As a '90s kid I was only really aware of two main groups of gamers - kids and teenagers. It was a pre-internet age, so the points of reference were limited, but I doubt I was that far off. 'Gaming' had been a thing in the '70s and '80s, of course, but a rapid expansion of the industry - after Atari somewhat went off a cliff - was arguably driven by Nintendo and SEGA in the 8- and 16-bit eras, and a generation of people then grew up with the hobby. I think that's why attending any game expo often highlights a lot of 30- and 40-somethings wandering around the hall. For some of us, games have always been a passion from the day we were old enough to hold a pad.
My personal gaming history has its own quirks that took in the ZX Spectrum and eventually a time when LucasArts was the name in PC game publishing. Yet through all those times most people I knew that played games were a similar age, give or take a half decade either way. I remember times my parents would join in for family games of PGA Tour Golf '94 (!) or Micro Machines, but they always seemed like 'guest' gamers to my elitist young mind. That said, I once walked in on my mum 'beating' Columns II and getting to level 99, so that was an early sign of her gaming prowess.
As I've gotten older, and as I've gradually invested a lot of my gaming and now professional life in the fortunes of Nintendo, I've seen first-hand how the company has broadened its fanbase and, as a result, given itself a solid chance of success with each passing year. With the DSi, for example, my mum got one at the same time as me and fell for its charms in a whole different way. I'd play New Super Mario Bros. while she'd play something like Nintendogs, and then my dad got one and played random stuff like Sudoku apps. I felt like my home at the time was a microcosm of Satoru Iwata's 'blue ocean', gaming for everyone. I'd ultimately be the only one playing the Wii 99% of the time, but like any good family we had Wii Sports routines. My mum would join in bowling, and my dad and I would have oddly competitive (and fun) games of golf.
The 3DS has continued the trend of the DSi, this time with my mum and brother on board. My brother and I have largely matching tastes, to be honest, yet when it comes to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, anything Harvest Moon / Story of Seasons or indeed a surprising range of RPGs (including Dragon Quest) my mum is the expert. I witnessed this first hand in recent years, seeing her gaming horizons expand in utterly surprising ways - with Nintendo's system being the gateway.
The Switch, I have to say, has taken it all to another level. Everyone in my immediate family has one, all four of us, and it's not just because of my day job. Between us we have four Switch systems spread across three homes, and whenever we visit each other we always bring them with us; it's a lovely ritual where we always have a bag over our shoulder, protecting the valuable little gaming systems. I've written about this before, the way we share our Switch experiences across varied games. What's amazing is how different we all are as gamers, yet even early on we all have our routines. My mum is a Breath of the Wild master dipping into Stardew Valley, my brother couldn't resist Golf Story, and my dad is regularly buying games I previously never knew would interest him, like Oxenfree.
A key component to all this is the portability, of course, that hybrid nature that allows for taking it anywhere but also jumping into TV play. Like a lot of Nintendo's most successful hooks it's deceptively simple, but executed with enough confidence that the simplicity doesn't matter. The form and the technology appeals, too, in ways that have surprised plenty of people; I remember after the January reveal event I was worried about the price - my dad said the price was a non-issue and, it seems, he was right. Plenty of consumers, at least early on, seem to see value in what it offers - that does matter, as a Nintendo system without a winning concept can fail, as we unfortunately saw with Wii U.
My family is only a small example of how broad the Nintendo fanbase can be, and the sheer nostalgia value and familiarity of the brand means that when the company finds the right 'hook' with hardware it can achieve amazing things. What prompted this article was a trip to the post office - when sending a parcel the topic of the SNES Mini came up with the lady serving me, who was probably in her 50s. "I really want one of them, apparently there's more coming in time for Christmas. My favourite Nintendo console is the 64 though, I love that". Righto, I thought, how marvellous and random. "The new Mario is out soon too, can't wait to get that for my Switch", she said. "Me neither", I replied, sharing a smile.
It was an unexpected but lovely moment. Two people that on the surface have zero in common, nattering away about Nintendo consoles; literally a generation apart, but we both love Mario and can't wait for Super Mario Odyssey.
I walked away feeling like I'd experienced a very 'Nintendo' moment, and felt all the better for it.