The Fall 1987 issue of Nintendo Fun Club News reported an exciting development: Ten players had beaten their "new hit video game," The Legend of Zelda. Released on Aug. 22 of that year, Zelda would go on to sell more than 6 million copies and become a cultural phenomenon, spawning dozens of games and a religiously devoted worldwide fan base.
But when Noah Hoffman (then 13) of Bellevue, Wash., "wielded a magic sword" and "let fly a silver arrow" to become the first officially recognized "Ganon beater," he wouldn't have known any of that. He also didn't know, when he restored peace to Hyrule, that he would go down in history as the first American to beat perhaps the most famous video game ever made.
In fact, all he was really trying to do was to beat the game before an impending family vacation threatened to cut off all Nintendo access for days. "Playing close to 24 hours a day, I beat it with an hour to spare," Hoffman, now 40 and living in San Francisco, told me.
He was helped by getting a full day's head start. Hoffman, who described himself as a typical awkward middle-schooler, went to school with the child of a Nintendo employee, who secured Zelda a day before its American release.
Hoffman, who describes himself as at 13 as "a real vidiot" (using the now archaic pejorative for gaming-obsessed teenagers), had a habit of getting Nintendo products early. A veteran of ColecoVision and Vectrex, he sold his valuable comic book collection — including an X-Men #1 — for a fraction of its value in order to buy a Famicom a year before its release in America as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Despite his expertise, Hoffman said he knew he had something special on his hands while playing Zelda: "I hadn't played anything like it before — I loved it." After beating the game, Hoffman called the number published in the previous issue of the Fun Club News. An operator on the other line asked him a few questions about the end of the game to verify that he had indeed beaten it.
At the time, Hoffman felt a little shortchanged for his accomplishment, which was printed up but not attached to a prize: "What, no T-shirt?" Now a software engineer at Adobe and a music producer, Hoffman no longer plays many games. In fact, he never played a Zelda title after the original. Still, he says that his status as the original "Ganon beater" means something more lasting. "Whenever I share the magazine with people," Hoffman said, "I tell them that they can never revoke my geek card. It's proof."
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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