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What was the first video game you ever played?

Whatever it was, you probably played it on a system made by Nintendo. Whether it was NES, N64, Gamecube or even the modern Wii, your childhood is likely loaded with nostalgic memories of rescuing Princess Peach, defeating the evil Ganondorf, or roaming digital jungles as Donkey Kong.

But would you believe us if we told you Nintendo started out as a playing card company…in 1889?! It was literally all they were known for:

Nintendo Playing Card Company

It wasn’t until almost a century later, in 1974, that the company entered the video game market, distributing the Magnavox Odyssey game console in Japan. Nintendo exploded not long after in 1981, when it released Donkey Kong. Mario soon followed (except he was called Jumpman back then), and the mustachioed plumber went on to become the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

But even as a playing card company, Nintendo was a success. A deal it struck with Disney to allow Nintendo to feature characters like Mickey Mouse on its cards led to massive sales. But there were definitely some awkward years after the company went public in 1962.

The actual cards
A sample of Nintendo’s old playing cards

Nintendo soon used its newfound capital to set up a taxi company, a “love hotel” chain, a food company and even create a vacuum cleaner. It wasn’t until its playing card sales started to slump that Nintendo moved into the electronics field.

And just over a decade later, everything starts to look more familiar. The company started churning out the Game & Watch series of handheld video games in 1980, and then the classic Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985.

Nintendo's Colour TV-Game 15
Nintendo’s Colour TV-Game 15, which was released in 1978.

Mario would soon meet his nemisis, Bowser, while Link was about to wow audiences worldwide by travelling through time to rescue Princess Zelda in Ocarina of Time. Your childhood, meanwhile, would be loaded with incredible memories.

And the rest, they say, is history. Happy birthday, Nintendo!

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