Chapter 1: The Most Coveted Job in the World
Chapter 2: A Change in Responsibilities
Chapter 3: Every Captain Must Have His Mother Brain
Chapter 4: Enter Captain Nintendo
Chapter 5: Captain Nintendo Lives
Chapter 6: The Captain Goes Hollywood
Chapter 7: The Real Power Behind Captain Nintendo
Chapter 8: New Worlds to Conquer and a New Superpower!
Chapter 9: The Last Adventure

My real name is not important. However, if you look in the flag of some of the early issues of Nintendo Power, you will see it there—under the title of Editor. Suffice it to say that for a time (late eighties/early nineties) I was known in the video game industry as Captain Nintendo. I make no claim to be associated with, or any claim to any copyrighted or trademarked material now owned by Nintendo. The point of this story is for informational and entertainment (if any) purposes. There is also a slight historic value to this story for those interested in this subject matter, though I freely admit that it is from a single perspective with a slight, admitted bias. Which I’ll be very candid about as to allow you to make your own judgments. I withhold my name so that I can’t be accused of personal gain or glory. I’m not sure there is any to be gained even if I were to give my name, but I’ll err on the side of caution.

How I came to Nintendo is not so unusual a story from the typical hire of the day. Nintendo of America, located in beautiful, rustic Redmond, Washington (just a stone’s throw from that Microsoft outfit), was in a growth mode and hiring “lower tier” employees to man their gargantuan consumer service contingents.

Even my unusual background was in itself not uncommon (in that Nintendo seemed to draw people from a number of disciplines). I came from a mostly academic background (having taught junior high, high school, and university classes) with a BA in Education and Communications with a double major of Education and Theatre and a minor in Journalism from Northeastern Oklahoma State University, known for its extraordinary teachers’ program. I also all but completed my master’s degree at a different university, lacking only a single 50-page term paper and my orals (but that is another story and not particularly important to this one). I left the education field to work in the private sector and for a while, managed a photofinishing retail chain outlet.

What is more interesting is that I arrived at Nintendo’s doorstep with considerable more experience and education than the average prospective hire (and even more than most of the people with the hiring decision-making authority) as I was 10 to 15 years their senior. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this part of the story is the timing of my arrival. Nintendo was still in the infancy of its incredible rise to conquer the video game industry. Working quickly to respond to the enormous requests for customer service, the Big Red N scrambled to establish a CSR (Consumer Service Representative) force rivaled by very few other companies. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I reveal that their CSR force consists primarily of three groups:

1) a team of true CSRs who handle phone calls to answer customers questions regarding repair, refunds, technical setup/installation of their system, and general queries about the company;

2) a group of about 30 people called Correspondence CSRs charged with the daunting task of handling the same sort of chores the CSRs did, but for customers that wrote to the company rather than calling. At the time, the company received on average about 8,000 letters per week. Naturally, many of these were from youngsters with praise of their favorite games, tales of their game playing skills, and suggestions for new games. Generic responses to these missives don’t work for someone who has spent time and poured their heart out on their letter sweating bullets over an idea that has already been thought of by a couple hundred other people or would never sell a single cartridge to anyone else. No. Reponses had to be tailored for each individual letter (all 8,000 per week). AND they had to be uniform so that Nintendo could have some sort of quality control with their correspondence. Consequently, some 450 pat responses (paragraphs) to the most common questions, suggestions, and observations were designed (written). A letter might have an observation about the magazine, a question about forthcoming games, and a suggestion for a game about a favorite subject. Carefully selecting the appropriate well-crafted paragraphs would not only tailor the response to the customer, but it would allow Nintendo (to its undying credit) to respond in a timely fashion, so that the writer wouldn’t have to wait months for a reply and then, just get a lousy form letter that would indicate that no one had read their letter.

3) the third group of CSRs was the legendary Game Counselors. This is a team of individuals who play games all day. And get paid for it. Oooh. It has been called the most coveted job in the world. And it probably is. By nine-year-olds who don’t have to pay rent and utilities and a phone bill and buy gasoline for a car that they have to make payments on. Even by adults, until they find out that it paid little more than minimum wage. Oh, Nintendo will claim that they pay a full $3 above minimum, but what they won’t disclose is that those three dollars are a “commission” that the employee must pay to Volt (the temporary agency that Nintendo insists that each employee sign with in order to work at Nintendo.) No one at the lower tier is hired unless they go through Volt. Not only did 40% of your hard-earned paycheck automatically vanish before you saw it, speculation and word on the street was that Nintendo had a significant interest in that particular Volt agency or was receiving a kickback of some kind. I have no way of knowing the validity or legality of the relationship between Volt and Nintendo, so I make no accusations here. I only report that this is the way people were hired at this level and that it is a truth that rumors of implied corruption were rampant at the time. The truth of those rumors is for the authorities or an investigator to confirm or lay to rest. I make no claim either way. Only that the rumors existed and were prevalent.

In the spring of 1988, I had recently left a company for which I’d worked for 5 years. The company had consistently underpaid me and consistently passed me over for promotion in favor of females (many of whom I’d trained). Seeing that the person with the decision-making authority was also female and things weren’t likely to change, I decided that I should cut my losses and pursue something with more potential. In my search, I came across the notice that Nintendo was hiring CSRs. Nintendo hadn’t been around that long, but it was immediately hot and quickly iconic. Only the really lucky (affluent) families had them, but everyone had had an opportunity to play one and they were wicked cool.

Having been recently disillusioned by a disloyal company (for whom I set sales and other records), I, like many others, thought Nintendo would be a refreshing change, and maybe even “fun.” I was not a hard-core game addict like most of the people at the cattle-call hire (largely made up of young men, 18 to 23 years in age, and not yet graduated from a college, if they were ever in college, though, for the most part, a collection of very bright, focused young people and very easy to be around as they were almost universally friendly. Later, many of these chums and myself would form paintball teams and shoot each other with little pellets of multicolored liquid with gleeful abandon on the weekends. Good times….good times.).

I was hired the same day I applied and it was decided initially that I would be a Game Counselor since I am openly friendly, talkative, and had worked some customer service before. Not knowing much about the company, this seemed fine to me. I knew that I was frankly overqualified for the job and the salary was disappointing, but I imagined that with my education, maturity, and experience, I would rise more quickly than the great throng of my peers if I could demonstrate that I could make a significant contribution. This has always been my approach to any company I’ve ever worked for. It is the way I was raised. It is the American business value system. It has never worked once for me. Nintendo would prove to be no exception. Although, in a way, it did. Sort of.

But, you don’t find out these things overnight or all at once. Or in black and white. It’s hard to be too suspicious of a company that has you do nothing but play video games the first week (Our first responsibility: In the first week, we were to master Super Mario Brothers, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda—as questions about these four games comprised most of the phone calls received by the Game Counselors). You keep pinching yourself to see if it’s true. I should have pinched myself harder.

Next chapter: A Change in Responsibilities