. Nintendo even sold instant rice at one point!
In 1966, Nintendo became a toy company. The engineer was named Gunpei Yokoi and, uh, single-handily saved the company with his Ultra Hand. The Ultra Hand was simple. It was just a criss-cross of plastic with scissor handles that let the hand extend when pinched and retract when opened. You’ve probably seen these things in the cheap-o toy section of dollar stores.But it proved immensely popular. Nintendo was also the first to make a Light Gun (the Zapper used to play Duck Hunt) and games like Ultra Machine, Love Tester, and Drive Game.
Nintendo remained a toy company in many regards. The video game systems it makes today are basically high-tech toys. The focus on fun over graphics is a legacy of Nintendo’s history. After all, even the taxi cabs could be fun if you had a wild driver! Love hotels don’t need a mention…ahem.
Why is Nintendo important enough to feature on JP? Why not Sony? Well, Nintendo’s NES (Nintendo Entertainment System, known in Japan as the Famicom, family computer) managed to save the home console market after the debacle Atari and other companies caused. Eventually the market would have rebounded on its own, but Nintendo managed to speed the process.
Nintendo’s characters like Mario, Samus, and Link are household names. They provided a means to export a portion of Japanese culture back to the West. Although Mario is Italian, Bowser is essentially a kappa. Kids grew up with names like Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda. We grew used to seeing Japanese writing scattered throughout the game worlds.
Nintendo did much to open the doors to acceptance of anime and manga. Nintendo’s video game art is grounded in manga’s art style. Nintendo also introduced Pokemon. Pokemon is one of the most influential anime in the United States.
Let’s stop and consider what would have happened if Nintendo didn’t introduce the NES and SNES to North America. Sure, Sony or someone else would have eventually introduced a video game system that would crack the mess Atari left.
However, much would be different. Square’s Final Fantasy may never have been released. Without Final Fantasy’s release, Square may well have went out of business. Pokemon may never have existed or not appear at the perfect time to explode in popularity. The gaming industry itself may well be behind what we have today. People may not have developed an intense interest in console gaming. Nintendo pushed the console technology ahead for many years. That push helped open people’s acceptance of computers in the living room. If Nintendo didn’t exist, many of us may not have had exposure to Japanese electronic media. Or, we may have had much later exposure.
Nintendo has also imported many American ideas into Japan. Video gaming is an international hobby. This is something we often forget.
Luckily, Nintendo appeared and survived. It is likely Nintendo will out live Sony and Microsoft in the video game market. I won’t count out a company that is flexible enough to jump from playing cards to love hotels and to toys.
Cunningham, A (2013). The NES Turns 30: How It Began, Worked, and Saved an Industry. http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/07/time-to-feel-old-inside-the-nes-on-its-30th-birthday/
Gladstone, B. (2010). How Nintendo Saved the Video Game Industry. http://www.onthemedia.org/story/133033-how-nintendo-saved-the-video-game-industry/transcript/
Nintendo. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo