Mari Collier was a game play counselor at Nintendo, but her full job title was Advanced Super Agent. That’s because she did much more than just helping gamers get through the difficult parts of their favorite Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), or Nintendo 64 games. She also read and answered letters, updated the correspondence section of ELMO (Nintendo’s database that would have answers to players’ questions), and answered consumer questions on the telephone. She is part of the reason why Nintendo has become known for its fan outreach.
Furthermore, she constructed the elements for teaching how to read and route letters, and taught the class to do so. Her twelve year career at the company spanned from 1989 to 2001 and was dedicated to Nintendo’s fans.
What Was a Nintendo Game Play Counselor?
We now have free in-depth guides and YouTube walk throughs that reveal every secret you could hope to discover in a game. However, that was not the case in 1989 when Collier began her work at Nintendo. She started at the company four years after the 1985 launch of the NES and during the infancy of the internet. Back in 1989, only 15% of American households had a computer, let alone a network connection. By the end of her career in 2001, the number of American households with internet access had only just reached 50%.
There were strategy guides, books, and word of mouth, but if gamers couldn’t figure out how to get the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda or they needed tips on how to beat Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! there was at least one place they could always turn—Nintendo’s Power Line. By calling 1-206-885-7529, Nintendo fans would get a direct line to the company to have all of their game related questions answered by Nintendo game play counselors.
How did Nintendo Game Play Counselors Know All the Games?
The counselors were armed with binders full of guides, map, ccwalkthroughs, and consoles, all within arms reach. Players would call in about a specific game and the counselors would flip through their reference material to the relevant section and start providing answers. You may be wondering why they weren’t looking up their answers on the computer. At the onset of the Power Line, the database they would eventually use, ELMO, wasn’t in place yet. Therefore, Nintendo game play counselors relied completely on their own skills and the materials they had on hand. Everything was sourced from publicly available information like Nintendo Power or game manuals. Anything else, like hand drawn maps and tips, would have been made in-house by the counselors themselves.
Players could also write in to Nintendo with all of their burning questions. They would receive the same kind of game play support as players who called in, but in the form of a written reply.
A Close Look at Nintendo Game Play Counselor Resources
This video from Metal Jesus Rocks shows what Nintendo’s game play counselors’ guides and resources looked like at the time.
Interview With Nintendo Game Play Counselor Mari Collier
Retro Informer: How did you come to work at Nintendo, answering mail as an Advanced Super Agent?
Mari: My husband had a finish construction company and I did the books and occasionally helped on the job. Our health insurance kept going up as we hit out fifties. I decided to return to work to pay for it. No one wanted to hire a 50 plus year-old woman back then so went to work for Kelly Girls as a Temp.
They sent me to a vet’s office and I learned to use an AS400 until it crashed. Out of that job. Then a part time at a lottery company where I learned to use a word program. Then that one ended. The next one was at a place I never heard of: Nintendo of America and I would be selling magazines, but they would call me. I did not have to call people on the phone.
The next one was at a place I never heard of: Nintendo of America and I would be selling magazines
Orientation was a revelation. This was a huge successful enterprise. Once again I was on an AS400. “Remember, just never push this button,” said the supervisor. No names as she was still there last time I checked. She said this as she pushed the button and disabled my phone and computer. They let me remain in the cubicle while they did repairs. I read my first Nintendo Power.
Within the month, my lead put me in another class and handed out systems, wires, and video and audio cables, along with a game pak. “Hook ‘em up,” was his orders. Somehow this mechanical dummy managed to hook up the NES with no problem and started the game. We then had a class on setting up repairs, and helping people find the games. We rolled into a busy season. Wow, did some of those people work long hours. After New Year’s I realized I would rather be in Correspondence and applied.
I submitted one of my short stories to prove I could write and when asked if I could use a word program, I said, “Yes, I’ve used Word Star.” I just didn’t tell them I’d only used it for eight hours. The next thing I knew, I was writing merges. That forever ruined my signature.
One day the computers went down and everyone was set to reading. The backlog of letters had grown to about four thousand.
Signing over one hundred letters a day is tedious. One day the computers went down and everyone was set to reading. The backlog of letters had grown to about four thousand. Yes, I’m serious. At the end of the day, a young lady and I had out read the experienced letter readers and routed more letters than anyone else. We also suggested that certain letters be created.
At the end of the day, a young lady and I had out read the experienced letter readers and routed more letters than anyone else. We also suggested that certain letters be created. Our supervisor immediately made us Readers. That meant I was now reading letters, still writing merges, and still on the phones at the “busy” times. Silly me, I turned down the first offer to become an employee rather than a temp. I refused as I was the caregiver for my mother-in-law. Then I discovered how much the bonus amounted to and determined the next time it was offered, I would become an employee.
The Net still had not appeared, but the computers grew more powerful. I became an SR (special response writer) besides being a Reader. Also I forgot to mention that besides the NES, we all had a game pak to play so that we could talk about the games. Once I became a Nintendo employee, they sent a system and game pak home with me.
Then the Role Playing Games appeared and Super NES. The crowds buying Super Mario were incredible. People phoned in telling about the fights they were watching. Then came the NET and we were on it.
One of the young women I trained was working with the computer people and because she respected my knowledge of Correspondence asked me how I would like it set up in ELMO. Should the info be on Popups or something different? I suggested an outline system with everything in paragraphs and in its proper category. They went with that and I somehow had the job of keeping it updated.
[She] asked me how I would like it set up in ELMO… and I somehow had the job of keeping it updated.
Then we all learned how to do email and I somehow wound up on Saturdays eliminating anything in the email inbox that I felt would infect our systems. I’m happy to report that Correspondence Call Center was not hit with any of the early malware. Corporate headquarters was not so lucky. Someone would open the wrong email.
Then I discovered the Game Play Counselors that were also in Correspondence were making $.50 more an hour. Since I had defeated the games Lufia, Final Fantasy, SNES Metroid, and was a Tetris fanatic, they put me into a class. The night before the test my mother-in-law took sick and I took her into ER. I didn’t get home until 4:30 and had one and one-half hours of sleep. My Supervisor tried to reschedule the test, but no go. Somehow I passed it! Even the first Dungeons and Warrior call. I still have the leather briefcase I was awarded.
Retro Informer: Are there any letters that still stand out to you today and did you keep any that were particularly special?
Mari: I remember many of the letters, but the one that really stood out was from a young man wanting to know what he should study or aim for since he was interested in computers. I went and interviewed on of my co-workers that had just received his second degree in computer science. I carefully wrote down what I had learned and sent it to the young man wishing him well. Eight years ago, he tracked me down and thanked me for the letter. He also told me of his success in world due to his computer degrees.
Retro Informer: It’s really great that you brought up the letter about the kid you helped guide towards his career in computers. I found a few letters online written by you, to include this one which I think may be the letter in question. There was no back story accompanying it so, that’s really nice to hear the full story.
Mari: I can’t believe you found that letter online. That is almost scary. My grandchildren have told me I was all over the Net, but I didn’t realize that stray correspondence was out there also.
Retro Informer : Nintendo must have received a lot of letters in those early days, how many would you reply to on a normal day and how many employees were dedicated to responding to the mail?
Mari: In the early days, we would receive hundreds of letters. There were about ten in Correspondence, then it was fifteen, then twenty. Much more difficult to keep track of once foreign reps and gameplay counselors added as they were also on phones all day long.
Retro Informer: Nintendo is still very good about answering mail. Why did Nintendo feel it was so important to respond to all inquiries and in such a personal way?
Mari: They felt a loyal fan base was the best way to increase interest and profits.
Retro Informer: Can you please describe what an average day working at Nintendo would be like for you?
Mari: There weren’t many average days. One would read the letters while on phones to answer calls. An SR (special response) writer would have time off phones to respond. If lines were busy, back on the phones.
Retro Informer: How about your workstation, what kinds of things did you have at your desk? Do you remember the kind of computer you used?
Mari:We had cubicles, great chairs, the current system and game pak. We all received the current issue of Nintendo Power.
Retro Informer: Toxic culture at the game company Activision Blizzard is making headlines right now, and game culture has the image of being misogynistic. What was the atmosphere like at Nintendo and as a woman, what was your experience working there?
Nintendo had women Game Play Leads, women supervisors (they still do), and we received the same salary as the male representatives.
Mari: Nintendo had women Game Play Leads, women supervisors (they still do), and we received the same salary as the male representatives. In fact, my bonus often was far more than that for some of my male colleagues. It was a great place to work
Retro Informer: I read that you have two kids. What did they think of their mom working for Nintendo?
Mari: My “kids” were adults when I started at Nintendo. They thought it was hilarious. They did appreciate the fact that I could buy the games as gifts.
Retro Informer: You constructed the elements for teaching the reading and routing of letters, and taught the class to do so. I would love to hear about the kinds of guidance you would give your trainees.
Mari: It was pretty basic items. Like read all the letters in the ELMO Correspondence Folio, memorize the file order, recognize which letters go to Corporate, Nintendo Power, and the Licensing Department. The rest were for our Correspondence writers.
Retro Informer: Did you retain any of the training materials you used for instructing?
Mari: No, they were added to ELMO.
Retro Informer: Did you work on the letter portion of Nintendo Power as well?
Mari: All writers answered most letters. Certain items like the artwork and direct comments about Nintendo Power went to Nintendo Power. They had their own directory.
Retro Informer: It seems you also served as a Nintendo game play counselor. What was your favorite game to play?
Mari: I really liked Lufia and, of course, the Final Fantasy Series. Tetris Type B was another big favorite.
Retro Informer: Do you have any memories you’d like to share from your time working at Nintendo?
Mari: I made some wonderful friendships. I still connect with some of them on Facebook. Some of my best memories were watching the young people connect, fall in love, and marry. Five of the couples are still together. Some of their children have even graduated from college or married. It seems a lifetime ago.
I managed to attach two photos from my Nintendo days. One is of my husband and I at one of their fabulous Christmas parties at a luxury hotel. Free parking, free room overnight, and an unbelievable array of fancy food, and entertainment. I wasn’t able to find the one of me in a Halloween outfit. Mr. A (that is Mr. Arakawa) loved Halloween. He would come and inspect our decorated cubicles and compliment the really good ones. He and Phil Rogers (his American friend that helped start Nintendo in Canada and the U.S.) really cared about the employees in the company. Phil Rogers even stopped by on my last day at Nintendo to wish me well.
Retro Informer: Funny that you should send a picture of you and your husband from a Nintendo Christmas party. I did want to ask about that.
Mari: The Christmas parties were unbelievable! The first one we attended they sent a limo to pick us up. Considering we were almost in the wilderness, that was truly impressive. Life After NintendoHaving started writing at the age of 13, Mari is an accomplished Science Fiction writer with over 15 books under name. Her books can be purchased from Amazon. She lives in Twentynine Palms, CA where she volunteers with the local Historical Society.
More Letters From Mari
The job of a Nintendo game play counselor didn’t end when they hung up the phone. Due to the high cost of long-distance calls at the time, it was rather expensive to call in to Nintendo. Therefore, Nintendo would get a ton of fan mail, requests for help, and video game suggestions that all needed to be responded to.
Life After Nintendo
Having started writing at the age of 13, Mari is an accomplished Science Fiction writer with over 15 books under name. Her books can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She lives in Twentynine Palms, CA where she volunteers with the local Historical Society.
NOTE: Originally published on Retro Informer