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

I said that there was a definite purposeful reason as to why I made the character a regular Joe that worked as a game technician at Nintendo. Here’s the reason:

While working in the Correspondence Department and reading letters from consumers (the majority of which were from kids and young teens, and mostly male, though there was a fair percentage of Power Players over the age of 24), I learned an awful lot about our market. In fact, I realized that many of the letters asked the same questions or gave identical suggestions for games or proposed similar ideas for products or the magazine, etc. (which is why we had the 450 standard reply paragraphs). But, one day, while talking some of the letters with the other CSRs from the Correspondence Department, we got into a lively discussion about which was the most frequent game suggestion. And like a sledge hammer, it hit me. We’re getting consumer responses from 8,000 letters per week. This would really be valuable information to know. And no one was writing it down. And then the hammer it a second time. My God, there are around 120,000 phone calls into this place from consumer every week in addition to the 8,000 letters. AND NO ONE WAS WRITING IT DOWN!!

There wasn’t another business organization on the planet that wouldn’t kill for this kind of free consumer feedback and we were just casually letting it go down the toilet. So, fairly early in my time at the Big N, I realized there was a massive amount of consumer information coming in that wasn’t being recorded. And I set about the task of trying to record it. I started with my own stack of mail. I got a piece of paper and recorded the complaint or suggestion or praise and repeated the process for each letter. Categories began to define themselves and soon I was just putting a tic mark under the categories. Some categories began to devide themselves into sub-categories, e.g. Suggestions for New Games became Suggestions for a WWF Wrestling Game and Suggestions for a Super Mario Sequel and Suggestions for a Zelda Sequel, etc.

I then created blank forms with these same categories and handed them about 8 or 10 of my colleagues in the Correspondence Department with a blank column for miscellaneous items and asked them to put a tic mark under the appropriate category and to write a short explanation for each of the miscellaneous items. I then interviewed about a half dozen of the Game Counselors and the same amount of CSRs and determined additional categories for them. I added their additional categories to the current form. I collected the used form from my Correspondence colleagues and was satisfied that it was working successfully. With a final version of the form in place, I printed up enough copies for every Correspondence person, every CSR, and every Game Counselor and, without word one to my supervisors or upper management or, God forbid, the marketing department, I handed them out quietly to each customer service person with a short instructional paragraph at the top. I explained that I would be back on each Friday to gather them up, so it was important to keep them accurate and accounted for.

Now, I was in no position of authority to insist that anyone do anything. And I didn’t. If people got the impression that this was a new task issued by management, I wasn’t real forthcoming with any news that the impression was incorrect. I did give the impression that this information was critical to management. That wasn’t a lie. Just because management wasn’t bright enough to realize it at the time didn’t make it any less important. The good-natured customer service people accepted their new assignments with quiet resignation.

As promised I gathered them at the close of business on Friday and passed out fresh ones for the next week. I then tallied the tic marks and quickly created a spreadsheet. I repeated this process for 4 weeks. The hardworking individuals of the CSR masses performed their tasks perfectly. Trends rapidly began to form. The spreadsheet grew and became more defined.

I took a sample of it to the upper management in the Marketing department. As my dad used to say, “They ‘bout swallered their gum.” They were in shock. Almost speechless, which is saying something for marketing people. They couldn’t believe they’d been letting this vast amount of information slip through their fingers. They asked me for the file that contained the “Feedback Tally Form” as I called it, and I emailed it to them. Immediately, the order came down that “every CSR, Game Counselor, and Correspondence CSR was to use the Feedback Tally Form and to turn it in weekly.” The customer service were a little understandably confused since they’d already been doing it for the past four weeks already. Knowing how Nintendo worked, they just figured that the original order was just now being delivered. They shrugged and continued to do what they’d done for the past month.

The impact was incalculable. Decisions regarding sequels and new games to decisions about where and when to place television and print advertising were impacted by this enormous feedback. And especially what was to go into that advertising was impacted by the Feedback Tally Form. Though it has admittedly been a few years, the last I heard the customer service personnel are still using the Feedback Tally Form. I can only assume that it has evolved somewhat, but the basic premise is intact: Record customer feedback.

Gathering the forms and tabulating the results, I personally charted about 5.5 million consumer responses while at Nintendo. At the point when I left the company, there were probably less than three people in the country that knew what I knew about what consumers wanted to see in video games. And exactly who those consumers were. Age, gender, household income level, number of games owned, etc.

Now, I told you all that to explain to you about my original statement: why I made the Captain a regular Joe who worked as a game technician at Nintendo. Ha! See, you thought I’d gotten off track and forgotten about that, didn’t you? No chance. It all comes full circle eventually.

One of the things that stood out among the many trends found in all that customer feedback was that everyone had a fascination with Nintendo. The company. How it worked. Where it came from. How can I someday come to work there? What was in store next? And they had a temendous fascination with how the games were created.

Since Captain Nintendo had to be a reflection of the product and the company image, why not make him an employee and give him the only job possibly cooler than that of Game Counselor: Game Maker (Okay Game Technician, but “technician” covers a lot of mysterious area: designer, programmer, manufacturer, producer, etc.). I wrote the origin story and gave him a history, a personality, powers, even a girlfriend (who also worked at the company, as I recall), and I set up the initial premise. He had an enemy that he virtually had no choice, but to fight and he had the means to do that, which would allow us to introduce an endless supply of new characters, situations, and game tips into the stories and, ultimately, to the consumer. If you can find better marketing than that, show it to me.

The first story included an appearance by some of Nintendo’s most popular characters and offered an important game tip in the context of the story. I gave the story to the toughest audience I knew: several of the Game Counselors (They can be brutally honest—which was what I wanted.) The GCs were overwhelmingly positive. So, I turned the story into my boss, whom we’ve affectionately made fleeting reference to as the dragon.

She was not as positive as the GCs. While she admitted she could see a certain value to running the story and “limited” potential to the idea, there needed to be many, many changes. First, the girlfiend: she needed to be stronger and smarter; an equal to the Captain, without the powers, of course. “Hey,” she said, “maybe we could give her some powers, too!” I put my foot down. “Okay,” she said, “But she needed to be someone who didn’t need to be saved.” Uh, excuse me?! Saving fair damsels, is what heroes do. Especially saving the girlfriend!! But, no. Let’s just put this premise on the respirator in the ICU before it’s born…

There were other ridiculous changes, too. “Make him a janitor instead of a game technician.” ??? Make him ugly. Make him an unpopular computer geek (I won’t tell you her reasoning behind this as it is likely to offend, but I explained that there was already a Peter Parker.). Goofy stuff like that, but mostly her pet contention was making the girlfriend stronger. So I did. Hey, I’m not above a little compromise. I can do that. We (the editors who toiled under her reign) used to joke that she didn’t edit an article. She castrated it. With a chainsaw. With “The Electifying Adventures of Captain Nintendo,” she was in all her editing glory. At this point, I have to remark what a Godsend the Senior Editor, my mentor, was. She tirelessly acted as a buffer between, well, anyone—everyone—else, and the dragon, but especially between the dragon and me. This was her finest hour. My mentor managed to save most of the integrity of my original piece. Note: I did make the girlfriend stronger and smarter, but, in the end, she, like everyone else that Gannon threatened, had to be saved. I also changed her name. To Tara Bates. Tara was the home of Scarlett O’Hara (whom I consider the bitchiest character of all time) and Bates was the last name of Norman Bates of ran the Bates Motel in Psycho and he was, well, psycho. Waay psycho. It was my own little act of defiance. Where did the inspiration for this name change come from? Hmmm. Now, let me think.

And we ran the story. In two parts in two consecutive issues. Response was very positive. Some of the smaller kids were writing directly to Captain Nintendo as though he really worked there. Somewhat disturbingly, a few of the older kids, too. But, what the heck. They were just getting into the spirit of it all. I hope. I anticipated many more stories and began to think about the next one. This time, I would go outside the Nintendo universe and team the Captain with a major character from one of the licensee games. (I had a fleeting thought about Mario and Donkey Kong, but it always ended with Kong grabbing Tara and climbing to the top of the MicroSoft building which was about a block away. But the MicroSoft building was only a few stories tall and I did NOT want to go through the “Tara can take care of herself” thing all over again, so I tossed the idea.)

Then, my mentor told me we wouldn’t be doing anymore Captain Nintendo stories. Obviously, I asked why. She told me that the dragon (She never called her that, though she was not a fan of the dragon by any stretch of the imagination either.) didn’t want to “devote the space to stories” and that she thought that “our readers preferred game tips to these stories.” She said that her [the dragon’s] take was that “the magazine was to be used to advertise games, not to entertain consumers.” Okay, for all you marketing majors out there: That is NOT the way to cement a spokescharacter mascot for your company. You really want to try for MORE exposure, not LESS. Naturally, this infuriated me and further defined the relationship between Mother Bra-..uh, the dragon, and me. But, the character was too good to let die there. Moreover, the concept was far too good to let die there.

So I took my story and my nine-page marketing campaign proposal to the Marketing management of the company. Not the Vice-President of Marketing. But to one of his underlings because I believed in the chain of command. Some insidious little cockroach whose name I honestly cannot now remember. I really wish I could. Now, part of what happened next was my own fault. But, I was naïve and trusting, and I believed if you worked hard and contributed greatly, you would be justly rewarded. Another life lesson here people: HAAA!!!!! HA HA! HA! HA HA HA Ha Ha ha ha ha….Nope!”

As I sat at the desk of this insect, he read my proposal and intermittently commented how great it was. That should have been my first red flag. Now, this proposal laid out the concept of how we would introduce the consumer to new video games through the stories in the magazine and the proposed Saturday morning cartoon and how the consumer would return to the stories for the game tips interwoven into the story (You see, if the consumer, returns to the show, he will be viewing the commercials as well. Like I said, layers and dimensions to this marketing.). I even had painted an oil painting of the character on black velvet (He looked like the personification of an Advantage controller.), but it was mysteriously stolen from my desk under the auspicous watch of my supervisor. So, I went in with just the proposal. I thought it would be strong enough on its own. Apparently, it was.

This parasite looked up from my proposal and said, “Well, this is VERY impressive. This is great! Did you come up with this all on your own?” I replied in the affirmative and explained that we had already run a two-part origin story in the magazine. I was always amazed that the upper eschelon of marketing never bothered to read the single most important marketing tool we had: Nintendo Power. It was the Marketing department that had told us that their research showed that 80% of sales could be directly traced back to the magazine.

“Fantastic!” he said. (Marketing people talk that way.) Then he asked the question that will forever burn in my brain:

“Listen,” he continued, “would you mind if your ideas went somewhere and you didn’t get reimbursed for them?”

I will pause here for a moment….to give you a second to take that in. And all that it implies. I know. My jaw still drops at it, too.

People, if you’re in… ANY kind of business and someone asks you this, do not reply! Don’t sign anything! Don’t move! Just start screaming “RAPE!!!!!” at the top of your lungs until some honest body comes to witness it and save you.

While I was naïve, I wasn’t completely stupid. A red flag was now draped over me. I said, and I quote, “Would you?! I expect that whatever I do here for Nintendo will be reflected back in my career here.” And I meant it.

He looked puzzled for a few seconds and then apparently decided that that meant he was free to do whatever he wanted, and beamed the broadest of smiles.

Within a week, my mentor told that a new cartoon based on my Captain Nintendo character was going to be on the fall schedule for one of the major networks. You know, as bad as the dragon was, and she was, I will say this for her: she never once tried to pass my work off as her own. Not directly, anyway. But then, she wasn’t really what I considered a marketing person. There is nothing more despicable than taking credit for someone else’s work. It is the lowest of the lows. You’d have to be a…a…cockroach.

In my naivete, however, I thought this was wonderful news. “Should I start writing more stories now?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s all been handed over to a production company. DIC. I believe they are the same folks who did Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

And that was the last truly creative input I would have with the character. Happily, you cannot blame me for him being turned into a teenager and being sucked into his television. Or for him being given a dog. Or for him not working at Nintendo. Those decisions all happened after he left my hands. I don’t know if this was input from the people at DIC or not. It smacks of television execs though. The kids, barely out of Pampers, who think they know television, and are running the networks, will tell you that “making him a teenager or adding a teenager sidekick will add 8 tenths of a point. Giving him a pet will add an extra quarter point. If the pet is a dog, it goes up to 35 hundredths of a point. Suh-weet, Baby!” (A point in televisionspeak is 1 million viewers. Now, these stats are decades old and were only somewhat true for one demographic for a short time in the late seventies, but you’ll hear these pinheads recite this crap like it’s scripture and verse. Okay, class, those of you old enough to remember, did you ever wonder why Fonzie was given a dog (Mr. Cool, I believe his name was and I’m ashamed I know that) on the cartoon that was spun off of Happy Days a couple of decades ago? They were going after that extra 35 hundredth of a point that they believed it would get them. Do you remember that? Anybody? Exactly. Now think, how many other “comedy/drama/adventure” based cartoons gave the lead character a pet? Can you say “Johnny Quest?” That was just the first one that came off the top of my head instantly. There are a ton of them. My Lord, even Space Ghost had a space monkey and twins that he schlepped everywhere.

Similarly, the whole reason Robin was given to Batman was because it was thought that kids could more easily relate to the character of Batman. They didn’t think kids could make the leap to imagine themselves as the Batman himself because he was too old (Good Heavens, he was 30, after all!). So, originally, they made Robin an 8-year-old. I swear to God. Eight years old. The first thing I thought of when I imagined myself as the Batman was to think, “Oh crap. Bad enough I’ve got to dodge bullets and fight overwheming odds against the most psychotic villains; Now, I’ve got this 8-year-old brat that I have to watch out for—and he’s not even wearing long pants! Yeah, that will makes things easier.” I promise you: The idea for Robin never originally sprang from the head of a real writer. It came from someone who thought they knew marketing. And so, Captain Nintendo was turned into a kid.

And they changed his name. I guess they were going for a cool factor? I dunno. All I know is that, with regard to Nintendo the company, N isn’t a fraction of the product recognition that Nintendo is. See, in a thirty minute period, you could have your name mentioned, oh 40 or 50 times, but, no. Much better that your name is NEVER mentioned. Oh yeah, that kind of marketing worked really well for…uh…hmmm. Jesus! This kind of stuff is Marketing 101. Hell, it’s in the Marketing prep class.

Still, I answered all the letters we got addressed to Captain Nintendo (or Captain N) as the Captain himself, but I would never have creative input again upon the character. However, I got the nickname Captain from several of the customer service personnel in each of the departments. And even outside the company, in my own circles, I’d get called Captain Nintendo more and more frequently. It was okay. Kind of fun in a way. So I just kind of accepted it. For the most part, however, I really thought I was done with him. I was to find out: He wasn’t done with me.

Next chapter: The Captain Goes Hollywood