Meet Nintendo’s Original Gaming Master


(upbeat music) – [Narrator] Finding the
master sword in Zelda, bouncing on a Goomba in Mario, honing your skills in a duck hunt. All things you probably did as a kid with your first Nintendo system. For most of us, playing
games was a pastime. But for one lucky man,
this wasn’t some hobby, it was his job. 1981 was a year of new frontiers. In the U.S., a new decade of
technology and pop culture was approaching, making
it a promising land for booming Japanese companies. America had said hello to a
kitty a few years earlier, but it was a gorilla
that stole the attention of the new generation. Donkey Kong was Nintendo’s
first big breakthrough in the western arcade scene. The game helped the Japanese
company climb its way up to America, eventually
establishing a new headquarter in Seattle, Washington,
to bolster their hit. This is the story of one
of their first employees who was soon to become a gaming legend. – No! – [Narrator] This is Howard Phillips. This is Howard Phillips’ gaming jacket. This is Howard Phillips’
original 1989 Game Boy and this is how Howard
started working at Nintendo. – Kind of embarrassing. I started at Nintendo in 1981. It was really just the five or six of us. I was the shipping warehouse manager. My role was to bring in
all of the arcade games and unload them and record
all the serial numbers and then pack them up for shipment. – [Narrator] It doesn’t sound like the greatest gig in the world, but working in the warehouse
came with one pretty big perk. – [Howard] I could play all the games. Whenever a new game came
in, I could open it up and plug it in and play it. – [Narrator] But playing games could never be a full-time career, or could it? Nintendo of America was run by this man, Mr. Minoru Arakawa. The company was looking to
break into the U.S. market but needed a little advice. – The Japanese are very, very
attentive to the customer and the customer was king. I was their, kind of, gateway
into the U.S. zeitgeist, I used to know what players
really wanted to play. – [Narrator] Why you, Howard? – Who knows why out of
the few people working in the company at the
time that I got selected as being one of the more true voices. I think it was just my
enthusiasm for play. You know, I’m a player’s player,
I love to play games. I love to play at everything. – [Narrator] In 1985,
Nintendo was ready to move out from the arcade and
into the living room. – Mr. Arakawa said to me, “What do you think are the best games?” I played them all, and I said, “Mr. Arakawa, these are the best 15 games.” “Everybody will love these games.” – [Narrator] And so the
game master was born. – Howard Phillips, also
known as Mr. Nintendo. It’s his job to test every
Nintendo game that comes out. – What is a game master? It was really just a
focus on what it means when a player meets a
game, it’s that connection. – We were really looking for someone to represent the gamer and to speak directly to the gamer. And Howard really fit the bill. He was like a grownup, but
he was still like a kid. He gave you the impression
more of a character than a business person. – [Howard] I think the connection
that I had with players was that shared love of just gaming. And then their mom or dad would show up and they would say, but
they’re not educational or whatever the negative
association was that they wanted to put with video games and their child. – It may be the most
addictive toy in history: Nintendo video games. – Is it turning their brains to mush? – Shame on people that produce that trash, it’s child abuse, in my judgment. – It was saddening to me that that’s how parents
perceived their kids’ joy as something that was maybe a negative. – [Narrator] Video games had a bad rep, but Howard could see the positive effects that the games had on kids. – It was a shared love of the experience of discovering something new or being really, really
frustrated at something but just trying and being
patient and persistent, which is learning. – [Narrator] And the players
wanted to learn more: more information, more tricks, more tips, and the game master was there to deliver. – [Announcer] Nintendo
Power: your direct connection to the pros for better play. The official magazine of video mastery. For ordering information… – [Howard] My role was to make
sure that every single bit of information in that
132 pages each month was accurate and spoke
in a way that the players wanted to understand and know about. – [Narrator] But that wasn’t
the only role Howard played. – When we were setting up all the columns in Nintendo Power, we
thought it would be great to include a comic strip. – [Howard] Howard and
Nester is just a cartoon that describes a child player who’s always trying to get
past the next level in a game. And Howard is the game master
who knows everything about the games who can provide some tips. – [Narrator] And Howard is you? – That’s me. Dear Howard Phillips, I am 12 years old and your biggest fan. My friends and I read Nintendo Power. You’re the best in your business. Your biggest fan with a capital B, bye. The notoriety of being game
master really was crazy. I would be pumping gas at the gas station, I would be buying potato
chips at the supermarket, or I’d be at a movie and
kids would come up to me and their parents would come up to me and say “Oh, you’re the guy.” – [Narrator] The guy who
was able to turn his passion for video games into a once
in a lifetime opportunity. So Howard, what was the best
part about being game master? – It was really fun to
fulfill people’s dreams, to shake the hand of some little kid and ask them about their favorite game and make them feel validated
like they’re smart and cool, so it was really fun. Over.

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