In GAME OVER, David Sheff has produced a fascinating study of a giant Japanese business empire, tracing its development over the last century. The book begins with some rather startling figures. Nintendo is the largest business enterprise in Japan, outselling Toyota, the previous leader. Super Mario 3, one of Nintendo’s latest best-sellers, has taken second place in the entertainment industry; only the movie ET has made more money. And in a 1990 survey, it was found that more American children recognized Mario than recognized Mickey Mouse.
The book traces the rise of Nintendo, which began in 1889 as a playing card manufacturer. In 1949, the company was taken over by Hiroshi Yamauchi, the current owner. Most of the rest of the book recounts Yamauchi’s machinations in the business world, first in Japan, then in the United States, and finally in Europe.
The last part of the book tells of the various legal battles among the competitors in the video game business, and especially the long battle between Nintendo and Atari, once the American leader in the field. Antitrust suits were brought, copyright infringements claimed, and even the outright theft of games was alleged in some cases. Ultimately, Nintendo won all of these battles. You won’t find too many Atari games around these days.
GAME OVER makes fascinating reading, even for those rare people who do not have a Super Nintendo at home and may be somewhat unfamiliar with Mario. Far from being merely an economic treatise, this book is also a story about human psychology, about the ways children and adults view reality, and about the way human beings can be manipulated by the lure of money and hypnotized by a little electronic man with a mustache.