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Remembering the strange tale of Queen Elizabeth II and the golden Nintendo Wii

A console fit for a queen?
Enlarge / A console fit for a queen?

The 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, which ended yesterday with her death, will be remembered for the many historical events and world figures with which it intersected. Among fans of video game marginalia, it will also be remembered for a marketing stunt from a now-defunct video game publisher that sent a gold-plated Wii to Her Majesty.

The story of the queen’s connection to the Nintendo console begins in early 2008, when the UK tabloid Sunday People published a lightly sourced story alleging that “the gadget-loving Queen has become hooked on Prince William’s new Nintendo Wii games console.”

An unnamed “palace source” supposedly told the paper that the queen “begged to join in” after seeing the then-25-year-old William play with his Christmas gift (from then-girlfriend Kate Middleton) at Sandringham House. The then-81-year-old monarch reportedly had “hand-eye coordination [that] was as good as somebody half her age” (we wonder what her Wii Fit age would have been) and “showed all the signs of becoming a Nintendo addict.”

Fast forward to 2009, when THQ launched Big Family Games (known in the US as Neighborhood Games) for the Wii. The badly reviewed Wii Sports knockoff focused on games like bocce, horseshoes, and “ladder golf” and would be little remembered today if not for a unique marketing campaign cooked up by THQ UK.

To stress the “family” part of the title, THQ said it sent a copy of the game to the royal family, “arguably the most important family in the country,” as THQ’s Danielle Robinson put it in the accompanying press release. To give the story a bit of extra pizzazz, THQ commissioned a unique gold-plated Wii to send along with the game because “we thought that Her Majesty the Queen wouldn’t want to play on any old console.”

The idea of Queen Elizabeth II playing a horrible game of virtual horseshoes on a gold-plated Wii is inherently hilarious.

The idea of Queen Elizabeth II playing a horrible game of virtual horseshoes on a gold-plated Wii is inherently hilarious.

While it’s fun to imagine an octogenarian monarch playing on a one-of-a-kind gold-plated console, it seems the queen never even received the special, shiny system. As the royal family’s official contact page states plainly, “For security reasons, the Correspondence Team are unable to accept any unsolicited gifts which are sent to The Queen.”

Thus, the gold-plated Wii was quietly sent back to THQ, which failed to send out a second press release clarifying the initial stop-and-gawk coverage of “the queen’s golden Wii.” As far as anyone knew, Queen Elizabeth II was the lucky owner of one of the rarest and most blinged-out game consoles in the world.

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