Tag Archives: Sega

Impressions of “Super Mario: How Nintento Conquered America,” by Jeff Ryan

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America is a dull and non-insightful book you should avoid. Read another one instead. Or an article online. Skip it.

Jeff Ryan is the author of Super Marior: How Nintento Conqueered America, a book that was both superficial and dull. And Blake Harris was the author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation. But they are both writers with an interest in games. Both Ryan and Blake have active lefty twitter accounts. Both wrote histories of the console market that I grew up adoring.

But the books are very different. Console Wars is structured around a human history, and the author has either conducted extensive interviews or has fabricated an astonishing amount of material. Before reading Console Wars, “Sega” and “Nintendo” were just brands and machines: I grew to appreciate them as collections of people, with dreams and fears, armies that fought for my amusement. On his twitter feed earlier this year Blake Harris posted this, “There’s No Such Thing as Nintendo,” and this I think sums up the genius of Console Wars: using the messaging of pop brands to understand the human excitement, ambition, and struggle in the hidden real world.

Super Mario is almost the reverse. Very little in Ryan’s book exceeded what you can find in Wikipedia. While Blake’s Console Wars deconstructed Sonic the Hedgehog, taking the reader into the corporate politics of all who wanted to control it, Ryan reminds us it’s ridiculous for Mario to appear in a Sonic game! Console Wars included the perspective of industry titans who soured on the industry, and those who were booted out. Super Mario reminds us that Shigeru Miyamoto rode a bicycle to work!

Even though Console Wars primary follows Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinski, Nintendo is discussed in more depth in Blake’s book than Ryan’s! Indeed, a free postscript that Blake wrote for the Huffington Post arguably contains more about Nintendo’s inner workings than the whole of Ryan’s book.

Ryan’s work is also thematically inconsistent. Super Mario was published in 2012, just as gaming was entering its current culture war. It’s obvious the last few chapters of the book were written in that milleu, because only at the end of the book are the sort of faux-sociological explorations of sexism introduced. Console Wars, on the other hand, has a unity of tone and a real-life beginning which book-ends the real-life end. There’s an irony here: Ryan applauds what he imagines to be Nintendo’s efforts at avoiding the “Comic-Con” crowd: Harris wrote this a panel of the Nintendo and Sega leadership at Comic-Con.

As another blogger mentioend in a review:

There are bits of sarcasm and bite to his voice which are all-too common among the smug pop-culture journalist crowd, and there were times when it got to be a little much. Skip the parentheticals, and you’ll manage to dodge most of that (I seem to have picked a little something up from this book after all. Sorry, Jeff).

Give Super Mario a pass. Read Console Wars by Blake Harris instead.

Impressions of “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation,” by Blake Harris

Recently I finished Console Wars, by Blake Harris. It is an extremely well written corporate history of the battle between Sega and Nintendo during the Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis era. I strongly recommend it.

Console Wars is nearly a novel, centering on Sega’s upstart executive leadership team. Console Wars helped me understand my home town better. It showed the cultural divide between Japanese and American businesses greatly impact those businesses, and also how the American media is easily manipulated. It’s a great book.

First, the book centers around Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske. He is written like a CEO version of Don Draper, and it’s very clear his goal is to sell Sega products, as opposed to originally develop them. But beginning with a weaker system, weaker intellectual property, and weaker games, Sega’s marketing eventually lead them to best Nintendo in home game console market share. CEO Kalinske was formerly at Mattel, and in his career had been responsible for the marketing of Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and the modern Barbie doll, when the focus moved from fashion to aspiration (“astronaut Barbie, teacher Barbie, and so on). It’s fascinating.

Second, I live the town that where Nintendo of America is still located. Unlike other “tech” companies near me, though, Nintendo employees are relatively cliquish, and disproportionately Japanese. This book helped explain some of the culture of my own town to me, giving me the corporate history and identify which made this “Nintendo” possible.

Third, a theme throughout the book was the cultural divide between the Japanese corporate centers and the American subsidiaries. While Nintendo of America, Sega of America, and the embryonic Sony Playstation team were competitors with each other, they shared exasperation at the behavior and mores of their Japanese overlords. I’m sure the frustration was mutual. While the western executives features worked insane hours and occasionally were rude in personal ways to each other, there clearly was a greater sense of understanding among them than up the corporate chain.

Fourth, its hilarious how effectively these companies manipulated the press, not just the gaming trades but even the national news. The economic rot that would eventually trigger the gamergate consumer revolt was already festering at this time. Similarly, certain behavior the press has been outraged over int he past week (as of the writing of this post) is quite well established indeed!

Last, this is the best corporate history I ever read. High Noon and American Icon are good hagiographies, is an impressionist marvel, and Steve Jobs is an amazing biography, but nothing I read described the highs and lows of an entire industry from the top like this one did. My enjoyment was greatly helped by Fred Berman, possibly the best nonfiction narrator I ever encountered.

The “Computer Historian” youtube channel posted an accurate description online, so I’ll include that here.

Console Wars is highly recommended. I listneed to it on unabriged Audible.