When Reggie Fils-Aimé retired as president of Nintendo of America in 2019, he wanted to do something meaningful. He started by joining the board of the New York Video Game Critics Circle (NYVGCC), a nonprofit comprising veteran video game journalists and critics. Fils-Aimé, a New York native, had been involved with the group for a few years. With his departure from Nintendo, he had newfound free time to dedicate to the nonprofit.

The organization, which does community outreach across Manhattan, particularly to schools in low-income neighborhoods, hosts the annual New York Game Awards and does other fundraising work to bolster its efforts to offer resources and education about the video game industry to underprivileged students. Paid internships, after-school programs, and courses about video game journalism and game design are a focus of the nonprofit’s advocacy work.

“I was born in the Bronx, and as I engage with these students, I see a bit of myself in them,” Fils-Aimé told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “And my hope as I engage with them is that they see a little bit of me in themselves as they look to grow and apply themselves and to find their own path.”

Fils-Aimé’s involvement dates back to Fall of 2018, when he first visited DreamYard Preparatory School in the Bronx through the NYVGCC. Some of the students in attendance are still in touch with the nonprofit, and — given the Nintendo executive’s rock star status in the world of video games — remember the visit fondly.

Fils-Aimé has since gone back a second time, and spoken to children at a homeless shelter through Google Meet (an in person meetup wasn’t possible due to pandemic-related restrictions). During sessions like these, Fils-Aimé shares details about his career and life, and offers advice to young people aspiring to join the games industry.

“I quickly try to dispel ‘this guy’s coming here, as the [former] president of Nintendo,’” said Fils-Aimé. “No, I’m there as someone who spent the first eight years of my life in the Bronx, who understands what it means to have to bootstrap yourself.”

It’s been a transformative experience in my retirement,” he said.

Kimari Rennis, an 18-year-old who grew up in the Bronx, first became involved with the NYVGCC through an after-school program at DreamYard Prepatory School. Upon completing the after-school program four years ago, she became a paid intern, and is still in the internship program today. She calls the program “very generous” and “life changing,” an opportunity to hone her journalistic skills and also meet luminaries within the video games industry, such as Hideo Kojima and actor Norman Reedus. Eventually, she received a scholarship through the NYVGCC, granting her the ability to enroll in the NYU, where she is currently studying game design.

“I feel like I have accomplished a lot and I feel like I can accomplish a lot more,” Rennis said. “Growing up in the Bronx, in a disenfranchised community and living in poverty, there’s a lot that I’m limited to. But I have never let that stop me through my hard work over the years.”

The internship is made possible through donations from the public, as well as from companies like Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitch. The NYVGCC’s annual New York Game Awards amplify the nonprofit’s reach, as well. Last year, it reached 400,000 viewers on Twitch alone — its biggest audience yet.

This year, on January 26, NYVGCC founder Harold Goldberg (a freelance journalist who has contributed to The Washington Post) and Fils-Aimé are hosting the Awards together for the tenth anniversary, with Geoff Keighley presenting the pre-show. The New York Game Awards had to cancel its in-person event, leading to an exclusively online production. Although that pivot was challenging, it wasn’t all negative.

“I don’t believe Hideo Kojima could have flown from Japan to New York for a live show, so the virtual show was something that he was able to do,” Goldberg said.

Kojima is one of recipients of the Andrew Yoon Legends Award, which recognizes people or organizations that exhibit “significant, sustained body of work that shows exceptional artistic achievement and innovation.” Jerry Lawson, the engineer who pioneered the first video game cartridge and who passed away in 2011, will be awarded posthumously. Game developers Brenda and John Romero will also receive the award together.

Both Fils-Aimé and Goldberg feel a great importance about giving back to their community. For Goldberg in particular, he recognizes that with each visit and mentorship with underprivileged kids that his nonprofit facilitates, he has grown on a personal and professional level.

“I’m not an educator, I’m not a fundraiser,” said Goldberg. “But as a journalist and just as an empathetic human, I get a lot back every time I do this.”

“As critics you kind of become jaded at a certain point, and when you are around students who are very excited about every moment in every game, whether it’s narrative art or the characterization, it rubs off,” he said. “And I think I personally needed that, too, to continue being a longtime writer and critic in entertainment and in the games industry.”

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