Monday, February 9, 2009
Why Donkey Kong?
It has now been 28 years since the coin-op version of Nintendo's Donkey Kong was first released, and it is still a cultural touchstone. Nintendo decided that the hero Mario, originally known as Jumpman, would become their Mickey Mouse, but Donkey Kong and his kin still show up in games to this day. In a recent Oreo commercial featuring Eli and Peyton Manning vs. Venus and Serena Williams, when the siblings are talking smack to one another, Peyton says "Oh, it's on like Donkey Kong!" and no one has to explain this odd reference. But there are a couple questions you might consider when thinking of this game.
1. Why is it named after the nemesis of the character you controlling?
2. Why Donkey Kong? He isn't a donkey or a mule, he's supposed to be a large gorilla.
According to Wikipedia, Donkey Kong was the working title given to the project by designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Mr. Miyamoto understood that "donkey" meant stupid person as well as small, horse like animal, and thought English speaking audiences would immediately grasp that Donkey Kong means "stupid monkey". When this was pitched to Nintendo of America, people in the meeting laughed at the name, and not in a good way. But Mr. Miyamoto was a powerful person at Nintendo, and it was decided that renaming it would be an insult, so we know this game as Donkey Kong. It is interesting that the other main characters in the game have been renamed over time, Jumpman now known as Mario and his girlfriend went from Lady to Pauline (as in Perils of Pauline) to Princess.
As to why the game is named for the nemesis you don't control and not the protagonist you do control, this is still yet to be properly 'splained.