There was a time when interactive entertainment was simply two lines and a square “ball” on a screen. This piece of entertainment was called Pong.Although it wasn’t the first game on the scene (Computer Space beat it to the punch) Pong achieved massive popularity and it only exploded once it came home in console form in 1975. This is largely considered the first major boom in the gaming industry.
Every industry has a “father” figure that is widely considered the person from which all industry achievements would not exist without. In the game industry, it’s not Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell or any other person who is tied to some version of Pong. This accolade belongs to Shigeru Miyamoto, known in many circles as “the Walt Disney of Gaming” or “the father of modern video games.”
At a youthful 55 years old, Miyamoto’s face still lights up at the sight of innovation and the art of the video game. While he may not be seen as the innovator with the same fervor today, he’s simply going in a new direction. Sure he’s the guy who brought us Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, F-Zero and Star Fox franchises, but in his later years he brought us game that focus more on the beauty of creation and relationships with the critically acclaimed Pikmin series and the wildly popular Nintendogs series for the Nintendo DS.
And it is in his latest philosophies where Miyamoto is carving out his own path yet again. Instead of always designing the same old gun-toting, destructive interactions of most modern games, especially American ones, Miyamoto continues to explore the value of life and creation in his designs, bringing it all home to the consumer. We’ve already seen his influence through the phenomenon that is the Nintendo Wii platform itself, bringing hardcore gamer geeks and their grandmas together for Wii Bowling. Heck, he even made Time’s 100 most influential people list in 2007. But it’s the subtle influences of life in his game designs that keep him regarded as the best in the business.
One day Miyamoto was tending his garden. He was in awe at the process of planting, growing and harvesting and the general admiration of the beauty that can arise out of the garden. This is when the crazy idea of making some sort of garden-influenced game came to mind. As cheesy and boring as it may sound, he did not end up with a design reminiscent of literally watching grass grow on your TV screen. The end result was Pikmin, a title where the player plants and harvests little flower creatures. You play as Captain Olimar whose job is to keep all the Pikmin alive, safe from the large bugs and animals that inhabit the planet. Quite a far cry from the shoot-to-kill mentality, eh?
A few years after bringing an evolved sense of gardening to gaming, Miyamoto oversaw the advent of Wii Fit, a new interactive way to bring health into the fold of non-traditional gaming. So instead of playing a version of creation on screen, the player would literally be working out, which in and of itself isn’t new or innovative, but bringing it into the fold of interactive games is more than admirable. Even the joy of playing music is made simpler, a-la Guitar Hero or Rock Band, in Wii Music – a simpler way to enjoy the beauty of making music than even the aforementioned blockbusters.
This isn’t to say that no one aside from Miyamoto thinks of creative ways to play a game, expanding on life-based ideas, but there is no one as inspired or as consistently original as the father of video games. It can be easily argued that all current innovations on gameplay can be tracked back to one of Miyamoto’s.