Gunpei Yokoi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gunpei Yokoi
横井 軍平
Yokoi in 1995
Born(1941-09-10)10 September 1941[1]
Osaka, Empire of Japan[1]
Died4 October 1997(1997-10-04) (aged 56)
Alma materDoshisha University
Occupation(s)Toy maker and game designer.
Years active1965–1997

Gunpei Yokoi (横井 軍平, Yokoi Gunpei, 10 September 1941 – 4 October 1997), sometimes transliterated as Gumpei Yokoi, was a Japanese video game designer. As a long-time Nintendo employee, he was best known as creator of the Game & Watch handheld system, inventor of the cross-shaped Control Pad, the original designer of the Game Boy, and producer of a few long-running and critically acclaimed video game franchises such as Metroid and Kid Icarus.


Yokoi graduated from Doshisha University with a degree in electronics. He was first hired by Nintendo in 1965 to maintain the assembly-line machines used to manufacture its hanafuda cards.[2]

In 1966, Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo, came to a hanafuda factory where Yokoi was working and took notice of a toy, an extending arm that Yokoi made for his own amusement during spare time while doing maintenance. Yamauchi ordered Yokoi to develop it as a proper product for the Christmas rush. The Ultra Hand was a huge success, and Yokoi was asked to work on other Nintendo toys, including the Ten Billion Barrel puzzle, a miniature remote-controlled vacuum cleaner called the Chiritory, a baseball-throwing machine called the Ultra Machine, and a "Love Tester". He worked on toys until the company decided to make video games in 1974,[3] when he became one of its first game designers, only preceded by Genyo Takeda.[4] While traveling on the Shinkansen, Yokoi supposedly saw a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator by pressing the buttons. Yokoi then got the idea for a watch that doubled as a miniature video gaming pastime.[5]

In 1981, Yamauchi appointed Yokoi to supervise Donkey Kong, an arcade game created by Shigeru Miyamoto.[6] Yokoi explained many of the intricacies of game design to Miyamoto at the beginning of his career, and the project only came to be approved after Yokoi brought Miyamoto's game ideas to the president's attention.[7]

After the worldwide success of Donkey Kong, Yokoi continued to work with Miyamoto on the next Mario game, Mario Bros.[7] He proposed the multiplayer concept and convinced his co-worker to give Mario some superhuman abilities, such as the ability to jump unharmed from great heights.[7]

Yokoi is best known for his contribution in the creation of the Game Boy.
Yokoi's Virtual Boy (1995)

After Mario Bros., Yokoi produced several R&D1 games, such as Kid Icarus and Metroid.[8] He designed R.O.B.[9] and the Game Boy, the latter of which became a worldwide success.[8] Another of his creations, the Virtual Boy, was a commercial failure. Nintendo has denied that the Virtual Boy's poor performance in the market was the reason for Yokoi's subsequent departure from the company,[10] holding that his retirement was "absolutely coincidental" to the market performance of any Nintendo hardware.[11] According to his Nintendo and Koto colleague Yoshihiro Taki, Yokoi had originally decided to retire at age 50 to do as he pleased but had simply delayed it.[12] According to David Sheff's book Game Over, Yokoi never actually intended for the console to be released in its present form. However, Nintendo pushed the Virtual Boy to market so that it could focus development resources on the Nintendo 64.[13]


Amid the failure of the Virtual Boy and the launch of the more successful Game Boy Pocket, Yokoi left Nintendo on 15 August 1996 after thirty-one years at the company. Leaving with several of his subordinates to form a new company called Koto, Yokoi helped create the Tamagotchi and led the development of the Bandai WonderSwan handheld game console.[14][15]

Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology[edit]

Yokoi said "The Nintendo way of adapting technology is not to look for the state of the art but to utilize mature technology that can be mass-produced cheaply."[13] He articulated his philosophy of "Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology" (枯れた技術の水平思考, "Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō") (also translated as "Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology"), in the book Yokoi Gunpei Game House. "Withered technology" in this context refers to a mature technology which is cheap and well understood. "Lateral thinking" refers to finding radical new ways of using such technology. Yokoi held that toys and games do not necessarily require cutting-edge technology; novel and fun gameplay are more important. In the interview, he suggested that expensive cutting-edge technology can get in the way of developing a new product.[16]

Game & Watch was developed based on this philosophy.[17] At the time of its development, Sharp and Casio were fiercely competing in the digital calculator market. For this reason, there was a glut of liquid crystal displays and semiconductors. The "lateral thinking" was to find an original and fun use for this cheap and abundant technology. The NES and Game Boy were developed under a similar philosophy.[18] In the handheld market, Yokoi's refusal to adopt a color display for the Game Boy, in favor of long battery life, is cited as the main reason it prevailed against Sega's Game Gear and Atari's Lynx.[18]

Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo from 2002 until his death in 2015, claimed that this philosophy has been passed on to the disciples of Yokoi, such as Miyamoto, and it continues to show itself in Nintendo's then current use of technology, with the highly successful Nintendo DS and Wii.[19]

The Wii's internal technology was similar to that of Nintendo's previous home console, the GameCube, and was not as advanced in terms of computational capability and multimedia versatility compared to its competitors: the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Instead, the system offered something completely different by introducing motion-based controls to the console market in an attempt to change the ways video games are played, and consequently, to widen the audience for video games in general. This strategy demonstrated Nintendo's belief that graphical advancement isn't the only way to make progress in gaming technology; indeed, after the Wii's overwhelming success, Sony and Microsoft released their own motion control peripherals. Nintendo's emphasis on peripherals for the Wii has also been pointed to as an example of Yokoi's "lateral thinking" at work.[20]


On 4 October 1997, Yokoi was riding in a car driven by his associate Etsuo Kiso on the Hokuriku Expressway, when the vehicle rear-ended a truck.[21][22][23] After the two men had left the car to inspect the damage, Yokoi was hit and injured by a passing car. The driver of the car that hit Yokoi in the second accident was Gen Tsushima, a member of the tourism industry.[23] Yokoi's death was confirmed two hours later.[5][24] Kiso suffered only a fractured rib.[8]


The title of his main biography from 2010 translates from Japanese as Father of Games – Gunpei Yokoi, the Man Who Created Nintendo's DNA.[14] A 1997 book's title translates to Yokoi's House of Gaming,[25] which was explored in English in 2010 by Tokyo Scum Brigade.[26] A 2014 book about him is Gunpei Yokoi: The Life & Philosophy of Nintendo's God of Toys.[27]

In 2003, Yokoi posthumously received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Game Developers Association.[28] GameTrailers placed him on their lists for the "Top Ten Game Creators".[29] An art gallery in Japan created an art exhibit in 2010 titled "The Man Who Was Called the God of Games" featuring all his key Nintendo works.[30] In 1999, Bandai began releasing a series of handheld puzzle games named Gunpey as a tribute to their original creator, Yokoi.[31]





  1. ^ a b Winnie Forster (2008). Computer and video game makers (in German). Gameplan. p. 364. ISBN 9783000215841.
  2. ^ "Forgotten Giant: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Gunpei Yokoi". Game Informer. Vol. 12, no. 105. January 2002. p. 116.
  3. ^ Fleming, Dan (1996). Powerplay. Manchester University Press ND. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-7190-4717-6.
  4. ^ "The Proposition is to Use Two Televisions". Iwata Asks: Punch-Out!!. Nintendo of America, Inc. 13 September 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b Crigger, Lara (6 March 2007). "The Escapist: Searching for Gunpei Yokoi". Archived from the original on 18 April 2020. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  6. ^ Kent 158.
  7. ^ a b c "Mario Couldn't Jump At First". Iwata Asks: New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo of America, Inc. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Farewell, Game Boy". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 102. Ziff Davis. December 1998. p. 20.
  9. ^ US application 4815733, Gunpei Yokoi, "Photosensing video game control system", issued 28 March 1989, assigned to Nintendo Co Ltd 
  10. ^ "Profile: Gunpei Yokoi". Nsidr. 23 October 2000. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  11. ^ "Nintendo's Leap into the Unknown". Next Generation. No. 23. Imagine Media. November 1997. p. 16.
  12. ^ Inoue, Osamu (27 April 2010). Nintendo Magic: Winning the Videogame Wars. Paul Tuttle Starr (translator). Vertical. ISBN 978-1934287224.
  13. ^ a b Sheff, David; Eddy, Andy (1999). Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children. GamePress. ISBN 978-0-9669617-0-6. OCLC 26214063.
  14. ^ a b Makino, Takefumi (2010). Father of Games – Gunpei Yokoi, the Man Who Created Nintendo's DNA (ゲームの父・横井軍平伝 任天堂のDNAを創造した男, Geemu no Chichi, Yokoi Gunpei Den: Nintendo no DNA wo Souzou Shita Otoko) (in Japanese). Kadokawa Shoten. ISBN 978-4-04-885058-2.
  15. ^ "Nintendo Key Figures - Gunpei Yokoi (横井軍平)". beforemario. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  16. ^ Yokoi, Gunpei; Makino, Takefumi (May 1997). Yokoi Gunpei Game House (横井軍平ゲーム館, Yokoi Gunpei Gēmu-kan). ASCII. ISBN 978-4-89366-696-3.
  17. ^ Ryan, Jeff. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Penguin. 2011.
  18. ^ a b Parish, Jeremy. The Troubled Past and Challenging Future of Nintendo 3DS: What the 3DS owes to Virtual Boy (and how it's different) Archived 11 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine. 31 March 2011.
  19. ^ "後藤弘茂のWeekly海外ニュース".
  20. ^ Jones, Steven E. and Thiruvathukal, George K. Codename Revolution: The Nintendo Wii Platform. MIT Press. 2012.
  21. ^ "Virtual Boy – What about Channel 4?". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  22. ^ "Game Boy Inventor Dies in Car Crash". IGN. IGN Entertainment, Inc. 6 October 1997. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
  23. ^ a b Brian Ashcraft (7 April 2011). "The Father of the Game Boy Was Not Killed By Yakuza". Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  24. ^ "IGN: Gunpei Yokoi Biography". Archived from the original on 13 September 2008. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  25. ^ Yokoi, Kohei; Makino, Takefumi (1997). Yokoi's House of Gaming (横井軍平ゲーム館) (in Japanese). ASCII. ISBN 978-4893666963.
  26. ^ "Yokoi Gunpei's House of Gaming: The Toymaker". Tokyo Scum Brigade. 5 April 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  27. ^ Various (9 January 2014). Gunpei Yokoi: The Life & Philosophy of Nintendo's God of Toys. Les Editions Pix'N Love. ISBN 978-2918272243.
  28. ^ "Game Boy Creator Gunpei Yokoi to Receive IGDA'S Lifetime Achievement Award At The 3rd Annual Game Developers Choice Awards". 20 February 2003. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  29. ^ "Top Ten Game Creators". Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  30. ^ Walker, Matt (24 August 2010). "Gunpei Yokoi Exhibit in Harakuju: "The Man Who Was Called the God of Games"". Nintendo World Report. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  31. ^ "TGS 2006: Gunpey". IGN. 2 November 2006. Archived from the original on 23 March 2014. Retrieved 23 March 2014.

External links[edit]