It was the best of times...

How Nintendo is attempting to turn “gamer” into a four-letter word

By Chris O'Neal 11/08/2012


As a young boy, my initial contact with video games came in the form of Nintendo, or as my mother called it, a “Nintendoo.” I played the original Super Mario Bros. until calluses began to form on my tiny fingers. I didn’t know it then, but what I had set myself on the path to becoming was what we, in future-speak, call a “gamer.”

Countless years passed — at least 20 or so — during which many a game came and went. The original Super Mario Kart, the terrifying addiction to Japanese role-playing games begun with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV, the relentless sandwich crafting of Burger Time. So imagine my surprise when, just last week, I learned that calling myself a “gamer” is now taboo.

Imagine my indignity when the entity that told me this was Nintendo.

Fans of Gamer’s Notebook (hi, you two!) may recall my obsession with one Professor Layton, the puzzle-solving wizard of developer Level 5 and Nintendo DS fame. In the midst of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a commercial that could have been for laundry detergent aired, during which a beautiful couple played bits of the new Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. Our attractive male lead guided our attractive female lead through a simple puzzle involving a ladybug.

“Oh, go up there, finish,” he instructed as they giggled.

“Ah, mystery solved!” she exclaimed. “I’m not a gamer, but with my 3DS I’m a master of puzzles!”

First, Nintendo: excellent example for young girls. If a grown woman has trouble solving a simple puzzle involving a ladybug without the assistance of a man, perhaps you should package a strong male counterpart with all of your games from here on, just in the event that a girl happens to pick it up.

Second, “I’m not a gamer, but …” sounds a bit too much like my middle-school summary of The Scarlet Letter. Gaming and gamers have come a long way since the ’90s, infiltrating the mainstream, becoming socially acceptable. The days during which gaming wasn’t as popular were tough — and kids today have it worlds easier. There aren’t bullies calling you a nerd because you happen to play video games, simply because the bullies are playing video games themselves. Attempting to disassociate yourself from “gamer” now is akin to carrying around a rotary phone.

Let’s say that Nintendo is attempting to appeal to a new type of customer. Maybe making Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask look like nothing more than a distraction from cleaning the floors and making a shopping list is appealing to someone — somewhere — in another time and realm. In the meantime, the real gamers are left thinking that Nintendo just sent them a “it’s not me, it’s you” breakup letter.

Take the Japanese commercial for Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. Action. Adventure. Quirky “I’ve solved the case!” poses. The game is sold to the gamers. And if, by chance, you don’t consider yourself a gamer, it offers up enough flash and pizazz that perhaps it will intrigue you.

Don’t let Nintendo dismantle that long-standing foundation for you. In fact, there are many reasons to own the fourth installment of the Professor Layton franchise: beautifully rendered artwork, animations and characters; intriguing puzzles and mysterious affairs; and no condescending model telling you how to solve a puzzle.

What’s it going to be, Nintendo? Do you forsake the very people who brought you into the future on their backs, or are we the cousin you don’t speak of at the dinner table? Are you trying to revert “gamer” back into a four-letter word?

A young boy sits in front of his television, controller in hand, rescuing princesses. He’s not ashamed at what he’ll become. In fact, he’ll live through the golden age of video gaming with head held high the entire way, Nintendo’s marketing team be damned.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is available now for the Nintendo 3DS, $39.99.

Chris O’Neal is a proud gamer who will one day grow up to be Professor Layton. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.



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