This Childhood Brought To You By Nintendo

Welcome to the fifty-fourth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover will be queer per se, but it will be about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology.

Header by Rory Midhani


I was in a theatre in New Jersey when I saw something that made me do a double take.

Sitting on set was a child, waiting for his lighting-designer father to finish up. And that child was playing with action figures. I cannot remember what they were – I’m imagining dinosaurs, but they could have just as easily been pirates or knights or any number of things I would have enjoyed playing with when I was his age. I turned to a colleague and exclaimed, “Look! A child playing with actual, physical toys. Wow, we never really see that anymore, do we?” And I went on to lament the state of play today. Children are so wrapped up in things with screens that rarely do we see any passing time with imaginative games and toys and things that take up physical space. I couldn’t get over the fact that the child wasn’t playing with an iPhone or a Nintendo DS.

I said all this, of course, conveniently forgetting that I grew up as part of a generation that also played video games. Forgetting that I, too, played video games. Sure, it was not the only thing I did – I also routinely dressed up as a Colonial Williamsburg child from 1776 and ran down the drive way smacking a wooden hoop with a wooden stick. I told ghost stories on the bus to school, taking pieces of stories I’d heard and making them better. But yes, I played video games.

The Nintendo showed up Christmas morning. All my friends had a Super Nintendo, but my parents held out for so long (bless them) that my brother and I skipped right to the Nintendo 64. I don’t remember exactly what year it happened, but I was still young enough that Santa Claus was responsible for the console. “If it was up to me,” my mother reasoned when I questioned this, “you wouldn’t have gotten a video game system.” That seemed pretty logical.

The Nintendo 64 came with three games: Super Mario 64, Star Fox and Cruisin’ USA. These three games forced my brother and I to face an awful truth: neither one of us was any good at playing video games. We were terrible. While all our friends had spent the past few years honing their a/b tapping, we’d been doing things like reading Goosebumps books we were too young for. The system got set up and we popped in Super Mario, only to discover that we had no idea what to do when we jumped into that painting. Remember the first level? We couldn’t even get ourselves up the mountain. In fact, it took us an embarrassing amount of time to figure out that there was a mountain at all. We kept running out of life before we even got to it. And that was with both of us taking turns on the controller. We didn’t understand levels and we had trouble translating these 3D graphics into a 2D space. We quickly decided that this game wasn’t any good, and we tried Star Fox. I think we must have gone a year, all told, without beating the first level of Star Fox. If we were having trouble with 3D, flying a spaceship made that even worse. Last we tried Cruisin’ USA. A racing game. I remember turning to my brother and saying, completely straight faced, “Dave. Maybe we shouldn’t get drivers’ licenses when we’re adults.”

As kids are wont to do, though, we learned. We figured out how to navigate these fictional worlds, we finally did grab Bowser by the tail and throw him, and eventually we got to the end of the first level of Star Fox, though it was another embarrassing amount of time later that we figured out how to accomplish the mission instead of just complete it (don’t lose Falco when he gets ambushed!). I never got better at Cruisin’ USA, but my brother did. And along the way, we learned a few other things – things that are a little more complicated than finding the second painting you’re supposed to jump into.

Our Nintendo taught us that just about everything is more fun in a community. We had two friends who we played video games with – Danielle and Bryan. Sure, it was all well and good to play video games by yourself. But admiring the way someone else did something, or fielding a compliment on your own gaming prowess, well. That was ten times more gratifying. Strategizing, theorizing, coming up with ways this game or that game could be better, how you would do it if you were in charge – all of that discourse was just as much fun as the game itself. And different community members are good at different things, and you should always play to your strengths – if a level on Super Mario eluded one of us, Bryan would take care of it. Unless it involved flying, then Danielle would. And as for me, I was always always in charge of the Spirit Temple in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I also learned to congratulate someone when they did something I wasn’t able to. I learned to ask for help and feedback.

We learned that a good story is king. I had not experienced a more perfect game than Ocarina of Time before or since, and I maintain that it is so flawless not just because of gameplay, but because the story is excellent when you’re in elementary school. And though I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it, I loved that the story couldn’t be told as perfectly any other way. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as a movie, book or television show – this rule had one exception. The story was just as much fun when we acted it out while playing pretend. We turned our swing set into a Forest Temple and Danielle’s swimming pool into a Water Temple. Pool noodles became Master Swords.

I learned that sometimes girls are good at things that boys “should be good at.” And when I beat Yoshi’s Story before Bryan did and he fumed that it was a girly game anyway, I learned to tune out haters.

And I learned to shut things off if I got frustrated and couldn’t focus anymore. I, as a human being, must change gears. I learned my limits for focusing on any one thing, even a fun thing. And I learned to stop doing things that were supposed to be fun when they weren’t anymore.

One might argue, as I have myself argued, that my generation was far less steeped in gaming than generations following mine. And that’s true – games are more accessible now than in the past, and sometimes I wonder if kids still play pretend. I haven’t yet walked into a group of children declaring the park playground the Kokiri Forest, for instance. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but I certainly see it less and less until a child playing with action figures is earth shattering. But I have to wonder why that’s so important to me, to see kids play pretend – it fosters imagination, it teaches community building and, most importantly, it takes a child from consumption to creation. Consuming culture is one thing, and it’s a fine thing, but creating culture and sending it back out? That’s such a valuable skill.

via IGN

via IGN

So I have to relax. Kids are doing that, even in this digital age. Kids are designing their own gosh darn toys. They’re learning to use CAD! They’re learning to code the games they play, and some of them even show up at conferences made for adults with their own bright ideas for solving problems. And yes, I’m sure some of them grab a vacuum cleaner and pretend to be Luigi vacuuming up ghosts every so often, except perhaps insert a reference that is more current into that sentiment. But the point remains: I not just survived my Nintendo childhood. I thrived in it. And most likely kids these days will, too.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. So many feelings about Zelda. I almost can’t believe that screenshot is real… my memories of it are much more magical than the low-quality animation lol.

      • My girlfriend got me a copy of Ocarina of Time for my birthday. Best. Fucking. Present. Ever. She’s a keeper.

        • Wait, do you still have your Nintendo? I’m pretty sure my mom just sold ours on account of it was in her house too long.

        • We have her console with us, and my brother left his at our parents’ so I have access to dos consoles.

  2. This is amazing. I can’t believe Autostraddle did an article on my most favorite thing ever. I love you guys.
    But seriously though I bonded with so many people at a-camp because of my Star Fox and Zelda tattoos. So this is pretty magical.

      • Sure do! Arwing along my collarbone, and four Zelda ones here and there. And hopefully getting Banjo Kazooie and Pokemon ones next.

        • Ugh, I wanted to include Banjo Kazooie in this article, but I didn’t really have much to say about it other than a) it was really fun and b) it was really zany. So it got cut. And I didn’t even go into the Pokemon gameboy community on the bleachers in the gym before school every day. So many good childhood games!

  3. I love this article so much!

    I was never into videogames as a kid bc my little brother hogged our only consul. However,as someone going into education video games strike me as a great teaching tools–not necessarily straight up educational (“solve the all math problems and get a shitty flash animation rocket!”) games. A lot of the games I play now focus on story, problem solving, patience and character interaction–all things that kids need to learn on some level. with indie games becoming more popular (Gone Home anyone?)there definitely is a greater variety of games out there, PLUS it makes learning code more accessible.
    And then there’s the actual ideological content behind games–I remember having a conversation with my younger brother about how Ayn Rand’s ideology is flawed (he was reading Anthem in class), especially since we live in a world filled with systematic oppression. He was really super conservative at the time (he was 14 but still it annoyed me) and i thought he’d disagree but he said something along the lines of “Oh yeah, of course society can’t function like that–it’s just like what happened in Bioshock!” which pretty much killed me (also i just have an intense love of the first two Bioshocks and melt when people talk about them)

    but yes ranting aside, great article. i like what you said about consumption vs creation–part of the reason why i sometimes get annoyed with geek culture is that it sometimes feels more preoccupied on consuming all the right things in order to be a fan, rather than focusing on the more creative aspects of liking something.
    and as someone who works with kids on a a fairly regular basis (that is a fancy term for “i babysit a couple of times a week”), even kids who seem to be attached to their consul all the time do still play with toys :D

  4. I used to watch other people play Zelda all the time, so it has special childhood feelings for me too. In high school I took multiple clay arts classes with amazing people. One of these amazing people brought in the Zelda soundtrack and we all had Zelda feelings together. It was magical.

    • Not gonna lie: sometimes while I’m running through any sort of field I REALLY wish I had a Zelda soundtrack so I can feel like I’m running through Hyrule Field. Maybe I should finally do that, as I’m running more now?

      • And by playing, I mean writing. I was just thinking about how much I want to be playing Ocarina of Time right now.

  5. I just recently played through Ocarina of Time on my 3DS and it’s just as magical as I remembered it. Actually, even more so because they completely redid all the graphics so it’s nice and pretty even by today’s standards. (And in 3D!)

    Also relevant is that you can download Ocarina of Time from the Wii Store for the equivalent of 10 bucks. But you need to buy a classic style controller. And you should also prepare your eyes for a painful transfer to HD widescreen TVs… I swear the lines weren’t that pixelated before…

  6. I’m one of those crazy kids who got a Nintendo when she was five. Mario was my life as I went through nintendo, super nintendo, nintendo 64, and then made the switch over to ps2 which was a pretty rad system. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were my favorite games. They got me into fantasy and the epic story. I could spend hours on these games, talking to people and doing the temples. I loved how each temple had a spooky song. And the Gidbos are why I love zombies. :) Those things were scaaaaaary. They’re also why my younger brother is afraid of zombies and won’t watch anything zombie related even though he’s an adult. haha!

  7. Nintendo was the way I bonded with my brothers who are much older. My ringtone for both of them is the “Super Mario Bros.” theme. I have so many good memories surrounding Nintendo systems. It started with the original Nintendo and continues with the Wii at my parents house. That’s how my gf was accepted into the family- beating my brother at a game. He was grumpy about it but he respected her for it.

    Also pearler beads are more fun to the Zelda soundtrack… true story.

  8. YES YES YES. I’m a vintage Nintendo kinda gal (I don’t own any game console newer than the Gamecube) and the 64 remains the most perfect system ever. I got it the Christmas it came out and it STILL works! Plus, the controller design – was so sad they dropped it for the newer systems! It’s the only one you can hold and play for a solid eight hours without getting hand cramps.

    • Nintendo had those controllers that were STURDY as FK. You could grip ’em, try to bend ’em, throw ’em and they’d still work!

  9. I often feel like a crotchety old woman babbling about how kids never use their imaginations anymore (and I’ll see your 1776 fashion stylings and raise you some homemade 1824 shenanigans), so thank you for the reminder that I too played video games and turned out just fine.
    Especially love your comments on community, because they’re SO TRUE.

  10. As someone who still has and occasionally plays a Super Nintendo, this just makes me really want to find an N64.

    Also maybe I should finish A Link to the Past?

  11. Legend of Zelda remains pretty much the only thing my younger brother and I can talk about without wanting to claw into each others’ faces. Video games were OUR THING when we were kids and we were better at it than all of the other neighborhood kids, which was a huge source of pride for us. I’ve played video games since then, but I have never been able to recapture that magic that happened when my brother and I played together or watched each other play. Until this article I hadn’t really realized that’s what it was. It was the bond that my brother and I formed over it that made it so great.

    That and Ocarina of Time is superior to everything. Duh.

  12. I was lying in bed then decided to check out AS and saw this post and I went OMGIHAVETOCOMMENTONTHISONTHECOMPUTERBECAUSEITHASNINTENDO!!!

    So here we’s weird cause the other when I was cleaning out my old study desk I found a plastic bag of little cowboys and indians. It even had it’s own wagon. Then I remembered when I used to roll my Hot Wheels cars down the ramp by our front door. But mostly NINTENDO!!!

    When I first got a TV for the room I thought I’d get a PS3 then I remembered my SNES. I tried SO HARD to find a really good one in mint condition until a guy at the video game store (yeah they still exist) told me about the Retron system which I ended up buying. It’ll play all your 8bit and 16bit needs OMG. So I have the chance to do Warp Zone and Mario All Stars

    Very cool system and it plays the games so WELL. The games don’t have a bad price either $10-$40.

    • Whoops! Forgot to underline the links xD hahaha. 8bit and 16bit needs warp zone and mario all stars. Too excited.

      That I just have to say, these games. They are the building blocks, the foundation of gaming today. I mean multiplayer pretty much started with N64, they had Super Smash Bros.

      These systems gave us a good childhood. Let’s hear it for the blow and insert generation of gaming!

  13. Played Star Fox 64 again the other day… so much NOSTALGIA. To this day I still love the Arwing, I tried to build it once in Kerbal Space Program to little avail and many explosions, ah well..

    Autostraddle’s opinion about Conker’s Bad Fur Day? A platformer with an M rating made by (Rareware) the same people who made Banjo-Kazooie (also, Battletoads)! Not really sure if many people played it but I loooved it! Also, this is permanently burned into my memories thanks to the game: … poor sweet corn.

    Oh! Also I’m going to be controversial and say Ocarina of Time comes #2 next to Twilight Princess for me… Midna <3

    I also bought Skyward Sword for my sister when it came out and got to watch her playing it with my family, "NO, SWING THAT WAY, NO THE OTHER WAY", good times, good times. We practically only ever got along as kids when playing SNES games, even then it was tentative, the amount of angst created by Battletoads/TMNT… pretty sure the console was yanked off the shelf by angry controller.

    This article has reminded me I still have to play Majora's Mask… I HAVE WORK TO DO AUTOSTRADDLE, STOP THIS. <3

  14. I still have my Nintendo 64! I loved it. Still do. Although my favorite games were Mario Cart, Harvest Moon and Bomberman.

  15. I work at an elementary school, and the game of the era is Minecraft. They all play it, boys and girls equally. In fact, it is now available for them to play on school computers if they have extra time. At recess, they run around building pick axes out of sticks and choosing people to be the creepers and chase each other around.

    The great thing about Minecraft is that it lets them build anything. They are the masters of their own space, and that is an important and empowering feeling to give to a child. I am constantly overhearing conversations about what they built yesterday with their big sister’s help and how next time they’ll do it this way, and “what did you build? Wow, that’s awesome, tell me how you did it!” They are obsessed and I am totally ok with that.

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