This year, Japan’s most successful video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (宮本 茂) will turn 60. Arguably, he’s the most successful game designer in the world.
His name might not sound familiar to you, but his body of work definitely will. Shigeru Miyamoto is the person behind such hits as ‘Donkey Kong’ (ドンキーコング), ‘The Legend of Zelda’ (ゼルダの伝説 スカイウォードソード) and ‘Mario Bros.’ (マリオブラザーズ) . All these game titles were developed for Nintendo game systems and then played by millions around the globe.
I remember the first time I’ve played a game on the famous Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was in my friend’s house and we almost spent the whole day in front of the TV. The magic with this console was, that most of the games were playable by two players using two separate controllers. We didn’t have to watch each other play and take turns. We could actually go through the game together competing or cooperating. When I encourage students at Smiths English Kyobashi (スミス 英会話 京橋) to reminiscent about their early experiences with video gaming, it reminds me how primitive these games were in ‘those days’. When I say ‘those days’ I mean mid 80’s and early 90’s. NES was an 8-bit video console which is a laughable system nowadays. It’s quite remarkable how far has the technology progressed in the last twenty years. Today, it’s completely normal to see young kids on the train playing 3D video game on handheld consoles competing with each other via wireless connection. To see anything like that when I was 10, would be an out of this world experience. It would just blow me away!
During the English conversation (英会話) lessons I found out that many students share the same sentiments with me and have similar memories about playing Nintendo with friends. They also started playing games on an 8-bit NES, only in Japan it was called Family Computer (ファミリーコンピュータ) and had quite different design. But the system and games were all same. Some of them, still are the same!
The best example is Nintendo’s most famous creation, ‘Mario’ (マ リオ). Miyamoto created this character for 80’s superb arcade game ‘Donkey Kong’. In this game Mario had all of the familiar characteristics (blue cap, moustache, baggy trousers) but was simply called the ‘Jump Man’. Two years later Miyamoto renamed the character to Mario and gave him a brother Luigi. So in 1983 one of the most iconic games was released: ‘Mario Bros’. Game about an Italian plumber trying to save a princess. Jumping on platforms through many obstacles, while trying to avoid numerous dangers on the way. The game was simple with adorable graphic design, catchy tunes and addictive game play. The best recipe for a hit. Today, ‘Mario Bros’ is the most successful video game franchise of all time. The character ‘Mario’ became a mascot for Nintendo and is Miyamoto’s favourite creation. There aren’t many people in the world who wouldn’t recognize ‘Super Mario Bros’. If anybody (called Mario) becomes very successful in their field of work or sport, their nickname is automatically granted as ‘Super Mario’. This trend is really popular in sports. I can’t even remember how many ‘Super Marios’ I’ve watched on TV play football, ice-hockey, ski or cycle on prestigious races.The character became so iconic, that in Zaragoza, Spain a street is named in its honour. It’s called ‘Avenida de Super Mario Bros’. ‘Super Mario Bros’ franchise is now a game giant with more than 100 titles to its name. It’s been an important part of modern pop culture for more than twenty years.
Something similar can be said about Miyamoto’s other game, ‘The Legend of Zelda’. Although not so iconic in mainstream pop culture, in the gaming world ‘Zelda’ is highly regarded and respected game. It was created in 1987 and as crazy as it might sound, last year we had the 18th installment of this game: ‘The Legend of Zelda- Skyward Sword’ released on Nintendo Wii.
As Miyamoto turns 60 this year, he can look back with pride at his unbelievably successful work log at the first and only job in his life. He started at Nintendo in 1979 and never left. Over the years he has collected many prizes and awards recognizing his talent and work.
This month Shigeru Miyamoto won a prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Communications and Humanities. He was praised for ‘excluding violence from his creations’ and making video games ‘a medium capable of bringing people together regardless of sex, age or social or cultural status’. I think that it perfectly summarize this man’s legacy.