Listen to Shadow Planet!

Withered or seasoned?

I’ve referred often to the strategy, articulated by Nintendo hardware designer Gunpei Yokoi, of “lateral thinking with withered technology.”

In Yokoi’s words:

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.

This is the reason a Nintendo console never has the fastest chips or the beefiest specs of its generation; instead, its remixes components in an interesting and generative way. Think of the Gameboy’s monochrome screen, the Wii’s motion controller, the Switch’s smartphone form.

Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō; lateral thinking with withered technology.

Well, I just encountered a reference to this strategy in a post from Alan Jacobs, but there, he called it something different:

Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō; lateral thinking with seasoned technology.

Sure enough, googling indicates the phrase has been translated both ways many times. But what a difference! Google Translate insists that “withered” is the direct translation, but, looking closely at Yokoi’s remarks, it seems clear to me that “seasoned” captures his meaning.

He’s talking about reliability and predictability, in performance and supply alike. He wants the components to be boring, so their application can be daring.

Although “withered” is mostly wrong, it’s not completely wrong. I think the sense it offers of the forgotten, even abandoned, is probably useful.

This post, just discovered in my frantic googling, suggests a third option, almost a linguistic cross-fade between “withered” and “seasoned”:

Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō; lateral thinking with weathered technology.

Not bad, but I think “seasoned” still works best. I’ve given Gunpei Yokoi’s strategy a lot of thought over the past many years, but/and encountering this new translation has spun it around in my head a bit.

The power of a word!

March 2021, Oakland

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