When I ask ten-year-old Amanda what the first Nintendo thing she ever remembers is, she seems a bit confused, at first. We'd been talking about Mario Kart, so she waits a beat and says "Oh, about Mario Kart?"
"Well, about anything," I reply. "What's the first Nintendo thing you remember? A game, a system, someone wearing a Mario shirt ... anything?"
"Well," she says, like a teacher explaining something she loves to a particularly slow student, "I remember when I got this one game, called Nintendo Dogs, and I got this dog named Dutch, and you could only get up to 8 dogs in that game, and it was a German Shepherd, and I kept on trying to make him remember his name," she says, then mimes using the DS's microphone. "I'd be like, 'Dutch. Dutch. Dutch. Dutch. Dutch.' And he wasn't listening." Did he ever remember his name? "Yes. He was my best dog."
I wanted to talk to Amanda and her older brother Caleb (more on him later), about their use of and thoughts about Nintendo for a few reasons. For one, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking about Nintendo nostalgically - as if it hasn't been relevant to anyone since the last time you played Super Mario Bros. 3, or Ninja Gaiden, or GoldenEye 007, or whatever your particular point of reference is. In reality, of course, young people continue to have their formative videogame experiences with Nintendo.
This isn't by accident. While market research is jealously guarded in the gaming industry, the press is fond of suggesting that Nintendo focuses on young gamers, especially when it comes to handhelds (like the Nintendo DS and the recently-released 3DS). The age range routinely cited is 5 -17, putting both my niece and nephew firmly in Nintendo's pixelated wheelhouse. But with Nintendo stock falling the same day they released their much-touted 3DS in North America, and the anecdotal impression that they're losing ground to a myriad of competitors, from iPhones to Xboxes, how successful is Nintendo these days? Do kids still spend hours trying to get Mario to jump over things? More broadly, what do they think about Nintendo? Is it fun? Is it lame? Is it for babies? Do they even know who Mario is? I thought it best to go straight to the source and ask a couple of kids directly.