An Autobiographical Game Creator

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s man behind Mario, is the closest thing there is to an autobiographical game creator:

His experience with his family’s pet Shetland sheepdog, and, more to the point, with other dog owners, gave him the idea for Nintendogs, a popular game in which you create a simulation of a pet and look after it on the DSi.

And Pikmin, a game featuring tiny creatures that have stalks protruding from their heads and that live and travel in pods called Onions, arose out of his time puttering in the garden.

When he turned forty, he decided to give up cigarettes and pachinko and get in shape. He took up swimming and jogging, and began weighing himself every day on a digital scale. He hung graphs of the data, down to the gram, on the bathroom wall. “Once the graphs I’d recorded started to pile up, I started to feel a strange fondness for them — regardless of whether I was gaining weight or losing weight,” he said a few years ago, in a Q. & A. with Nintendo’s president, Satoru Iwata. All this became, for his wife and his daughter, a source of curiosity and amusement, and an idea occurred to him. “This could be a nice trigger for conversation,” he told me. “If I could make it into a game, it could probably help isolated fathers get more association with their daughters.” He brought the notion to the team of designers developing games for the Wii. They were skeptical, but eventually they came out with Wii Fit, a fitness game, which has since sold thirty-seven million copies worldwide.

It suits his view, and the industry’s, that introducing an element of play to a transaction or a task can get people to do things they might not normally do. In the commercial sphere, this is called “gamification,” or, more gratingly, “funware”: make something a game, in a supermarket or on a social network, and Homo ludens will play it. “It’s a shame if we narrowly limit the definition of video games,” he said.

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