In the last part, I mentioned that my being a Nintendo fan wasn’t about loyalty. As someone who grew up with Nintendo, I do want to see them do well, but if I felt they were going in a direction that didn’t agree with me, I wouldn’t continue to support them. It’s also not my intention to say that Nintendo is somehow inherently superior to other console makers or game publishers, just that their style aligns with my personal tastes. Thus, I classify myself as a “fan,” but not a “fanboy.”
But I admit, that wasn’t always the case.
Nintendo had such a dominant position in videogames during the NES era (partly because of some shady business practices) that any other platforms, like the Sega Master System, merely faded into the background. Of course, being the greedy kid I was, that didn’t stop me from being curious about them and wanting to own everything. Still, Nintendo was the king in my mind, and they got top priority. I even owned both a SNES and Sega Genesis, and while I loved my Genesis and played tons of Sonic the Hedgehog, the SNES still got the lion’s share of my attention.
By the time the next generation rolled around, I had it firmly in my head that Nintendo was going to be the dominant force, with Sega running second. Other consoles that tried to get a piece of the action, like the 3DO and CD-i, came and went, and I laughed when I heard that the electronics company Sony would try to squeeze their way in with something called the PlayStation.
Well, Sega fumbled and that left enough of an opening for the PlayStation to get a firm foothold, but when the Nintendo 64 hit stores in 1996, I expected it to blow the competition away. Believe it or not, I wasn’t alone. Coming off two great consoles like the NES and SNES, Nintendo was still considered a major force to contend with back then. Yes, I was sure Nintendo would dominate once again, and this new kid on the block was going to get slapped back down the pecking order. I mean, obviously Nintendo was the best.
Of course, that didn’t happen. What did happen was that third-parties, even loyal ones like Squaresoft, began running away from Nintendo. The PlayStation was getting tons of great software, and the N64 was getting software droughts. But that didn’t stop me from deluding myself into thinking that the N64 was still superior and that the PS1 was all hype. I knew that eventually the truth would be seen, and the tide would swing back to Nintendo.
This was my worst time as a gamer. I wasn’t quite on the level of an angry fanboy, aggressively deriding the PS1 and Saturn or openly insulting their fans. In fact, I seriously considered getting one of the other consoles myself, but even if I had, it probably would’ve been the same situation as with my SNES and Genesis. I just couldn’t change the idea in my head that anything on a Nintendo console would always be superior to anything any other console could offer, no matter how much third-party support they had.
This was also a disturbingly cynical period for me. Even my attitude towards Nintendo’s games tended to be negative, always wanting to pick them apart and criticize them for not being as good as the classics from the NES and SNES days. I was also bitter that the 2D games I had loved were being replaced with clunky polygonal 3D, and yet everyone insisted that 3D was inherently better than 2D.
I don’t know if it was just my age, or maybe I had grown jaded, but I’m almost certain that first getting home internet access at about this time was a big factor. For the first time, I was connecting with other like-minded Nintendo fans online, and the cynicism flowed like water off of Niagara Falls. Even back then, something about the internet just amplified anger and nurtured negativity. I certainly wasn’t immune to its effects.
What all this amounted to was the N64 becoming my least-favorite Nintendo console. I never did accumulate much of a library for it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy games on it, though I often rented more than I purchased. Still, I was a fanboy for continuing to think that a Nintendo-developed game was inherently better than anything else.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was Yoshi’s Story. One of the best games I had rented for the system was Mischief Makers, one of its very few 2D side-scrolling games. I didn’t end up buying it, though, because Yoshi’s Story was just around the corner. Not only was it the follow-up to one of my favorite games on the SNES, but if a game like Mischief Makers could be so good, just imagine how amazing Nintendo’s own in-house developed game would be!
I still remember standing in Toys R Us with a fat wallet in my pocket, and staring at both games. For a brief moment, I considered going with Mischief Makers. After all, N64 games were expensive, and at least I knew what I would be getting into. Not to mention reviews for Yoshi’s Story were a little lukewarm. But once again, without even having rented it, I convinced myself that it was just media bias, and of course Nintendo made the better games. Naturally.
Actually, I kinda like Yoshi’s Story now, but it took more than a decade for me to warm up to it. At the time, however, my disappointment was like a punch in the gut, as it was a far cry from either Yoshi’s Island or Mischief Makers. I just didn’t like it, and I couldn’t convince myself otherwise. It was at about this time that it finally sunk in: Nintendo was not infallible.
I also started to become aware of how bad my attitude was towards gaming. I spent so much time negatively comparing modern games to the classics of my youth that I had forgotten why I enjoyed videogames in the first place. As a kid playing games on my NES, I didn’t pick them apart. It wasn’t about putting them on trial, I just enjoyed them for what they were.
I wanted to get that back. I wanted to start simply enjoying games again, and it took a conscious effort for me to change my attitude. I had to put aside my impulse to judge. I needed to stop getting hung up on stupid details, and just go along for the ride. I disconnected from the online gaming communities I was a part of, and limited the amount of time I spent on the internet. It was time to cleanse myself as a gamer and get back to basics.
At about this time, I started hearing about a new game console called the Sega Dreamcast.
The Dreamcast came along at the perfect time, and it did a lot to heal my gaming wounds. I even remember telling someone at the time that it reminded me a lot of the NES. Not technologically, of course, but the creativity and personality in its gaming catalog made it feel like I was discovering videogames all over again. Even the Official Dreamcast Magazine gave it that community feeling that the early years of Nintendo Power provided so well. The Dreamcast helped me see the fun in videogames again.
Of course, the console didn’t last long, but what a ride! If I had the opportunity to go back in time, knowing how things would turn out for Sega, I’d still get on board.
After that, I was in a very neutral position as a gamer. If Sega hadn’t gone third-party, I probably would’ve continued being a Sega fan. But as it was, I had three other consoles to choose from and no brand loyalty to guide me. I looked at the game libraries for each platform, and I seriously considered the PlayStation 2, but in the end, I realized one thing: I still loved The Legend of Zelda, and I would never forgive myself for passing up the next game in the series. After all, the one N64 game I bought during the Dreamcast era was Majora’s Mask.
Not to mention Metroid was coming back.
And so I chose the GameCube, and just like that I was back with Nintendo. But not without being a little older and a little wiser.
It may sound funny, but the Dreamcast taught me a lot about what it means to own a videogame console. Every system has its own style and personality, and provides a certain kind of experience. Even if that console isn’t the most popular or successful, as long as you enjoy what it does have to offer, you’ll still come away with fond, irreplaceable memories.
Every Nintendo system I’ve owned since then has been a conscious decision, not a foregone conclusion. Yeah, there’s some sentimentalism involved, but at this point, how could there not be? As long as I still enjoy the games, I’ll play what I like.
And that’s what it comes down to. I bought a Wii U a year after it launched, and I went into it knowing that it may not last long or provide a very large game library. But as with the Dreamcast, it had the experience I was looking for, and I was going to enjoy it for all it’s worth. I knew what I was getting into, and so far, it has surpassed my expectations.
The difference between being a “fan” and a “fanboy” is the difference between being open-minded and closed-minded. It’s easy to get caught up in internet drama; to develop a very narrow view of what gaming should or shouldn’t be; to think you know better than everyone else. I was lucky enough to recognize my biases and let go of my judgments, and I’ve been a much happier gamer ever since.