Game on: alum’s new book examines the cultural impact of Nintendo
Jeff Ryan’s new book, “Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America,” has struck the nation’s A button, receiving write-ups in the “Wall Street Journal” and the “Washington Post.”
For children of the 1980s, the word “Nintendo” cast a spell, promising the jittery wonders of a video arcade in our living rooms. Those who landed the console were soon hooked, like Jeff Ryan, who spent the majority of one Thanksgiving tackling the intricacies of Mega Man 2.
Ryan eventually emerged from the pixilated rabbit hole, leaving TCNJ with an English/journalism degree in 1998. After graduation, Ryan, 35, went back down. Looking for something to do before his regular job editing copy at Katrillion, Ryan began reviewing video games for the now-defunct Web site. Eventually, he became games editor.
It’s only fitting that Ryan has written a book about the company that has entertained the masses for 30 years. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America (Portfolio) is a witty, breezy look at how a ton of ingenuity and an iconic little, mustachioed hero turned Nintendo into a cultural force. The book has struck the nation’s A button, receiving write-ups in the Wall Street Journal (“He ably whips up a nostalgic atmosphere through pop-culture references, but can also pivot to a highbrow gag”) and the Washington Post (“The pages here turn as quickly as any of Mario’s platform-jumping adventures”).
The love for Nintendo grew at his parents’ house in South Orange, NJ. At TCNJ, The Signal student newspaper and Professor Bob Cole, the College’s legendary journalism professor, prepared Ryan for the writing life.
“The good and the bad with student newspapers are that they’re wonderful places to experiment,” says Ryan, who eventually served as associate editor. “Never written an opera review before? Or covered a basketball game? You can! I kept writing there after a lot of my friends went on to string for the Trenton Times because I always was able to learn. It helped me jump right into video game reviewing when I fell into that, and it helped me think not just that the Nintendo story was worth telling but that I was the one who should tell it.” A number of Signal members, including Ryan, also founded the campus-based improv group Mixed Signals, which provided more life lessons. “Once you jump up on stage with no idea what you’re going to do or say, and it turns out okay, you can carry that confidence over into other aspects of your life.”
Cole, according to Ryan, “helped install passion in reporting as much as anything else.” In the classroom, the burly professor’s sense of humor ran blue—and into the course material, including what Ryan describes as “giant, photocopied readers.” “One was called the Dwarf Reader because the headline was “Dwarf Rapes Nun, Flees in UFO,” Ryan says. “… I don’t think he was anything other than G-rated when he wasn’t teaching: all the cuss words were mere shop talk, stuff you better be ready to hear and dish out if you were to be a real reporter.”
Alums also helped with the book. Among those to review the manuscript was Ryan’s twin brother, Sean ’98, while Vinnie Nardiello ’99, a stand-up comic, played Mario in a series of promotional YouTube videos featuring Ryan “interviewing” the princess-saving plumber and his associates. Click here to watch the Mario interview videos.
With TCNJ having such an influence on Ryan, would Super Mario exist if he had attended another school?
“Probably not, but there are a lot of branching-off dominoes that stand between the two,” Ryan says. “Mostly I wrote this because you need ‘platform’ to sell a book, and this was the ‘platform’ I had. I work in editing for a medical ad agency, and unless you’re a doctor, you don’t (well, you shouldn’t) have any platform in the medical world. And I also didn’t have much of anything to say regarding medical stuff.
“But I wouldn’t have had the platform if I didn’t fall into the game-reviewer job, and that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t well trained as a copy editor, and that’s thanks to Bob Cole.”
Posted on February 10, 2012