25 years of Nintendo

While the company has existed much longer than that, Nintendo revitalized America’s gaming market in the mid ’80s, opening future of near endless options for players to level up.

Football players suit up, and runners lace up.

In the gaming world, players boot up their computers and other gaming devices for an activity that rallied back from the dead more than two decades ago.

“I always played games, then I did my undergrad as an English major at Bowling Green State University and they had a department of popular culture. I’ve always been played and been interested in video games,” said Bryan-Mitchell Young, video game researcher and lecturer in the department of communication at Indiana State whose dissertation examined gamers.

In 2003, Young started working on his Ph.D. and discovered a gaming club at the university, which hosted once-a-semester a LAN (local area network) War, where people come together and play games in the same room.

Around 200 people from as far away as Canada come to play games, mostly computer games, for 24 hours straight. Young used the event’s participants for his dissertation, looking at the people, the community the activity creates and what draws participants into such an event when they could play online at home against people.

“I played and interviewed people to see what they get out of coming together to play games that they don’t get at home playing by themselves,” said Young, who conducted his research over 10 years. “I found that they like getting to be with other people and hang out. Even though they’re mostly college kids, they still have tests and studies, but this is a weekend where they don’t have to do any of that. They can just be around other people and play a variety of games and in tournaments.”

Image courtesy of Nintendo

It’s an activity that often appeals to the most competitive in nature, especially men.

“I think that out of 200 people at the LAN Wars, there were seven or eight women last time, which is kind of a high number,” Young said. “These events are so popularly there, though, that they don’t really have to advertise to recruit new people who would not normally go. And it’s hard for them to find a place to do it since it’s a 24-hour event, so getting a bigger space is difficult.”

Games, as a whole, are diverting, fun and relaxing, Young said, but there is debate over exactly what constitutes as a game.

“Does Candy Crush on your phone count? There is some elitism there,” he said. “Games are meant to be beat so you can win, and that’s not always the case in life. A lot of games will incentives you with player rankings, so even if you’re not No. 1, you can say you were maybe No. 5.”

Because the interaction with others can be virtual, players never have to leave home and can even turn it into a profession, like PewdDiePie, a Swedish gamer whose commentary and reactions to various games as he plays are broadcast on his YouTube channel under Polaris, a gaming network that is part of Maker Studios, a multi-channel network that drives the growth of the channels under it.

“He’s popular with tweens and makes like $5 million a year. There are people who go online and watch people play games. It’s a job that allows them to be online eight-hours-a-day basically,” Young said. “But I have a hard time understanding why people want to watch other people play games. I’ve tried to watch someone online play League of Legends because it’s so popular, but I start thinking that I could play the game myself.

“I guess it’s like people who wonder why you would watch football or basketball games when you could just go play it yourself, but with sports you have to be athletic to do it at least. But games you can sit from your computer and play. It could be because of the community it creates with the chat room that allows the viewers to talk with the player.”

While a popular pastime for youth, gaming has also caught on with the young at heart with the creation of games to appeal to almost any age group.

“I was born in 1973, and I think Pong came out in 1978 and my parents bought a used console. Then they bought an Atari and I played that for years. I got the Nintendo a little late, but once I got to college I got out of it a bit,” Young said. “I didn’t have a computer in college or any current consoles, but there were people who had computers and we would do tournaments. Some of the people on our floor had games, but I kind of missed out on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Genesis and Nintendo 64 era before I graduated and began teaching high school in Frankfurt, Ind. I finally had some money and bought a Sony PlayStation in the ’90s.”

A gamer since childhood, Young said that what allowed Nintendo to gain its popularity was previous crash of the American video game industry.

“The two games that get blamed for it is the ET game and Atari’s version of Pac-Man. Atari’s version of Pac-Man didn’t even look like Pac-Man because the 2600 had such low graphics,” he said. “Atari didn’t think that anyone would make games without their permission, so a ton of crap games for the Atari 2600 flooded the market and buyers didn’t know what was good and what was bad. Then came the ET game was rushed to come out with the ET movie, so they only had about six weeks to do it. They made about 3 million copies and only about half of them sold.”

Meanwhile, Japan’s video game market boomed.

“Nintendo has been around for over 100 years and made tons of stuff, games and dolls before it got into the electronics stuff. They made their own knockoff Pong games and then arcade games, but it was basically all in Japan,” Young said. “They wanted to branch out and went to Atari, but Atari said no, which was sort of the downfall of Atari. Nintendo had a hard time selling in the U.S. at first because the video game industry was dead, but they did a test run in New York City and finally got a foothold.”

Nintendo revitalization of America’s gaming market turned gaming into a multi-billion dollar market that some say is bigger than the box office, and Young doesn’t expect the video game industry to go anywhere but up, despite the rapid rise and fall of Pokémon GO last summer.

“I was playing (Pokémon GO) for a while, but as a game, it’s kind of repetitive. Once you get tired of walking around finding stuff, there’s not a lot of novelty to it and there’s not as much strategy involved,” Young said. “I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t have a lot of staying power. The company that made Pokémon GO licensed it from the Pokémon company, which had made a previous game that was kind of the same game but without the characters. It wasn’t very deep.”

For companies, like Nintendo, to stay viable, they may need to go mobile.

“Mobile is definitely where they need to go if they want to make money,” Young said. “People that buy Nintendo hardware because they like Nintendo games. People that buy PlayStation or Xbox don’t necessarily buy it just because they like Sony games or Microsoft games.”

Video games are constantly evolving and can be more social than society gives them credit for, especially online games.

“The only difference is you’re not seeing the other person but it is interaction. It’s a different type of socialization,” Young said. “We have the stereotype of gamers as loners but, obviously, this is not the case because 200 or more people attend the LAN tournament at IU and it almost always sells out. It’s not about being at home alone. It’s about being with other people.

“It’s sort of a mediated communication. We’re in the same room, but a lot of times people have headphones on because you don’t want to hear the sounds from other people’s games. Players wear headphones so they can listen to their own game, and even though they have a person right next to them, you might not be able to hear them so you talk to the person next to you through the chat system. It’s like texting with someone who is in the same room. It’s a way of using technology to communicate with people who are in the same place.”

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