Nintendo's first Nintendo Direct presentation streamed on October 21, 2011. It's a low-key affair that begins and ends with former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime standing alone in front of a white background. In the next seven minutes, Fils-Aime talks about the still-new Nintendo 3DS and the yet-to-come Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii.
Overall, the premiere Nintendo Direct is brief and sparse, and it has a noticeable air of wary experimentation around it. Nintendo clearly isn't sure if audiences will latch onto the Direct as a legitimate means of conveying information about upcoming games and consoles. Looking back at Reggie's solitary pitch for the 3DS and Skyward Sword, it's difficult to imagine Nintendo Directs would soon generate hype that dwarfs E3's on-stage press conferences.
Nevertheless, here we are. A mere whispering of the words "Nintendo Direct" on Twitter causes fans to plunge into over-agitated anticipation of their own making. The "NintendoDirect" hashtag never sleeps. Some people pen wishlists of games they want to see; other, less scrupulous people cobble together "leaks" and spread false rumors.
The ResetEra gaming community cultivates enormous threads for Nintendo Direct speculation. When one thread hits 400 pages of conversation, a new one is created-and subsequently fills up. The longer Nintendo stalls on a new Direct announcement, the more restless the internet becomes. Then we turn to fonts of rumors and leaks like ResetEra member Zippo, and we drink up the trickle with boundless hope and enthusiasm.
Observing the endless Twitter chatter, the lumbering message board threads, and the communities built around YouTubers who dish out speculation, it's worth wondering: Has the Nintendo Direct culture spiraled out of control? How much of the banter is harmless fun? How much of it is hostile entitlement that eclipses unrelated conversations about video games on social media?
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
At the time of this writing, it's been over 160 days since Nintendo aired a general Direct, though we've had Directs dedicated to Pokemon Sword and Shield, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. These focused Directs tend to drum up complaints from people anticipating a more widely scoped presentation, and don't care about singular games like Smash or Animal Crossing. Resentment and fights amongst Nintendo fans often follow. I popped into Reddit's Nintendo Discord after the February 20 Animal Crossing Direct was announced. Sure enough, there was some venomous back-and-forth between excited Animal Crossing fans, and people who don't give a toss about Tom Nook or the rest of it.
Video Games and Entitlement Are a Foul Brew
The Discord scuffle was small, but it's a good demonstration of how Nintendo Direct hype can get out of hand. Even though Nintendo takes no small credit (blame?) for the frenzied state of Direct discourse, the first Direct presentation was initially crafted as a low-cost way for Nintendo to easily share news on which games and consoles we can look forward to.
In that light, the February 20 Animal Crossing Direct did exactly what it was supposed to: It delivered lots of new information about Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. Animal Crossing fans felt hyped as they closed Nintendo's video, but other people feel like Nintendo somehow cheated them out of something they're owed. They don't just want informative Directs. They want Directs that deliver one new "Coming Soon!" after another-preferably with as many Wii/Wii U game ports as possible–and they want those Directs to conclude with a new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate reveal. God help Nintendo and Smash Director Masahiro Sakurai if the internet doesn't like the Smash addition, though.
Nintendo fans bang pots and pans all over social media until their Direct finally arrives, and if that Direct falls short of their expectations, they continue to pollute Twitter with bad takes. Users screenshot some of the worst takes and share them in turn for a laugh, resulting in a negative feedback loop that's exhausting. In short, the Nintendo fanbase is in a perpetual state of agitation when a Nintendo Direct isn't on the horizon, and it's in a perpetual state of agitation for some time after a Direct, too. It's no wonder we're asking if the Nintendo Direct hype machine is spinning way too quickly for its own good.
With Great Fandom Comes Great Obnoxiousness, and Great Heart
Rabid Nintendo fans are a difficult group to tiptoe around, it's true. It's also true that every large fandom has its share of enthusiasts who go way overboard, and Nintendo isn't an exception. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hit theaters two months ago, and Twitter and YouTube are still teeming with takes about the controversial end to the latest Star Wars trilogy. (Look up "Reylo" if you get a thrill out of wasting time.)
Some fans are loud. Some are obnoxious. Some "fans" can even be hurtful-and these particularly malodorous individuals should be confronted and shut down. But despite the heat and noise that makes us look at a fandom and say, "What a bunch of weirdos," most people who like a thing just want to get excited and enjoy it. That's very true for the Nintendo Direct fans who shed harmless anticipation while they wait for the next Direct to materialize.
When the Direct finally airs, it brings a bright flare of positivity that (usually) drowns out any grousing from fans whose impossible dreams aren't met. The Nintendo Direct for E3 2019 is one of Nintendo's best-crafted presentations; it does an excellent job feeding excitement to the audience with expert timing. As a result, it's impossible not to smile at the pop Banjo and Kazooie receive for their Smash reveal during a Direct screening at the Nintendo World Store. I'm not the least bit enthusiastic about Banjo and Kazooie as Smash fighters but hearing the cheers for their arrival always lifts my spirits.
Incidentally, it says something that people in the New York City area gather in a physical space to watch Nintendo Direct feeds. Some even arrive in cosplay. The fans want to take in that hype up close and personal, and who can blame them? I would've loved to be shoulder-to-shoulder amongst fans when the E3 2019 presentation capped off with a reveal for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2.
When Nintendo Directs Were a Lifeline
Nintendo Directs aren't just good for the fans, they also played a big role in making sure nobody forgot about Nintendo during its lean Wii U years. Nintendo has its share of problems-lots of problems-but no developer does a better job of reminding us about the pure joy that comes with playing a good game. As Reggie Fils-Aime said himself during Nintendo's E3 2017 Direct, if a game isn't fun, "why bother?" Early Directs seized that attitude and helped Nintendo project cheeriness even when its sales numbers were a horror story.
In turn, Nintendo's strong sense for whimsy played a big part in making us excited for Nintendo Directs, even as the Wii U sputtered. At E3 2014, Nintendo really let loose by giving us a claymation Direct sculpted by Robot Chicken. Not everyone was receptive to Clay-Reggie's jab at fans who beg for an official Mother 3 translation (we still don't have it, and probably never will get it), but I still get a laugh out of the announcer messing up Fils-Aime's last name and muttering "If you say so" when Reggie corrects him.
Nintendo Direct presentations are still light-hearted and easy going, though it's worth noting we no longer get crazy surprises like Jim Henson puppet shows or visits from The "Fils-A-Mech." Nintendo admittedly had a hard time finding a new mood for Directs after the show's creator, late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, died suddenly in July 2015. And now that the larger-than-life Reggie Fils-Aime has retired and no longer pours his contagious energy into Nintendo, it's unlikely Nintendo will bring back the meme-worthy skits and jokes that used to punctuate Directs.
But Nintendo Direct doesn't need jokes, skits, and memes anymore. The Switch's massive success means every show is stuffed full of reveals, news, and surprises from third parties. There's no room for antics, no need for jokes to fill in dead air or lighten the mood. We tune in to Nintendo Directs because we want to see our craziest game wishes come true-and with the Switch's runaway success, it feels like our nuttiest dreams are just one Direct away from becoming reality. No wonder we're all scurrying around the "NintendoDirect" hashtag like a pack of Pikachus with syringes of adrenaline jabbed in our hearts.
Nintendo Direct Hype: Please Enjoy Responsibly
When Nintendo started Nintendo Direct, it inadvertently started an avalanche that changed the landscape of game reveals and presentations. As more developers experiment with their own preview livestreams-Microsoft has Inside Xbox, and Sony has State of Play-shows built on live press conferences, particularly E3, are in danger of fading away. Between the disruptive nature of Nintendo Direct's very existence and the fact there are tons of potentially wonderful games we might see in upcoming Directs (Breath of the Wild 2! Metroid Prime 4! Bayonetta 3!), it's clear why Nintendo fans go a little overboard with Direct hype.
And, to appropriate a loved quote from Metal Gear Solid 5's Kaz Miller, Nintendo is playing us like a damn fiddle. It's perfectly aware the simmering anticipation for a Direct is whipping us all into a froth, but it's happy to let us sweat buckets while it bides its time.
Don't bother shaking down a Nintendo employee for a date, either. During an interview at DICE 2020 with Nintendo's VP of Product Development Design, Nate Bihldorff told Senior Editor Caty McCarthy that he's forbidden to divulge any information about upcoming Nintendo Directs under pain of death. Well, that's a little bit of an embellishment, but it's doubtful that anything short of a session on the Rack will encourage Bihldorff to tell us when the next Direct is due.
"I'm sworn to secrecy," he says. "I'm afraid I can't divulge that."
There's nothing for it, Nintendo fans. All you can do is sit and wait for the next Direct. We're all dancing to Nintendo's tune, and it's admittedly agony of a beautiful sort. All the hooks and chains in the possession of Hellraiser's Cenobites have nothing on the ache of anticipating a new Direct date.
Go ahead. Let off a little steam. Whip up a bit of hype on Twitter. Have fun, but just remember to employ a little bit of restraint. Though it's energetic, I wouldn't say Nintendo Direct fandom is out of control. Still, don't be the person who tips the cart over and ruins everything for everyone.