Image: Nintendo Basildon

In the gaming industry, Nintendo sets itself apart not just with the quality of its games and its evergreen catalogue of classic characters, but also a focus on community. Whether through software that brings people of all ages together, hardware features like StreetPass, or the local multiplayer functionality baked into every single Switch console, Nintendo is particularly great at firing up positivity for gaming and giving like-minded fans cause to get together to play and celebrate the games they love. It's why we're here writing about them, and why you're here reading about them. Various Nintendo-focused communities have formed around the world over the years and in the United Kingdom, Nintendo Players UK is the largest.

An independent 'umbrella' network of Nintendo fans, NPUK organises physical meetups for gamers in the UK and Ireland and is made up of 29 individual regional communities. Jen Griffiths is part of the NPUK committee and head administrator for this inclusive gaming hub, one which is fast approaching its ten-year milestone this August. "Our ethos," Jen tells us via email, "is simply to provide free events in person that are inclusive and family-friendly spaces for Nintendo fans to meet and play games with each other."

The idea of a more unified collective of UK Nintendo enthusiasts began life earlier, in fact, starting out as an effort to make use of a 3DS feature that remains close to our hearts, too, before blossoming into something more.

"A few groups popped up individually around the release of the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, and initially it was all about getting those StreetPasses. Nintendo has always been about getting people together just to simply enjoy their favourite games. We wanted to put that on a local level, and over the period of 2012-2013, James Bowden set himself the task of connecting everyone together, and joining the dots for what became StreetPass UK, and later Nintendo Players UK."

While NPUK serves as an umbrella for all Nintendo fan groups, Jen believes that one of its strengths is the diversity of each member group. "The beauty of Nintendo Players UK is that everyone’s group comes together for the same ethos and ideals, but every group has their own identity," she continues. "Some groups are more sporadic than others, but the most active groups tend to aim for monthly events, and some are even weekly. We are all volunteers and our passion for Nintendo and community shines through in everything we do."

The events organised and linked under the NPUK banner range from smaller regional meetings (such as the recent Mario Movie 'mini-meet' run by Nintendo North Wales (NNW) and the upcoming TOTK meetup of Nintendo Dundee) to larger multi-group blowouts. Jen mentions the January 2015 Smash Final at the Custard Factory in Birmingham and the Mario Kart Finals / Splatoon Invitational last year as particular highlights.

Your evergreen Mario Karts, Smashes, Pokémons, and Splatoons are regular fixtures at community events, although that doesn't mean lesser-known, smaller games don't make appearances, too. "We often see Good Job being played!" says Jen of NNW, her local group. The Switch's local multiplayer focus has also helped bring more players into the NPUK community. "More people in family settings have Switches, and the younger generations are starting to get involved again."

And then there's the tantalising prospect for 3DS fans like us — and our lovely video producer Zion — to rack up some of those sweet, sweet StreetPass hits. For 3DS-Lifers still flying the flag for the delightful social feature from Nintendo's previous generation of handhelds, organised and safe events like these are a real boon. "I personally last got a StreetPass on 15th April," Jen tells us. "We always ask/remind our members to bring their 3DSes in case anyone needs any puzzle pieces!"

Our ethos is simply to provide free events in person that are inclusive and family-friendly spaces for Nintendo fans to meet and play games with each other.

It goes without saying that the past few years have presented significant obstacles to in-person meet-ups for Nintendo fans and everyone else. While online alternatives are better than nothing (something we all found out during the pandemic), there's really no substitute for meeting people face to face, something that goes against the old 'lone-gamer' stereotype.

"After Covid times forcing everything online, we couldn’t wait to get back to doing what we love. With an established committee of some of the core Founders, we are able to do more and reach more people with our love of all things Nintendo. It’s ironic really, that a lot of gamers are assumed to be isolated in their bedrooms, when our mission is to essentially network with other gamers and make connections in person."

Making connections in groups like these also has potential benefits that go beyond a mere boost in the social skills department. "Once-lonely people are able to find their kindred spirits, and for the organisers of events, it’s also a great boost for your CV and job prospects."

Looking back over the last decade, Jen mentions the North vs South Wales meetup from June 2015 as a significant achievement, "but establishing a full committee to help with the running of NPUK is up there, too. September 2020 was the pivot point for NPUK."

As a nationwide hub, one of the great things about the network is how widespread it is — 29 regional groups and counting. NPUK ties local gaming communities together into a larger whole. Sure, you can trek halfway across the country to meet like-minded Nintendo fans if you're willing and able, but there's also likely a Nintendo community for you to join much closer to home, and Jen encourages you to do so.

"Find out where your local community is, get involved; and if there’s nothing in your area, get in touch and ask about setting up your own community!"

There are 10th-anniversary celebration plans in the works for the summer, but that's still a few months away. "First we have a campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week in mid-May, so all I can say at this point is 'Watch this space'!"

Many thanks to Jen for speaking with us. Let us know below if you're part of one of NPUK's regional groups! And if you're interested in finding a friendly Nintendo-focused community near you, head to the Nintendo Players UK website and take a look at upcoming events in your area.