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The New Yorker profiles Shigeru Miyamoto
December 13, 2010 1:11 PM   Subscribe

There are generally two approaches to thinking about games: narratology and ludology. The first emphasizes story, the second play. The next time I played Super Mario, on the Wii (you can order all the vintage games), I found myself in a narratological mode. Mario reminded me of K. and his pursuit of the barmaid Frieda, in Kafka’s “The Castle,” and of the kind of lost-loved-one dreams that “The Castle” both mimics and instigates.

The New Yorker profiles the father of modern video games, Shigeru Miyamoto. (via Kotaku)
posted by incomple (37 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another choice bit that I would only expect to read in the New Yorker:
[G]ames, regardless of how much we may love them, are by definition trivial and superfluous. For whatever reason, everyone deems some games worthier or more virtuous than others (except for those outliers who have no interest in any kind of game at all). You may think that bridge is noble, and that blackjack is dumb; that football is courageous, while squash is for wimps, or else that football is idiotic and squash refined. Often, the judgments have to do with ancillary benefits: Athletics enhance fitness and character but take time away from your studies or the festival of foreign films. Chess stimulates the mind but can crimp your love life. Video games, no matter how many people love them, rarely fare well in these matchups. The best analogue for their combined disreputability and ubiquity may be masturbation.
posted by incomple at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure whether I'm bothered or delighted that someone who is "not a gamer" and "decided to avoid them completely" got to meet and write about the father of modern video games.
posted by Avenger50 at 1:14 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure whether I'm bothered or delighted that someone who is "not a gamer" and "decided to avoid them completely" got to meet and write about the father of modern video games.

The New Yorker: Getting Rich People Vaguely Acquainted With Stuff Since 1925
posted by theodolite at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2010 [35 favorites]


And Quixotically Defending that Fucking Umlaut in "Coöperation"
posted by theodolite at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


...barmaid Frieda, in Kafka’s “The Castle,”...

Sorry, but your princess is in another castle.
posted by AloneOssifer at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure whether I'm bothered or delighted that someone who is "not a gamer" and "decided to avoid them completely" got to meet and write about the father of modern video games.

The last big videogame article they had was also written by someone who could barely play a game. It was great.

Honestly? I spend a not-insignificant portion of my life reading magazines and blog entries by people who concentrate more on playing games than writing well. The reverse is more than welcome.
posted by griphus at 1:28 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Because coöperation is fuckin' metal, man.
posted by GuyZero at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the fact that he got the narratology/ludology divide shows that he made an effort to understand the subject.
posted by empath at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I haven't seen a human being whose chin is that deeply sunken into his neck like that. I mean, what's he hiding in there?"
posted by Rhaomi at 1:37 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


That was kind of my attitude, griphus. Most video game journalism (though by no means all, obviously) is appalling. Seeing the topic written about with even a meager degree of elegance is very, very pleasant.

Similarly along these lines is Invasion of the Space Invaders by Martin Amis (yes, that Martin Amis). You can forgive how much he gets wrong (such as calling the ghosts in Pac-Man "Pac-Men," while referring to Pac-Man himself as "the yellow monster," or whatever) simply because it's a book about video games, full of Amis's wonderful prose.

This makes me think, given that it's VERY out of print, maybe I should scan it and share it with the world...
posted by incomple at 1:39 PM on December 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Miyamoto is a genius. Pikmin on the Dreamcast is still one of the best games I've ever played.

Pikmin 2, not so much.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2010


This makes me think, given that it's VERY out of print, maybe I should scan it and share it with the world...

If I can facilitate this in any way, shape or form, let me know.
posted by griphus at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2010


I've read several profiles of Mr. Miyamoto, and they never seem to go much deeper than his exuberant smile and childhood spelunking. He obviously doesn't want them to, but the "Walt Disney of Videogames" comparison really seems quite apt, and Amazon lists 186 biographies of Disney. The only biography of Miyamoto it lists is a 48 page pamphlet for kids 9-12.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 1:49 PM on December 13, 2010


And Quixotically Defending that Fucking Umlaut in "Coöperation"

It's a dieresis, you insensitive clöd!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:59 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


In the gaming world, the creators of the games are not always widely known, much less venerated; the structure of the business, in which engineers and artists do their work for hire, and in which, increasingly, they do it in greater numbers
I think what you see is a veneration not of individual developers, but of companies, like Blizzard. The famous designers are mostly people who got into the game industry early, when individuals could make a huge difference.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 PM on December 13, 2010


Video games, no matter how many people love them, rarely fare well in these matchups. The best analogue for their combined disreputability and ubiquity may be masturbation.

Heh, this analogy is brought up in Dara O'Briain's standup bit about his love for videogames.
posted by kmz at 2:17 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The ending of the article seemed like a literary stretch, trying to find something to tie the whole thing together -- groping for some metaphor like link searching desperately through every vase in a dungeon for the key. Except instead of opening another world, the metaphor would close the story.
posted by delmoi at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pikmin on the Dreamcast

Imagine what Miyamoto, creator of the original Donkey Kong arcade game that gave Nintendo its legs in the early days of the video gaming industry, who stuck around and created brilliant first-party game after brilliant first-party game for his beloved Nintendo that would keep Nintendo ahead of Sega in the later console wars, would say to "Pikmin on the [completely failed] Dreamcast."
posted by dubusadus at 2:47 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the title "the father of modern video games." Wouldn't that just make him the father of ... video games?
posted by Edgewise at 3:59 PM on December 13, 2010


I don't understand the title "the father of modern video games." Wouldn't that just make him the father of ... video games?

Sure, if you were completely neglecting the 30+ years of video games preceding the introduction of the Nintendo.
posted by nzero at 4:08 PM on December 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


> "Pikmin on the [completely failed] Dreamcast."

Oops...yeah, I meant GameCube.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:10 PM on December 13, 2010


I see your point, Edgewise, if "modern" was being applied in its most literal and broad sense. Here's my non-authoritative and hastily typed out attempt to answer your question... (Everyone else, feel free to correct as needed.)

Among lots of gamers (if not all of us), there's definitely a line drawn between "classic" and "modern" games, whether or not the dividing line is the release of the Famicom/NES, or the video game crash of '83/'84, or both... Perhaps other events are used to mark this division, but these are the two that come to mind most immediately.

Whatever is used to mark the division, the character (if not fundamental nature) of video games changed in the mid-80s, and it's a change that's owed largely (if not entirely) to the games developed by Shigeru Miyamoto. It's arguable that without the NES and Super Mario Bros. entering the market, the American console video game industry would've never recovered from the crash. (This had lots of other side-effects, too, like game development becoming primarily centered in Japan, rather than North America.)

If one was to discuss the father of all video games, I guess you'd talk about the guys who invented Spacewar!, or Ralph Baer, or maybe, if you weren't being strictly fair, Nolan Bushnell. But when it comes to recognizing the father behind the games industry as it currently exists, and how most people know it, it's not an exaggeration to say that the distinction rests almost solely on Miyamoto's shoulders.

As an aside, it's interesting to talk to kids now, even very young ones, because they definitely seem to know and appreciate the lineage from the NES to the present day consoles, whereas that simply wasn't the case when I was a kid (born in '84, got an NES in '87). So far as we were concerned, it started with NES, and unless you had significantly older brothers, you were only vaguely aware of a primitive thing called "Atari." I suspect this is thanks in no small part to Nintendo's amazing branding and self-mythologizing over the last 25 years.
posted by incomple at 4:28 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


The New Yorker really, really hates video games. Tom Bissel seems to be the only writer to have made a case for their merit and elegance. Then again, I'm a huge games booster and I can think of maybe only a handful of titles that approach the elegance, depth and craftsmanship of your average PG13, Michael Bay-gasam.

Increasingly games are spectacles. And spectacles require spectators, not participants.
posted by GilloD at 4:50 PM on December 13, 2010


To the New Yorker's credit, GilloD, Anthony Lane approaches Michael Bay movies with the exact same attitude.
posted by griphus at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2010


I suspect this is thanks in no small part to Nintendo's amazing branding and self-mythologizing over the last 25 years.

You can get all that from the trophies in Super Smash Bros.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:58 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Increasingly games are spectacles. And spectacles require spectators, not participants.


More true than you think.
posted by starman at 5:24 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Inspired by Atari, and by the craze for a new arcade game called Space Invaders, Yamauchi, who told Sheff that he had never played a video game, led Nintendo into the arcade business, and also pushed for the development of a home console like Atari’s, an apparatus that would come to be called the Family Computer, or Famicom."

As my grade 11 English teacher would say: if you have enough commas in one sentence to field a Quidditch team, consider revising.
posted by saturday_morning at 6:33 PM on December 13, 2010


As my grade 11 English teacher would say: if you have enough commas in one sentence to field a Quidditch team, consider revising.

If you are suggesting, in brazen discordance with the received opinion of the intellectual classes of North America very nearly in toto, that the prose to be found in the pages of the New Yorker is anything other than intrinsically better than all other periodical writing, despite the recurrence of a certain stilted, stuffy, oft-overwrought house style, a slavish devotion to chronological storytelling, a relentlessly flat affect, and a general sense of motionlessness that might call to lesser minds the musty scent of a shuttered museum, then I would suggest that you are in dire need of reëducation.

I shall now retrieve the monocle that has popped out of my eye, propelled thus by my cartoonish incredulity, and read to you at full length from the Web log postings of rabid John McPhee fans. Many include multiple footnotes. It shall be a proverbial hoot.
posted by gompa at 7:03 PM on December 13, 2010 [15 favorites]


Increasingly games are spectacles. And spectacles require spectators, not participants.

More true than you think.


Oh, and this: playing a level of COD:BLOPs without firing a gun.
posted by starman at 7:31 PM on December 13, 2010


As my grade 11 English teacher would say: if you have enough commas in one sentence to field a Quidditch team, consider revising.

Maybe if you’re writing for a grade 11 audience. Have we really sunk that far? Are we expected to avoid writing sentences not strictly adhering to the pattern of simple subject, simple verb, simple object?

David Foster Wallace must be spinning in his grave.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:38 PM on December 13, 2010


Gompa, in your effort, well-intentioned as it may be, to mock the overwrought, and occasionally stilted, style used in the quotation that saturday_morning, appealing to what he or she would deem an authority, cited, you have actually stumbled across a counterexample, brilliant precisely because it was unintended, to the guideline posited by Mr. morning's grade 11 teacher.

I'm too tired to keep that up. Lots of commas don't make English hard to read. Long, embedded phrases that break up the flow of thought and make you lose track of the sentence structure do. And hearing someone quote their 11th-grade teacher referring to Harry Potter makes me feel old.
posted by ErWenn at 8:26 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


complete derail, but: spitefulcrow's comment just put me in a very low mood. Apparently something deep within my brain hasn't yet fully understood or accepted the fact that David Foster Wallace is in fact for reals occupying a grave right now. The chain of reactions went, roughly, "heh, David Foster Wallace spinning in his grave? that makes no sense. Oh, wait, it's a joke, you know, when you claim that someone who is in fact quite young and healthy and not remotely dead at all is 'spinning in their grave' in order to poke fun at the ubiquity of the phrase. yes, that's how it makes sense.

[a brief pause].

... oh."

so, yeah. that is my narrative about what happened in the five seconds before I started typing this comment.

vague gesture toward re-railing: the new yorker house style is kinda aesthetically questionable, though, aside from questions of what level of complexity is appropriate for different writing venues. DFW's writing was difficult in pretty and spectacular ways, while the New Yorker very frequently features writing that is difficult and also blends in quite well with the wallpaper.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:29 PM on December 13, 2010


This was the key kit for me:
His games strike this magical balance between the excitement that comes from facing new problems and the swagger from facing down old ones. The consequent sensation of confidence is useful, in dealing with a game’s more challenging stages, but also a worthy aim in itself. “A lot of the so-called ‘action games’ are not made that way,” Miyamoto told me. “All the time, players are forced to do their utmost. If they are challenged to the limit, is it really fun for them?”
I've been in a situation this week where I've basically been stuck in my apartment without much of anything to do. So I decided to finally take on "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," regularly considered the greatest game yet made.

I don't have a hell of a lot of experience with Zelda games. My field is in Mario, where with every new game my instincts are honed to know where the hidden blocks are and what needs to be done and so on and so forth. I had the original, gold-cart game, given to me on Christmas 24 years ago by a grandmother who just turned 90 two weeks ago and whom I haven't thanked properly for how cool that gift was, but things have changed a lot in Zelda since then.

I can say that "Ocarina" will never be my favorite game - the control scheme is extremely frustrating to me, and the N64 came at a tough leap-forward moment for graphics, where the polygons made even the best moments look hideous by modern standards - but I definitely get the reverence it holds for so many people. Moreover, I don't have Zelda-instincts, which are required in order to play the game without frequently relying on a guide, as I have to do. Zelda afficianados see an unlit torch and know that it has to be put ablaze somehow or else you're not going anywhere. I pass by them without noticing them.

But as to the quote above: There's a common (so I'm told) Zelda enemy called a Stalfos. This is basically a sword-fighting pseudo-pirate Skeleton. In "Ocarina," they're fairly large and are good at constantly blocking your attacks, so that you have to anticipate when they'll move out of the defensive posture to take a swipe at you so that you can strike then, hopefully hitting them first. I first encountered these guys in the Forest Temple, and they kicked my ass. I breathed a heavier sigh of relief after beating my first round with several of them than I has in the last few years of gaming.

They next show up in the Shadow Temple, which is vicious in it's own regard, but the thing it, between those two appearances, you've gone through the temples of Fire and (most importantly) Water. The Water Temple is a notoriously tough stage, both for it's challenging 4-dimensional puzzles and a fairly insane boss battle. By the time I saw a Stalfos again, I almost laughed. "Seriously? Dealing with you again?" And I destroyed them with ease.

But here's the thing: I hadn't had more practice against them. I hadn't powered up in any way significant to fighting them. There was no reason to be cocky except that by that point I had faced stuff so daunting that my earlier fear of these guys was a joke. And my previous bane became a breath of "I got this" fresh air in a punishingly difficult stage.

I know Miyamoto isn't the only developer to understand that concept, but he accomplishes it so beautifully, and every time out the gate. I just feel the need to mention it.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 PM on December 13, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'll continue...

Zelda is primarily about exploration, but within that exploration there are very specific ways in which the player may advance - they are simply up to the player to suss out and discover.

Mario, in a brilliant bit of symmetry, is linear on paper, but with infinite ways in which to tackle the obstacles facing the player. This on it's own isn't terribly different from any other platform game, except that Mario, at it's truest, rewards the player for doing unexpected things.

Think about this for a minute. There was great music before Mozart. There were great plays before Shakespeare. There were great painters before DaVinci. All of these were game-changing geniuses, however. But none of them saw the startling break from all which came before as Miyamoto saw with Super Mario Bros. Are Pac-Man and Frogger still awesome? Sure, but they are prehistoric, because gaming history begins with SMB.

And in SMB, you play through 1-1, jumping on goombas and koopah and dodging pits until you reach the flagpole, and then, in 1-2, you find yourself underground, doing much the same thing in a different environment, except you've got a brick roof over your head.

But about midway through, the game gives you a point where you can break that roof, and try to jump up on top of it, to the area relegated only to stats. This isn't the play area! And yet you do so, and in running across that roof you eventually find yourself given the option of warping to three later stages.

This is the game that begat all games to come, and even in that first iteration, Miyamoto was asking you to break the gameplay, to question your assumptions about what you had only then been truly acquainted with.

I humbly submit that for many, if not most of today's gamers, the moment in World 2-2, where you break through the ceiling and get a prize for your creativity, is the moment when those gamers realized that this medium provided a space for them to try and do anything.

Miyamoto is a living Great. He is more than just Disney, he is the Homer of video games.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:30 PM on December 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


But here's the thing: I hadn't had more practice against them. I hadn't powered up in any way significant to fighting them. There was no reason to be cocky except that by that point I had faced stuff so daunting that my earlier fear of these guys was a joke. And my previous bane became a breath of "I got this" fresh air in a punishingly difficult stage.

Awesome explanation of what makes the great Nintendo games great.
posted by callmejay at 10:56 AM on December 14, 2010


Found it... profile of Mr. Miyamoto in a 1990 Nintendo Power (it went along with a feature on the making of Super Mario Bros. 3). Issue #10.
posted by starman at 7:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Opps.. Issue #10 is here.
posted by starman at 7:44 PM on December 14, 2010


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