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

As I alluded earlier, the timing of my arrival at Nintendo played a critical part in the events that unfolded. I learned within the first few days that Nintendo was open to a new spokescharacter. Mario was iconic and his innocence and good nature were very useful and beneficial at times in conveying part of a desired image, but apparently lacked the technological and futuristic flash that Nintendo also wanted to convey. The scuttlebutt was that they wanted something along the lines of a superhero. Being a creative type with a formal academic training in marketing, my mind’s wheels began to crank.

During the second week, I was graduated to the post of Game Counselor. As I’ve stated before, this job has often been referred to as “the most coveted job in the world.” A Game Counselor spends his day (or did in the late 1980’s) playing (and learning) games while wearing a telephone headset and operating a phone in order to talk to consumers who would call with questions or, most usually, needing help getting through a tough spot in the game they were currently playing. This is where my awe for Game Counselors never wavers. GCs would talk a consumer through his rough patch, all the while continuing their own game, rarely hitting the pause button. It’s not at all easy, but I learned to do it. Reasonably well, I think. There were, however, several people that were far better and more practiced than me. To split focus like that and still accomplish both tasks takes a remarkable concentration. One that Nintendo horrifically undervalued.

It was also at this time, that I learned of another flaw inherent in hiring young people. When young people are hired and promoted to positions of intermediate authority without grooming them for the responsibility, the young person in question (gaining this newfound power usually for the first time) will many times turn into an ambitious nazi (I use the lower case “n” to indicate a demeanor and not political agenda). Power corrupts. For certain personalities already predisposed, it’s not a big leap. Suffice it to say, we had our share of self-important tyrants. It was not easy for the rank and file of the same age as the despot to work under such abuse. For someone with far more experience and education, it left bile in my throat. These morons were left unchecked, largely because their supervisors were, for the most part, also inexperienced and didn’t really know how to effectively deal with the situation. And, in hindsight, I also now believe that the Japanese management didn’t care since the only people affected were Americans and my experience with two Japanese companies left me with the distinct impression that to find a prejudice and bias by the Japanese against anyone not Asian (and that was particularly American) was not uncommon. This bias wasn’t really evident this early on in my tenure. So, anyways, I was a Game Counselor.

Meanwhile, the idea of a superhero spokesperson for the company kept churning and formulating in my mind. Since I had no time during the day to focus on the character (My focus was already split between playing and learning the game du jour, operating the phone, and servicing the customer on the phone.), I worked on it at night at home. Within three weeks of my hire, I had not only the character, but an ad hoc marketing campaign mapped out. Here’s where the timing element becomes so important.

The growing number of letters that Nintendo received each week was becoming almost unmanageable. Nintendo was desperate to recruit CSRs who could answer this mountain of mail. This required people with a writing ability. Most of the Game Counselors thought I was crazy for taking on the task of answering mail instead of playing games all day, but since I had this ability and the company had a need, I saw this as a way to distinguish myself. And thus it was that I was moved to the Correspondence Department.

It was at this time that Nintendo was to launch it’s record-breaking entry into the world of magazine publishing. Now, it is not Nintendo’s custom to secure people actually trained in a given discipline to perform the task. From what I was able to gather, the style of Management was to get whoever was at hand. Literally. I was told that virtually all of the Americans in positions of relative management were the only Americans that the CEO had come in contact with regardless of their actual education or experience (i.e. next door neighbor, realtor that managed the purchase of the CEO’s house, a foreign exchange student who’d once stayed at the CEO’s house in Japan, etc.). So word went out to the rank and file that the search was on for anyone that could write. Real magazine articles.

Those of us with an interest notified the appropriate personnel and we were given a practice article. Not realizing that they only wanted to evaluate our writing prowess, I not only wrote the article, but laid out the pages, complete with screen shots and head(line) – I did, after all, have a minor in journalism with lots of writing and page layout experience—more, I was later to find out, than some of those in authority on the magazine staff. My efforts apparently impressed someone enough that I was given a “position” as Editor on the magazine. There are quotes around “position” for a reason.

I was an Editor in title only. Oh, I performed all the tasks of an Editor and all the responsibilities of an Editor, but my paycheck still said I was a CSR. No change in pay due to the change in responsibilities because (as we were told) this was on a volunteer basis. I decided to continue to do it for a number of reasons, most selfish. First, I liked the work. It was a task I was familiar with and good at. Second, I liked the Japanese team of artists at the art direction house that we worked with. They were rank and file creative types like me and void of the biases and prejudices of the older, bigotedly entrenched Japanese management that I came to know in both the Japanese companies I worked for. And this team of Japanese artists liked me. Through our broken languages (They spoke much better English than I did conversational Japanese, but we learned from each other.), we knocked out some great articles and produced some of the best issues the magazine has seen, setting four publication records in the process. Much of the credit for that success goes to this art direction house. I would work with this group on projects other than Nintendo Power as well (guide books, instruction manuals, and even T-shirts). Third, I found a mentor in the Senior Editor of Nintendo Power, a brilliant, savvy, talented woman, just a few years my senior, and the only person in the building with more writing and publishing experience than myself. Fourth, I thought this was a good career path in a field I enjoyed. This was the most important thing for me. I thought there was career potential here. Mistakenly so.

Meanwhile, in addition to my Editor duties, I continued to perform my other responsibilities: those of being a Correspondence CSR. I, along with the other 30 or so people, answered the 8,000 per week letters from consumers of all ages (some written to us in crayon—I actually liked those best). However, this was a daunting and time-consuming task. Reading the letters was not always easy (Crayon can be hard to make out and not everyone is a really good speller). Once the letter is read, a decision must be made as to what the best response would be. Since the response must be appropriate and within the parameters set by the legal department and should form a unified voice for Nintendo, standard responses were created and stored. Some 450 of them. 450 of the most specific generic responses geared to answer a consumer without sounding like a form letter and still reach the consumer within a reasonable timeframe.

Searching through 450 paragraphs to find exactly the one you need can be the most time-consuming part of the process (especially if the paragraphs aren’t categorized and if many of them are differ only slightly in content). The average time spent in responding to a letter was around 9 minutes (my rough estimate at the time). We used WordPerfect 4.2 at the time and it was fairly efficient (Remember this was before the addition of a mouse to our computer arsenal—Yes, little one, there was a time when we didn’t use mice. Everything was done with a keyboard. Keee boaard. And database was not a common term.)

I mention WordPerfect 4.2 because it is important to note that after a few months, Nintendo spend a lot of money to upgrade and train us to use WordPerfect 5.0. Why is that important to note? Because the main difference between the two versions is that 5.0 has a macro editor. Oooooh, a macro editor. What the hell is a macro editor? At the time, I didn’t know either. In fact, the whole computer thing was relatively new to me. Well, to everybody. But unlike many of my younger co-workers, I didn’t have any computers (even Apples) introduced at my high school. We used typewriters. Tiipe wriiiterrs. So I was learning on the fly. But that was cool because I was always good at that. That particular quality has landed me more than one job.

Okay, so, back to the macro editor. For our purposes, the macro editor had its own programming language and allowed me to create a program within a program. Over the course of three weeks, I categorized and tagged all 450 responses and created a menu-driven program that would allow a Correspondence CSR to select from a series of menus the exact paragraph he/she required, press a key, and instantly insert the paragraph into his/her current letter and position the cursor for the next paragraph. No more manual dredging through the random landfill of responses in hopes of coming across one that will work. No more manual time-consuming cut and paste. By today’s standards, it would probably be considered primitive, but it reduced the amount of time required to respond to the average letter to less than a minute and a half. I could do it in less than a minute.

I showed this program to the Correspondence supervisor. For what will forever remain reasons of his own, he was largely unimpressed. I don’t like to break the chain of command, but I thought the program had too significant an impact and I’d spent too much time on it to let it die, so I demonstrated it to the department supervisor—who WAS impressed. Very impressed. He asked me what the immediate supervisor thought of it. I told him that the immediate supervisor was unimpressed. I can only speculate that it was because he hadn’t thought of it himself. The department supervisor thought it important enough to follow through with. The program was installed so that all could use it, but it was treated as a joke and the immediate supervisor encouraged no one to use it. Some did. Some didn’t. Okay. But, here’s the thing. Nintendo had spent a lot of money for us to learn 5.0, meaning they’d spent a lot of money for us to learn the additional tool of the macro editor. I was the only person to make real use of it and was promptly discouraged from doing so by my immediate supervisor. Granted he was within a year or so of my own age with less management experience, but you gotta love the corporate mentality.

Simultaneous to all this, I continued to contribute to the magazine. Nintendo Power was (and may still be) a 110-page collection of how-to’s, reviews, and articles of interest to Nintendo players and the gaming world at large. Besides the contribution of the Captain Nintendo articles, there were times when I wrote, edited, and laid-out more than a third of the issue. That is by no means an exaggeration. Work hard and then you’ll be rewarded. That’s what we’re taught, right? Riiiiiiiight.

Next chapter: Every Captain Must Have His Mother Brain