The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo

Background: My informant was a young 23-year old adult who was born and raised in Las Vegas. He grew up playing many games on the internet including those on Newgrounds and talking with communities online. He currently professionally translates Japanese visual novels and manga.

Performance Context: According to my  informant, he learned about the story from someone who had mentioned to him the game over the internet. The friend has linked to them the game and from there they had come to play the game and subsequently learn the original story of “The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo” story.

Main Piece: The game is a text-based horror game using Twine, an interactive narrative game engine, with various images and sound during parts of the game adventure. The game, although authored work, is a derivative form of the original idea of the childhood fable of “My uncle who works at Nintendo”. My informant told me about how the original fable goes that in the early 90s, children playing the popular video game Pokemon would find themselves competing for attention in their small social groups. It was a common conception for younger children to claim that they had certain  advantages in the game because they had “an uncle who works at Nintendo”. An example of this was famously the indication that the child had access to the legendary Pokemon, Mew, because of their connection to Nintendo. Back on the original versions of the game, only those that had attended Nintendo Events could attain the fabled Mew and these events largely, if not exclusively, occurred in Japan, making their acquisition in America near impossible. The only other way to attain the legendary Mew was to use a GameShark, a common game-hacking application, to cheat the game into using the appropriately-titled “Mew Glitch” to obtain the Mew. According to my informant, children would use this as a means to show dominance and pride over other children and establish “coolness” in their friend groups. They would do so by pretending that they had obtained their Mew from a their so-called mysterious Uncle, despite the reality that they had merely cheated to get it. The game is a form of this folktale in game format, wherein a supernatural ghost story is told. In the game, you play as a middle school child in the 90s staying over at your friend’s house, when you hear that his uncle is coming over. It is a horror game where this strange entity known as the uncle is on his way and by the end of certain endings of the game, he arrives, and the game ends, implying that he almost quote on quote gets you. And that he always will.

The final ending of the game proves to be truly revealing as the game informs the player of a constant cycle that exists throughout this game each time you play it, and that the way to truly end the game is to leave it altogether. In the sixth and final ending of the game, the idea is shown that the uncle should be abandoned, and the child, your friend, can be saved. In the author’s note for the game, revealed only upon completing the game, the author waxes romantic on the current state of the game industry and how in some ways, saving your friend is a metaphor for the salvation of the industry by finding those within the community and having them repent for their self-applied attachment to the label of “gamer”. In the end, the game is about what being a gamer meant in the past, a prideful label meant to denigrate and obfuscate others and their voices though the use of games as power fantasy. The way forward, instead, is to work to let go of these attachments to the “gamer identity” and instead work against what the structures of exclusion and emotional manipulation that games have in the past allowed and encouraged.

My informant found this very profound and important to him as a long-time gamer who often found that he related and learned about the world a lot from video games. It was more so even because he had played it during a time including recent events such as the media incident called GamerGate, a controversial media event whereupon so-called “gamers” vilified and gave death threats to a small populace of anti-patriarchal women writers, developers and social activists. To him, it was somewhat introspective as a means to reflect on what it meant to be a gamer to him, and how the game industry sometimes excludes by patriarchal design women, minorities and other voices. Nowadays, he thinks people think of “gamers” as “everyone” now, rather than the small subset of young males in the 90s. He says that perhaps this is him being optimistic about the future, but who knows.

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting because as a game developer, this idea of using games and the power of games in order to manipulate and pull the rug over people is very dangerous. I don’t know that I quite agree with the author, but I agree with my informant that we can hope for a better future in which women and minority voices are free to be expressed. In a way, this game is a bit personal because of this as a minority game designer. This is a game that my informant highly recommends and that I played after him telling me about it. It is a short game that does take a couple hours to completely beat, but it is very interesting. If the game is too long, the author has also made his notes, which are supposed to be unlocked after beating the game, available online to be read. I will link these below.

The Game:

Author’s Notes: