David Sheff, Random House 1993
To watch a child playing Nintendo is to see the way it ensnares the attention and engages the imagination. For many researchers and educators the threat is clear: Nintendo may be enchanting too well. But David Sheff tells the story of the seduction involved in one of America's favorite pastimes on a number of levels. Almost never dull, the book tracks the growth of Nintendo from a Japanese playing-card conglomerate that by 1992 consistently earned after tax profits of more than $500 million a year. That's a figure that reputedly amounts to more than all U.S. movie studios combined and more than IBM, Apple or Microsoft.
Although it has been recently challenged by rival game-makers such as Sega, Sheff demonstrates how Nintendo has dominated a growing industry and has transformed itself into one of the world's most successful and influential corporations. He reiterates familiar concerns about how polls demonstrate that American children can identify movie stars more easily than public figures but he also explains how a new wave of alarm has expressed itself.
Indications were that by 1990 the Nintendo mascot, Super Mario, was more familiar to American children than Mickey Mouse. To some this is an outrage that symbolizes the next phase of an insidious invasion. Washington congressmen, Sheff says, have been meeting behind closed doors charging that Nintendo alone is responsible for almost 10 percent of our trade deficit with Japan. He argues that Japan has already captured the minds and dollars of Americans, beginning with those of the nation's children.
Sheff's book is significant because its message resonated with observations being made by other communications researchers, namely that children are obsessed with computer games. They conspire with one another about game strategy, draw pictures of the characters, and compose video-game adventures for their homework. The intensity with which they play and submerge themselves in video game culture is different from the attention they give to television. Parents, psychologists, and teachers all worry about the post-television generation of children, absorbed with "action-oriented" video games. The action involved usually translates into violence for the sake of amusement as the predominating theme. Profit, in turn, is the predominating motive for theindustry who produce and market these computer games.