87: Searching for Gunpei Yokoi

"Yokoi's next big hit came to him as he rode home one evening on the bullet train. The exhausted engineer noticed the gentleman next to him fiddling with an LCD calculator. Yokoi watched, fascinated, as the bored man punched buttons in idle boredom. Suddenly, Yokoi wondered if weary commuters, looking to pass the time, might be interested in a portable gaming device. Thus was the Nintendo Game and Watch born."

Lara Crigger profiles the elusive creator of the Nintendo Gameboy.

Searching for Gunpei Yokoi

Absolutely brilliant article. Such a well written homage to an oft-unheralded figure in the gaming world. Few people realize who this man was and the impact of his contributions, overshadowed by the later failure of the Virtual Boy, against the massive success of his earlier works and inventions.

Shigeru Miyamoto always got the credit because his games sold more and he made the game that became the company mascot (and admittedly, is responsible for several gaming mega-franchises), but one has to wonder just how much he gleaned from Yokoi's experience and tutelage. If Miyamoto hadn't studied under Yokoi, would Mario or Zelda as we know them even exist?

I enjoyed the article for what it was, but it felt a bit like the unfinished Encyclopedic entries denounced in the introduction. The problem of "condensing" information about the Japanese creators of early video games is widespread in videogame writing. It is monumentally easier to browse through the available English sources of information on people like Yokoi and compile them for an article than to actually add something new to the story of their lives.

Indeed, one could retrieve the same information Crigger presents here out of entries in Wikipedia, Sheff's "Game Over" and Kohler's "Power Up;" although Crigger compiles the information nicely, with a personal touch and abundant reverence. But is this enough? Both Kohler and Sheff went a lot farther to gather their information; they have been to Japan, and they have talked to actual people, much like reporters do with their subjects in America.

I understand that there is an exceedingly daunting language barrier, but if you really want to get to know people like Yokoi, then it is possible to do an interview. You don't even have to go to Japan, people there have phones and email. To say "The only hard proof we have that Gunpei Yokoi graced this mortal soil is a few faded black and white photographs" is just wrong, and a bit insensitive. What about his family? What about his co-workers? I'm sure Shigeru Miyamoto has some ripping good yarns about him, why not ask? The history of early Japanese videogames is certainly shrouded in mystery--but videogame writers often just accept this, and, even more often, present it as some sort of exaggerated conundrum for dramatic effect.

I'd also like to point out that this sort of article seems to reveal an uncomfortable trend in videogame journalism (a double standard?), whereby American and European videogame authors (even those mysterious programmers of the golden-era) get interviewed and profiled, but Japanese authors receive a nostalgic and mysterious homage. Just look at the other articles in this month's issue.

Also, the R.O.B. consumes plenty of "D" batteries as well!

-S. Claiborn

Danger, it was the separate, weird spinning-thing for Gyromite that required D batteries. The R.O.B. itself consumed only 4 AAs. And human souls. Don't forget the human souls. :)

Lara Crigger:
Danger, it was the separate, weird spinning-thing for Gyromite that required D batteries. The R.O.B. itself consumed only 4 AAs. And human souls. Don't forget the human souls. :)

Oh man, I just reported you by accident!!! The little guy just looked so much like the "Quote" button, what with the "o" and all. Anyway, I was just going to mention that you are correct, although the ROB's more clandestine purposes are rarely mentioned with such abandon--and emoticons.

Wonderful article. The only issue I have is that the Virtual Boy, to my knowledge, utilized "Binocular Disparity" not "Motion Parallax" to achieve the 3-D effect.


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