Interview with Mindy Yan: The girl who crochets Super Mario

Mindy Yan (right) made the Raccoon Mario rug and question mark ottoman for her living room.

Nintendo “fan” doesn’t seem to be a word that quite reflects the creativity of Mindy Yan, who runs a craft store on Etsy with handmade items that have a Nintendo theme. Her crafts range from crochet dolls to clothing accessories and felt decor. Play As Life interviewed Yan about her passion for Nintendo because she represents a unique demographic of game players– people who not only love playing games, but also love watching their friends play and take visual inspirations from the game to make something creative. Certainly we see that the influence games have on Yan are not the negative ones we hear about in the media; Yan shows us that games can create and spread positive energy.

Play As Life:  What inspired you start handmade crafts?
Mindy Yan: I’ve always loved arts and crafts when I was a kid and learned how to use a sewing machine when I was 11.  I think that really sparked my craftiness.  When I first started making stuffed dolls, I would just cut out 2 copies of the same shape, then sew them together and stuff the finished product, but I quickly learned that in order to make a more 3-D looking stuffed toy, I would need to create my own patterns for all the pieces to fit together like a puzzle.  I stuck with sewing until last February when I decided I wanted to learn to crochet, so I watched YouTube videos on repeat until I grasped the concept.  I guess for that reason, I would still be considered a novice at crocheting.  Every time I start a new project I’m learning new techniques.  My boyfriend would keep telling me I should sell my crafts on Etsy, but for a very long time I would refuse because it seemed like I was giving away my first born child to a stranger.  I’d spend hours making something and would get attached to it, and it didn’t seem right to sell something I’ve invested time and love into.  Eventually I got over that feeling, and it makes me more than happy when I receive a positive response from my customers.

PaL: Is your Etsy shop your primary occupation?
Yan: Oh how I wish it were!  Most of the items I have on my Etsy are made to order and most people would assume that’s considered work, but it’s a hobby of mine so I don’t feel that way.  I’m mainly just surprised and happy to find out that other people enjoy the crafts I make!  Up until December I was working full time as an Operations Manager at a small company, but unfortunately they’ve since gone out of business.  Hopefully I can find something that will allow me to be more creative at work.


What’s the creative process into making, say, a crochet doll?

Yan: Most of the crochet dolls I make are inspired by Nintendo characters.  Typically I will be concentrating on playing a game, but at the same time I like to observe the shapes of the characters and will think of ways to replicate the shapes in crochet form.  I’ll find lots of reference images, then try to replicate the shapes from there. All of the dolls I’ve crocheted are free-form since it’s rare to find a pattern for something I’d like to make (and if I do find a pattern, usually I’m picky about the way it looks or too impatient to follow all the steps!).  I’m not very diligent when it comes to writing down the pattern for my dolls, since I improvise so much when I try to create an accurate look to the character.  I’ve had many crocheters ask me for patterns for my projects, and I always feel terrible that I can’t remember all the steps to share with them.

PaL: Can you explain how your love for Nintendo was sparked?
Yan: Unlike most kids that grew up in the early 90’s, I didn’t grow up with an NES/SNES or any gaming console in the house.  After constant begging and bribes of chores, my mom got my a Gameboy when I was 11 and it was like holding all that is sacred in the palm of my hands, haha!  A year after that, my dad found an old NES and a box of game cartridges at a thrift store and I don’t think anything has been the same since!  I discovered that unlike The Legend of Zelda, the Super Mario games did not have save states.  I would leave the NES on with the TV screen off so that my mom wouldn’t know the NES was still on and yell at me for wasting electricity, then resume my game-play after dinner and homework.  My best friend had a SNES and Super Mario World and I would spend most weekends in elementary school at her house playing through the game.

PaL: What is it about Nintendo that you find attractive/appealing?
Yan: All of their games are family friendly and aimed towards a younger crowd.  I think I still have the mentality of a kid, so they definitely have my attention for being just plain fun and wholesome.  Some of the most addicting Nintendo games I’ve played were the Animal Crossing series, and those are very kid friendly.  Other console games typically involve a lot more violence and horror and I’m easily startled and scared so obviously it would be a bad idea if I tried to play say…the Silent Hill series.

PaL: What would you say is “proof” of your love for Nintendo?
Yan: I don’t have any Nintendo related tattoos or the like, but I did spend about 15 days (approximately 120 hours) crocheting a giant 7×7′ Raccoon Mario rug which ended up giving me temporary Carpal Tunnel for a few weeks after I was finished.  If that’s not dedication, I’m not sure what is!

PaL: Do you play games on any other consoles? What types/genres of games do you play?
Yan: My favorite games are kid friendly and fighting games, where at first I try to do all the special combo moves but resort to becoming like a frustrated 7 year old, button mashing in the end.  We have an XBOX 360 in our apartment and I’ve mainly stuck to Street Fighter IX since it’s a fighting game where you don’t die (that’s actually a very important aspect to me, haha).  I’m also a huge fan of Katamari Damacy games for Playstation as well, which is also very kid friendly and just plain awesome.  What other game lets you roll a sticky space ball to collect cows, houses and planets!

PaL: You have a lot of pictures of Nintendo decor in your house on your Flickr site. Could you introduce some unique items?
Yan: We have Blik brand Super Mario Bros. level 1-1 wall stickers in our bathroom, which actually prompted me to make all the other decor to keep up with the theme.  First would be the 7×7 foot Raccoon Mario rug I crocheted for my boyfriend.  This is like my child, it’s definitely what I’m most proud of.  It also takes up a lot of empty space on our living room floor, which is great because we used to have too much empty space!  I’ve also made an accompanying 15×15″ Question Mark Block ottoman to complete the Mario theme on the floor, which also doubles as my gaming seat or a good foot rest when you need to tie your shoes.  On the back of the living room wall, I’ve put up nine 8×8″ canvases I’ve painted with a Fire Flower, Starman and Power Mushroom to replicate a bonus game in Super Mario World.  In the bonus game there are 9 rotating panels with those power-ups and you have to get Mario to jump at the right time to try to get as many of the same one in a row for extra lives.  I tried to paint the power-ups on the canvases so the finished piece would look like it’s a screen shot of the icons spinning in the game.
PaL: Your Raccoon Mario rug has been getting a lot of attention. What inspired you to make that?
Yan: It was actually a birthday present for my boyfriend Andrew.  He grew up having an NES and SNES and the Mario series was also his favorite so I wanted to make something specifically with him in mind.  I’m actually very surprised at all of the positive response I’ve received for it, I never imagined it would get so much attention just by posting the finished product on a crafting forum.  I am really truly flattered that people enjoy something that I’ve made!

PaL: What are your favorite Nintendo games and why?
Yan: This is such a difficult question!  I can narrow it down to my favorite series of games, which would be Super Mario anything, The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and Super Smash Bros.  None of the games in those series has ever steered me wrong.  I’ve invested the most time in the Animal Crossing series since it’s so ridiculously addicting.  The Legend of Zelda series has such amazing game play and it’s just enough suspense that I can handle them without getting scared.  I’ve had the most fun playing and re-playing the Super Mario series since those games never get old to me and make me the happiest (and most frustrated at times!).  But I think Super Smash Bros. Brawl has a very special place in my heart because I actually got teary eyed when I first played the game.  The music is just so epic and moving, I couldn’t help it.  I felt really geeky at that point, haha!

PaL: How do you feel about being labeled as a “gamer”
Yan: That’s really surprising to me, especially since most people would not consider huge Nintendo fans to be gamers.  I’d definitely take it as a compliment if someone really meant it though!

PaL: When did you start playing computer games?
Yan: Maybe when I was 6 or so, the school I was attending built a computer lab for the students and each grade was able to use it on a different day.  They had learning games like Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster and of course Oregon Trail.  The worst was when playing Oregon Trail, you’d need to decide how to float across the river and I’d always decide to wade through it and get a message that it was too deep and I lost supplies and a couple members of my party drowned.  I never really got into playing computer games, but I do enjoy watching my boyfriend play Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead as well as lots of other titles.  It seems more fun to watch him play and be a backseat player yelling out “There’s one over there!  Oh, he got you.  I saw that coming.” instead of me actually playing the games and constantly dying and getting frustrated!

PaL: How do your friends and family feel about your Nintendo love?
Yan: Honestly I’m not so sure!
PaL: Do you think the “cute” items that you make reflect who you are?
Yan: Definitely not.  I’m a rather cynical tomboy and “cute” would not be the best word to describe the way I carry myself, haha.  Although it does reflect my inner child…I think as we grow older we miss being kids that tell stories that go nowhere, running around and screaming for no reason and just having such an innocent imagination.  I’m sure the cute dolls I’ve made resemble all of that and the desire to just be a kid again.

PaL: How would you feel if Nintendo asked you one to give them royalties for basing your designs on their characters?
Yan: I would probably be really surprised that they had taken notice of my crafts in specific!  I’d be happy and scared, haha!  But I would definitely oblige, as the characters do belong to Nintendo and that is the most respectful thing to do.

PaL: Do you think the Wii has changed your perspective of gaming?
Yan: It has!  I love the concept of more interactive gaming where you’re required to shake or swing the remote for specific actions in games.  It’s become a habit of mine when I’m playing emulators on my phone and I’ll shake my phone to jump and realize, “Oh wait, what am I doing– this isn’t the Wii.” haha.
*All images were provided by Mindy Yan

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