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

The television version of Captain Nintendo, Captain N: The Game Master, first aired on NBC on my sister’s birthday, September 9 in 1989. Though I had nothing directly to do with the cartoon (well, other than the initial idea to do a cartoon based on the character I created that would introduce characters and game tips to the public and act as an advertising vehicle for Nintendo), some of the most important elements from my original proposal remained: most notably, the retention of Mother Brain as the arch villain. It was popularly received and we received many letters in response. The letters were consistent in their overall praise of the show and equally consistent in their complaints about specific elements that they despised: particularly Kid Icarus, Simon Belmont, King Hippo, and the Eggplant Wizard. This didn’t really bother me as I never liked those elements either–in the one episode I saw (This may come as a great shock, but, since I wasn’t directly a part of the show’s creative process, I really didn’t have much interest in watching. Especially, after seeing the one episode I did see.) In fact, from the specifics of the responses we got, I felt vindicated.

Nevertheless, seemingly on the strength of the premise, the show enjoyed relative popularity (far more than its sister programs of the time, based on Mario and Zelda). Surprising to me, you can still find several websites erected by devoted fans, some even detailing each episode. I understand that recently many episodes were released on DVD.

As I’ve noted previously, some letters were addressed directly to Captain Nintendo (or to Captain N) and I was logically given the task of answering them as the Captain. At this point, marketing execs and Hollywood had taken over, and this was as much impact as I now had on the character. Generally, the letters were amusing, in that way that a child’s imagination is amusing when it’s in fourth gear. However, the kids writing the letters were genuine in their questions and suggestions, so I made sure my answers matched their tone and belief level. If they wanted Captain Nintendo to be real, I wasn’t going to be the one to jar them out of it.

There was one other minor odd side effect. Nintendo had kiosks placed in the six major malls that surround the city of Seattle (Redmond, where Nintendo of America is located, is a sort of suburb of Seattle). Each of these kiosks has about 20 monitors, each connected to a working NES. Kids could come and demo a game to determine if they wanted to buy it. They could also play games that were not yet released (to promote the game and generate “word-of-mouth” advertising). Sometimes the games were still in development, and the guy behind the counter would be writing down the comments of this unsuspecting focus group.

Usually, whenever I had occasion to go to a mall, I stop in and chat with kiosk clerk. Invariably, some kid would come up and ask, “Hey, how do you get through such and such level of this game over here. I can’t get past it.” The clerks loved to handoff to me with, “Ask this guy right here. He’s Captain Nintendo!” And then the clerk would flash this Cheshire Cat grin my way. Of course, the kid would become unglued and call his buddies over. “No way!! You’re Captain Nintendo?! Guys!! Guys!!! This is Captain Nintendo!!!” And suddenly, I was surrounded by twelve-year-olds. “How do I get through Level 3 of Ikari Warriors?” “Where’s your costume?” “Do you make the games?” “Can you give me a free game?” “Can you come to my school?” “Hey, fly.” “Yeah, fly. Could you fly me around?” The clerks always thought this was soooo funny. Especially when it would result in me not being able to go anywhere in the mall without being followed by this throng of relentless young Power Players. After a while, I knew better than to get within 25 feet of the kiosks. There was a short period of time when I couldn’t walk into a mall without being approached by at least one kid who had a question for the Captain or wanted an autograph(!?). The first time that happened, I about fell over. Actually, every time that happened, I about fell over. And on those rare occasions when it still happens, I’m still floored. But I always complied. I even finally designed an 8 x 10-inch full color page with a “message from the Captain,” complete with autograph and suitable for framing. The last time I gave it out was just short time back when a young man (about 24 and working as an I.T. recruiter) asked me for one. He later told me he framed it and it sits on his desk at work. Even someone as cynical as I am can’t help but be gratified by that.

So between the letters at the office and the incidents with kiosks, I conceded with resigned acceptance that I was Captain Nintendo—whatever that really meant. Around this time, I got a call from Mom. My mom. She related a story about talking to an acquaintance of hers who had a grandson that was battling terminal cancer; a brave little kid of about 8 or 9 facing stuff that nobody should have to face. Mom said the lady asked about me and what I was doing in Seattle. When Mom told her about my association with Nintendo, the lady excitedly related how playing Nintendo was the only thing that made her grandson feel better when he has to go through a round of chemo. For those of you lucky enough not to know, chemo treatments cause severe vomiting and nausea, and generally make you feel extremely miserable. The lady asked Mom if I would mind writing to her grandson. She thought a letter from Captain Nintendo would be like a shot in the arm for him. Now, Mom has never been shy about volunteering me for anything, but she knew, of course, that I’d write to this kid in a heartbeat and assured the lady of that.

So, Mom called me and told me the whole story and gave me his contact information. Now, cancer runs rampant on both sides of my family and we’ve lost a large number of loved ones to it, so I’m especially sensitive to anyone going through it. Still, this was not the kind of letter I was used to. I decided the best approach was to be upbeat and talk about what he was most interested in: Nintendo. I wrote the boy a nice letter explaining that we’d heard about his prowess as a Power Player and that we were duly impressed with his skill and his fortitude, and, as such, to please accept the enclosed gift. And I sent him this oversized T-shirt with what was essentially a “class picture” of the all the characters from the Super Mario Brothers game with the words, “Super Mario University,” above the artwork (This was a prototype that a prospective manufacturer had sent us, along with a few other items, to review for confirmation). I figured the boy could wear it like a hospital gown and it would look way cooler. And I signed the letter, “from your buddy, Captain Nintendo.”

Most of the reports I was to get on this kid came from his grandmother via my Mom. You get how this grapevine works. They said he indeed wore it like a hospital gown when he had to make lengthy visits to the hospital, telling all the nurses, “My buddy Captain Nintendo gave me this shirt.” The nurses, of course, were duly impressed. And then, he refused to take it off. For weeks. They finally got him to agree to take it off long enough to let them wash it and then he could put it right back on.

Within just a few weeks of this, the boy’s grandmother called me directly. She said she’d been searching all over for this one game that the boy had been wanting, but she couldn’t find it anywhere: Super Mario 2. She described how it had been “advertised forever, but it was nowhere to be found.” She said that if I would send her one, she’d be happy to pay for it.

Well, while there had not been any real “advertising,” the game HAD been heavily pre-promoted in anticipation of a blockbuster release. Unfortunately, the game’s American release had been delayed several times, so, by now, most Power Player were salivating heavily waiting for the game while it was being “tweaked” for the American audience (The game had been release in Japan for some time, but the games are almost always altered for the American market. I’ll explain about that later on. Trust me, you’ll be very upset when you find out the reason.) So, I explained all this to her and assured her that “they are telling us now that Nintendo is planning to release it by next summer.”

She got a little quiet and said, “But the doctors are telling us he isn’t going to make it to next summer. This game is all he talks about and I just want to get it for him for what will probably be his last Christmas. I don’t care if it’s tweaked or not. Don’t you have an American version of the Japanese version. I’ll take that.”

I told her that all we had were the copies that were in development that had been translated and were virtually finished, but had not been completely altered for the American market.

“That’s great! I’ll take one of those,” she exclaimed.

“Well, ma’am, I can’t just sell those. They’re the development copies. We’re using them and they are still highly confidential. They don’t even have labels yet.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that. Please can’t you send me one. I’ll pay for it.”

Bless her heart. She had no idea what she was asking. This was the most coveted–most anticipated–software maybe ever to that point. It was months before it was to be released and it was more closely guarded than the codes to NORAD. And she wanted a copy. Understandably, she wanted a copy. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I said,

“I’ll see what I can do. I can’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Okay, I do know what possessed me. I always believe there are possibilities. Somewhere in the back of my head, I always believe there is a way.

Well, in the front of my head, I knew it was hopeless. I’d played the game several times, and it WAS complete as far as that goes. Management still wanted to alter the difficulty level on it though. But the game was playable—if I could convince Management that they should cough up a copy for this kid. Like I said, I knew it was hopeless. But I am Captain Nintendo, after all. We superheroes eat hopeless situations for breakfast. Still, Mother Brain is a cakewalk compared to Japanese management. This was my greatest challenge.

I decided to follow the chain of command (at least, at first) and conveyed the dilemma to my supervisor. He was moderately sympathetic and said he would talk to Management, but not to expect anything. A couple of days later, he told me that Management had been sympathetic, but couldn’t release the game out into the public, but would be happy to give him a complementary copy when it was released next spring or early summer. I thanked the supervisor for his efforts and nodded resignation. However, I was not finished. I was on a mission. And I had an idea.

I approached Management myself and explained that I’d played the game and my evaluation was that it was ready for release. To my surprise, they agreed. I asked why we were holding up the release until next spring or summer. They said it had to do with “positioning.” As near as I could discern (remember, they were Japanese. Their English was much better than my Japanese, but there was still a bit of a language barrier), they didn’t want to release it prior to Christmas for fear of saturating their own market and eclipsing sales of games that would otherwise be dedicated for the Christmas dollar. That was actually reasonable and even good business. But it was also completely irrelevant to one little boy.

I explained again about the little boy with the terminal illness who wanted nothing more than to play their game that they’d spent several months pre-promoting. Again, they said, “No.” They were thinking with their business brains and not their hearts. To be fair, a lot of people depended on them thinking with their business brains. Well, I had a business brain, too. But, my superpower was the ability to tell a story. So I told them a story—created by my business brain. A story they would understand.

“Suppose, as you say, we don’t allow this kid to play the game. Then, he dies. And next summer we release the game. And all goes according to your plan.” They nodded, following along. “Then, suppose, the press finds out that we denied this poor little child his last desire, his dying wish: to play a game that you’ve promoted for months, but refused him, denied him the opportunity to play EVEN ONE TIME before he died. Now we already have huge PR problems with parents mad at us because we’ve got their kids addicted to video games and they won’t do their homework or their chores. But, you will have a public relations Armageddon from which you will NEVER recover. If just one reporter from the newspaper, or WORSE, television, discovers that you denied this little boy his deathbed wish, you will have lost so much face, you may as well back it all up and go back to Japan in disgrace. Because, I promise you, THAT is what Nintendo will be remembered for.”

The office got really quiet. One of the three gentlemen I was addressing had the presence of mind to ask how the press could ever possibly find out.

I looked right through them and replied, “Oh, you never know how they find out those things, but they always do. It might be that the boy’s mother’s grief might turn to anger because we denied her son his last request. It might be from someone who just casually knew the boy and found themselves in front of a camera or talking to a reporter. It might be from people in the town who didn’t even know him, but just heard the rumor that ‘mighty Nintendo refused this poor little sick child one last chance to play their game.’” And then I paused to underline what I was about to say. “Or. It might be someone from right here at Nintendo who wanted to disassociate himself from those that made such a heartless decision.”

Then, it got reeeeally quiet. I knew that they could fire me, but I also knew that they knew that, after what I just told them, it wouldn’t be in their best interest to do that. As is proper when dealing with Japanese management, I respectfully and politely thanked them for their time and told them I was confident that they would continue to make wise business decisions that would keep Nintendo on its current prosperous path.

That afternoon, my supervisor informed me that, to his surprise, Management had said they would make a few copies of the game available in a limited release for the employees and that one would be available for me to send to the little boy. Well, in truth, there were very few copies released, but I DID get one and sent it to the kid, along with a letter explaining “that we, at Nintendo, continue to hear of your brave exploits and your renowned prowess as a Power Player. We therefore hereby induct you as the charter member of the Power Player Hall of Fame. As such, please accept this original copy of Super Mario 2. On behalf of your grandma and your buddy, Captain Nintendo.” I thought it was important that Grandma get credit.

The words may not be identical, but it was very close to that. It HAS been 15 years or more. Not that it matters now, but there was no such thing as the Power Player Hall of Fame. I just made it up. And it sounded good. And, hey, if Captain Nintendo can’t create a Power Player Hall of Fame, who can? I understand he got it time for Christmas. You know what? It really is better to give than to receive. I think this was my best Christmas ever.

They said he just went bananas. He was sooo happy. He polished it off in the first few days. Then he played it again. And again. He played it day and night. And became something of an instant celebrity. Somehow word got around that this little boy had a copy of SMB2! People he didn’t even know flew from across the country to visit him in the hospital and watch him play the game.

Around this time, I decided to call him. Just to chat for a few minutes so he knew that there was an honest-to-gosh real-live flesh-and-blood Captain Nintendo. But I figured just a few minutes. It was, after all, long distance. And my dime since I was calling from my house—and I worked for Nintendo, remember, and couldn’t afford large phone bills. It was one of his good days and he sounded somewhat energetic when he found out who he was talking to (It took him a few minutes to be convinced). I shot the breeze for a few minutes and asked how he was feeling and about any new games he’d conquered, etc. As I began to wrap it up, he said, “Well, waitaminute, can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I said. “Okay, how do get past that guy by the gate in Ikari Warriors?” I explained as best as my memory from my few days as a Game Counselor would serve me. Then, I tried to wrap up again.

“Well, it was good to talk to you, son. You take care and…”

“Waitaminute! Waitaminute! Captain?”


“Okay. Um, can I ask you another question?”

“You bet. Shoot”

“Okay. You know in Deadly Towers when you go in that one room…..”

And it went that way for the next 2 hours and twelve minutes. I’d try to gracefully exit and he had one more question that I really didn’t know the answer to, but tried my best to sound authoritative in answering. You don’t want to know how much that phone call cost me. It was a lot of money for me at the time. And it was absolutely the best money I’ve ever spent. This kid believed. Completely. And whatever was to happen to him, I could tell that his belief was a good thing.

Then in February or March, he went into what I think they called a conditional remission. That might not be the correct term. I’m not a medical expert, but the upshot of it was that, as long as he continued to get the chemo, the cancer was not progressing. It had halted. Somewhat mysteriously, too.

And then, the following August, if I’ve got the dates right, he went into a full remission, meaning the cancer was gone and he no longer required the chemo! They said if he didn’t have a relapse in the next five years, he likely wouldn’t ever have a relapse. The doctors also said that they have no explanation as to why the situation reversed. I was told that they said they’d given up hope and truly expected that he’d expire by summer, maybe even Christmas. Their explanation: “His immune system kicked in and overpowered the cancer. We really don’t know why. Nothing was working. The only thing that seemed to turn him around was this Nintendo stuff.”

Now, I want you to know why I told you this story. A couple of reasons really. It has a happy ending first of all. And I like the irony. I always wanted to a superhero with a superpower and save a life. It didn’t happen quite the way I wanted it to when I was a little kid, but I’ll take it. But I’m also realistic. While the family would and has granted me a lot of credit, my participation in this boy’s recovery was really minimal. Credit where credit is due. This courageous little boy is the real hero here. Make no mistake. He fought long and hard and endured much and he EARNED his recovery. That victory is his. This kid was the dynamite. I was just a small spark that may have lit his fuse. Nevertheless, if I had even a small part in contributing to his victory, then everything I ever endured with regard to Captain Nintendo, every loss, every theft, every argument with the dragon—all of it–was well worth it a thousand times over.

The last time my family heard from his grandma, he was a healthy young man with a full head of hair who was working at the summer camp for terminally ill kids that he used to attend as a camper. Now in his twenties, I’m sure he doesn’t believe in Captain Nintendo anymore. But he did once…and that’s all that matters.

These days, I’ve managed to drop the Nintendo part of the nickname, but, occasionally, I’ll get asked why I still allow people to call me “Captain” after so much time has past. Now, you know.

Next chapter: New World to Conquer and a New Superpower!