The crowd squeals when he enters the room, erupting into a sea of cheers at the sound of his name. The 600-seat lecture hall is packed — latecomers have to stand awkwardly against the back wall, craning their necks for a better view.
Cornell has hosted plenty of celebrities in the past, from John Mulaney to Joe Jonas. I try to take advantage of my Ivy League education and go to as many of these events as I can, but reader, I have never seen a crowd as pumped as the one I saw Monday night. Not for a comedian, not for a rock star, but for a businessman: former Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aimé ’83.
If you’re even slightly familiar with the gaming industry, or the online culture that surrounds it, you’re probably familiar with “The Regginator.” If you’re not, you’re probably very confused, so I’ll do my best to explain the hype. Every year, Los Angeles hosts a gaming convention called E3 where most of the world’s biggest games and consoles make their debut. Tuning in to watch streams from giants like Nintendo is something akin to a major sporting event for gaming fans — think of it like waiting for Marvel trailers to drop at ComicCon. In 2004, Nintendo’s presentation featured Reggie Fils-Aimé, their newly hired Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, boldly introducing himself with the now-famous quote “My name is Reggie. I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names and we’re about makin’ games.”
From then on, Reggie was a star and the subject of countless Internet memes. He regularly appeared in E3 presentations and Nintendo Directs (mini-presentations that the company releases to maintain excitement throughout the rest of the year), producing more memorable quotes like “my body is ready” (during a demonstration of the Wii Fit balance board) or the more innocuous “Okay, that’s all the time I’ve got. I’ve gotta get back to playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on my Nintendo 3DS.” Beyond his status as a meme, Reggie was Nintendo of America’s Chief Operating Officer during some of the company’s boldest innovations, from the 3DS to the Switch, from Wii Sports to Splatoon.
Fast-forward to Oct. 21, 2019, in a crowd of excited Cornell students. Reggie gave a lecture as Dyson’s inaugural Leader in Residence, a new business program where the school brings in notable leaders from various industries. This crowd, however, was not just business students, but a throng of dedicated fans from around the Cornell community. Some crowd members were literally bouncing in their seats, snapping pictures of the Cornell alum and sneakily sending them to friends. During the Q&A, dozens of hopeful students lined up for the chance to speak to Reggie, some anxiously clutching their own Nintendo Switches clad in travel cases. At one point, an audience member enthusiastically raised an unplugged Wii into the air like a lighter at a concert. The amount that Reggie has inspired Nintendo fans is astounding. Starstruck students asked well-informed questions ranging from Activision Blizzard’s actions against a Hong Kong-supporting Hearthstone player to which character Reggie “mains” in Smash (Zelda and Ridley, if you were wondering).
As for the source of this fervor, Reggie addressed the Directs that earned him his Internet fame. “It’s really difficult to try and measure the impact of one particular meme,” he said. “But I believe it creates a relationship with our consumer. And in the end, having a healthy relationship with our customer drives sales. […] As for how these memes happen,” he continued, “they’re not planned, and it’s not something you can forcibly create. […] And I believe that my personality, my forthright nature, the passion I have for the business and the category, I think that’s what the fans are excited about. Whether it’s that first line at that first E3, whether it’s the laser beam out of the eyes, or getting on the balance board and saying ‘my body is ready.’” At this point he had to pause for the audience’s raucous laughter and cries of “he really said it!” He laughed too before continuing, “they happen and then they’re a part of pop culture.”
I think that’s what makes Reggie and Nintendo at large so impactful, why fans get so emotionally invested in rumors of new games and why a few fans even got teary-eyed when Reggie pulled up a picture of Nintendo’s late CEO Satoru Iwata. While other brands awkwardly parrot dead memes in promoted tweets, Nintendo’s content in their Directs and across their products always feels genuine, like the company is serious about living up to its goal of “making people smile.” Not only is that kind of enthusiasm inspiring (more than one audience member there dreamt of following in Reggie’s footsteps), but Reggie pointed out something important in his lecture: it’s just good business.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.