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Your Move

Your Move: Yokoi's Creativity Propelled Nintendo

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This month marked 19 years since a traffic accident claimed the life of one of the greatest innovators in Nintendo’s 127-year history. Gunpei Yokoi is still a well-known name among Nintendo fans, and more than anyone else, he may be responsible for the emergence of the Japanese company as one of the most successful video game companies in history.

Yokoi joined Nintendo in 1965, when the company manufactured Japanese playing cards. His job was to maintain the machines that produced the cards. In his spare time, Yokoi built toys to amuse himself. One day, when the president of Nintendo was inspecting the production floor, he found a toy that Yokoi had built - an extending arm that could grasp small objects. He loved it, and ordered Yokoi to develop it into a retail product for sales that Christmas. The toy, which was called the Ultra Hand, was a huge success. Yokoi developed several other toys for Nintendo in the following years.

In 1974, Yokoi was traveling on a train when he saw another man playing around on a pocket calculator. This gave him the idea of video games that could be taken along on trips. He then started development on the Game and Watch, a series of portable games. In 1981, he was appointed to supervise the development of a new arcade game, Donkey Kong. For the Game and Watch version of Donkey Kong, Yokoi invented the D-Pad - the cross-shaped directional button that has appeared on nearly every video game controller since.

Yokoi’s best-selling design was the original Game Boy. His design for the handheld followed his philosophy of using well-established, less-expensive hardware rather than cutting-edge designs. The Game Boy’s green-and-black screen was inferior to the color screens of the Sega Game Gear or the Atari Lynx, but the system was cheaper and more accessible as a result, and the games were no less fun.

Without Yokoi’s creativity, it is possible that Nintendo would still be a small manufacturer of playing cards - or perhaps no longer around at all.