How Hacking Nintendo Systems Took Over My Life


Carter Bussi, Contributor

I still vividly remember sitting in my room with my Nintendo 3DS XL, an ancient computer, and a “guide” on how to mod Nintendo consoles. I was in 6th grade and was attempting to jailbreak my Nintendo 3DS for the first time. I was downloading files off suspicious looking websites that probably gave my computer malware. Files that I then would inject into my 3DS, only to fail. Error screen after error screen, nothing was working right. I attempted to watch Youtube videos, all of which were published eight years ago and looked like they were recorded using a camera that was decades older than I am. 

After a few hours of thinking I completely destroyed my 3DS, I finally got it. Like something out of a movie, I was able to inject the right files correctly, and my 3DS displayed a green screen. “Got Arm9 arbitrary code execution!” read my 3DS. It was on that day I was introduced to the world of hacking Nintendo consoles. 

Flash forwards a few years and I have amassed a large collection of Nintendo products that were all running custom firmware. I collected tons of 3DS systems by buying them off my classmates so I could test out suspicious programs that I didn’t want to run on my main 3DS. I would walk up to random kids around my school and ask if they had a 3DS. If they said yes, I would say my sales pitch and usually buy them for around $20-$25. 

I pretty much grew up on Nintendo. I received a Nintendo Wii as a Christmas present when I was 8 years old. From then on out I would try and play as much Wii as I could. My brother and I would spend hours playing Mario Kart Wii and Wii Sports. Some of my fondest childhood memories are with my Wii. 

When the 3DS was released in 2011, I asked my parents for it for my birthday and Christmas for years. It wasn’t until,three years later, I got it for Christmas and I only received one game, Mario Kart 7, which would remain my only game for over a year. Even though I only had Mario Kart 7, I play that game almost every day. I maxed out all the grand prix on all CCs. I had an online score of almost 10,000.

Over the years I would eventually get more games for my 3DS, a few Pokemon and Zelda games. I would also play these games nonstop for hours. I always wanted to play different games, but the fact I was in elementary school made it  hard to obtain any. 

This all changed once I got to middle school and was introduced to emulation, or playing games on their non-intended console. I was soon obsessed with emulating games on my parents’ old computer. I was suddenly able to play any Nintendo game I wanted, and it felt like a whole new world had opened up for me. I was introduced to tons of games, sometimes anywhere from 10 to 20 years old. I spent a ton of time playing through the original Mario, Kirby and Zelda games by emulating read-only-memory(ROMs) games I had found on the internet. 

Although I had tons of fun playing these games on my computer, there is something off about playing a Nintendo game on a computer using an Xbox controller with poorly mapped controls on a laptop. I wanted to play these Nintendo games on a Nintendo console. 

I had no way of getting my hands on any of the original consoles. But throughout my research on online emulators, I had stumbled upon modifying, or modding, current Nintendo consoles, and I was intrigued. 

I wanted to hack my 3DS, but knew the risk; I was terrified of bricking my console. Bricking a console means you freeze and essentially destroy the device. Nintendo has measures in-place to prevent people from hacking their consoles, which would result in a bricked system. I thought about hacking my 3DS for weeks, and everytime would discourage myself from trying. I had spent so much time on my 3DS and I didn’t want to risk losing it…But eventually I gave in.

One day I sat down and spent hours hacking my first 3DS. It took a while, and after many mistakes , I eventually  was able to get Homebrew running on it. Homebrew is a 3rd party program that can be run on most modded consoles; it was my gateway into hacked 3DS. 

Once I successfully hacked my 3DS, I was able to play any Nintendo game (with some exceptions of new home consoles) on a portable device. I started playing weird and obscure games in my free time on my 3DS. Ever play Pictionary for the NES released back in 1990? I have, it’s actually pretty fun and has a banging soundtrack for an early ‘90s game.

Because I bought up a bunch of 3DS systems from people at my school, I was able to test out all sorts of online Homebrew softwares without worrying about my main console breaking. Now I have all sorts of funky 3DS systems with the weirdest, broken programs on them. 

If people weren’t willing to sell me their 3DS, I would offer a hacking service. I didn’t charge much, most of the time nothing at all. But since I had all of the correct files and knowledge on how to correctly hack a system, I was able to do it in about 20 minutes, and I really enjoyed doing it. 

After hacking 3DS systems for a while, I realized the hacking itself became a game. I spent more time modding my console than playing on them. I discovered my love for tinkering with things, and it was a big reason why I joined the Academy of Engineering and Technology (AET) and San Rafael High. AET being the main reason I’m studying Mechanical Engineering next year in college. 

Nintendo was a crucial part of my childhood, but not in the traditional sense. I have made friends and learned how to overcome obstacles. Through all of my time spent hacking consoles, I found something I was passionate about. That being creating things and solving problems. 

I have learned that something as insignificant as hacking Nintendo consoles can tell you a lot about yourself. It’s the odd hobbies and things you are passionate about that will teach you what you are truly interested in. I wasn’t hacking Nintendo consoles to prove I could do it, or make a product, I was doing it because I enjoyed it. And because of that, I found something that I want to pursue more in the future.