My Thoughts About Europe’s Thoughts About the NES

A few weeks back, I wrote an article about the consoles that had the longest spans of time between their launch and last official game release. When discussing the Atari 2600, I rather casually remarked how the NES had “taken over the world” and therefore made things difficult for Atari in the latter half of the 80’s and into the early 90’s. Someone on Facebook pointed out to me–in not the warmest of ways–that the NES didn’t exactly take over the world; it mostly just took over North America and Japan and was only a minor presence elsewhere (especially Europe). I would like to say that I didn’t see a response like that coming, that I wrote that sentence without a second thought to how it might be taken by a reader from a region that wasn’t taken over by the NES. But that would be a lie.

I have participated in multiple debates with people from across the pond about the NES’ impact or lack thereof in terms of the worldwide video game industry in the 80’s. And some of them got pretty heated. So I most certainly was not unaware of how my hyperbolic inference of the NES’ global domination might be taken by someone in Europe (or elsewhere). For a moment, I considered writing the sentence differently, or at least making a parenthetical clarification that by “the world” I mostly meant “the world as I knew it.” Obviously, I ended up deciding to leave the statement as-is. And even though nearly half of the Chi-Scroller’s views in all of 2015 came from European nations, that Facebook commentator was the sole dissenting voice about that particular comment. So it wouldn’t be fair to paint all European gamers as being overly sensitive about proclamations of the NES’ market share. Most are probably so used to hearing about it over the last 30 years that they just figure it is what it is.

What made this whole thing more complicated, of course, is the internet. Back when we used to only have words printed on stacks of stapled-together paper with which to write and read about video games, things were typically written by people of a specific region for people of a specific region. When a British magazine would talk about football, there was no need to make clarifications about how it’s called soccer in America, or about how it’s not especially popular in America. Because it didn’t matter; it was a British magazine for British readers, so it talked about things in that context. Sure, sometimes those clarifications were made, like when an American film critic called a movie “one of the best American films of blah blah blah,” so as not to discount the rest of the world’s cinema or give the impression that said film was inherently better than movies being made elsewhere. But for the most part, whether it was movies, sports, music, celebrities, food, or whatever else, each region talked about things in a vacuum, not really feeling the need to make constant footnotes about how proclamations about those things did or didn’t pertain to other regions. Then came the internet, and with it, a potential global audience for absolutely every letter typed and syllable spoken onto it, and suddenly people started reading things that didn’t mesh with their own experiences within their own regions. Whereas Americans had spent years referring to the NES as the savior of video games and the only thing that mattered in video games between 1985 and 1991 without a second thought because nobody in America was going to bother disagreeing with that, now we had people who grew up in that era where the NES barely made a dent having issue with such assertions.

I can definitely see how it would seem smug of Americans to disregard the NES’ small market share in other parts of the world, especially when it therefore also disregards the platforms that thrived there instead. As powerful as our nostalgia is of growing up with the NES, so too is the nostalgia of the kids who grew up with the ZX Spectum, Amstrad CPC, et al. The protectiveness that we feel over Europeans downplaying the NES’ success is the exact same protectiveness they feel when we do the opposite. It’s an attack on someone’s childhood memories, on how they spent sleepovers and summer vacations, on how they defined what it meant to be a kid. We’re all fiercely protective of those memories and of the things associated with them, and it awakens the beast within us when someone scoffs at them or tries to discount them.

That’s something that we all need to keep in mind, on both sides of this argument, is to respect the experience that others’ had even if it was completely different than our own. And perhaps more importantly, to not take it personally when someone talks about the elements of their childhood like they were the only things that mattered in the whole world–because to them, that’s how it was. The NES was the whole world of American children of the 80’s, and European children had completely different things that defined their whole world.

So the next time I refer to the NES as “ruling the world,” just know that what I’m really saying is that it ruled my world. No need to take it personally. You have the games that ruled yours, and my lazy prose shouldn’t be seen as an attack on your childhood. That said, I am extremely humbled by how many people across the world actually read what I write, and I hate the thought of my doing anything to alienate anyone who takes time out of their day to read my silly opinions. So I will try and go easy on the America-specific proclamations in the future–or at least use parenthetical clarification when I just can’t help myself.