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. 1 INTRODUCTION ContextualizingPlayerTwo NOW WE’RE KNITTING WITH POWER? In the late 1980s the video game industry, and console gaming in particular , was primarily caught up with their mainstay audience—­ young boys and men. While there were certainly girls and women who played video games at the time, this was not the primary target audience of the industry . The tacit assumption was that those who paid for and played console game systems were primarily male. Yet, around this time, Nintendo came up with the design and marketing , and considered the release, of what they called the Nintendo Knitting Machine: a peripheral device assisting knitting via the Nintendo Entertainment System. The “game” was never released to wide audiences.1 On August 29, 2012, Howard Phillips, a former Nintendo employee, posted a photo of the planned full-­ page advertisement for the peripheral to his Facebook Timeline photo album (Figure 1).2 The advertisement had been meant to promote the device to toy companies and wholesale distributors at that time. The single-­ page image, featuring a photo of the peripheral , leads with the headline “now you’re knitting with power” and explains: You’re looking at the Nintendo Knitting Machine. It’s not a game; not a toy; not something a young girl can outgrow in three or six months or even a year. It’s a machine that interacts with the powerful Nintendo Entertainment System to actually knit sweaters: and not just one or two patterns but a multitude of different and unique designs. 2 . INTRODUCTION The Nintendo Knitting Machine is just one more example of the innovative thinking that keeps Nintendo on the cutting edge of video technology. And your customers at the edge of their seats. Of course we should probably mention that no other video game system offers anything even remotely similar. But why needle the competition? While the system was apparently demoed for corporations and at toy shows, it never was released to American audiences.3 But the advertisement—­ the best piece of evidence that the Nintendo Knitting Machine was once considered the “cutting edge” of gaming technology—­ raises several pertinent questions. First, for whom was this system meant? The advertisement mentions “girls,” but a more specific demographic (or whether the peripheral would also be marketed to knitting women) is ambiguous. Second, why did Nintendo feel the need to try to appeal to female audiences in the mid-­1980s? No other serious attempts were being made to market console systems to women and girls at this time, and yet Nintendo clearly saw that this demographic might be viable enough to design not only software but an entire peripheral for them. Finally, and most important, it becomes necessary to ask, what happened to the Nintendo Knitting Machine? Why did it disappear, and why was it rejected as a model to get girls and women more interested in gaming?4 Beyond the video game industry, though, there are other compelling aspects to the advertisement from a media and cultural studies perspective . The headline of the advertisement suggests that the Nintendo Knitting Machine is a tool of empowerment. But in what way is the peripheral actually empowering? Rather than being a gateway for girls or women interested in gaming, the machine repurposes stereotypes of women in terms of their desire to engage with leisure and play.5 It allows for non-­ masculine play but manages that play, parsing it into specific forms of femininity. The Nintendo Knitting Machine suggests that domesticity and labor are the only possible entry points for females interested in engaging with the then rapidly changing and playful technologies of the video game industry. The advertisement leads off with a promise of empowerment , but there is nothing empowering about what is being offered. The suggestion that the peripheral—­ certainly not a game—­ would offer a perfect solution to the fickle tastes of young girls who would only have a fleeting interest in “games” or “toys” is a selling point of this technology. The system suggests a condescending solution to the complex problem of leisure and diversification. It manages the potential of gender diversity by INTRODUCTION . 3 reaffirming common stereotypes about how women and girls are expected to play. And, yet, this absurd example, the Nintendo Knitting Machine, is not alone.While, in recent years, there is an increasing amount of diversity in terms of whom video games are being created for, those attempts reflect Figure 1. A 1980s advertisement for the Nintendo Knitting Machine raises important questions about...


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