After E3 2014, comments were made by Shigeru Miyamoto on creative immaturity in video games. The video game legend, who is responsible for the beloved franchises of Mario and Zelda amongst others, made the comments when he was asked about the transitional period that Nintendo finds themselves during the 2014 Shareholders Meeting.
The games on display at E3 2014 ran a fairly wide gambit from exploration games like No Man’s Sky, to the co-op centric fantasy games of Fable and the decidedly Orwellian Inside. But apart from the titles that made imaginations swell and the child like dreams take wing on an orange planet only to be taken into space, there was another revelation during E3 that Miyamoto noticed:
Every year a number of companies exhibit at E3 and Nintendo is compared with other companies, most likely with Sony and Microsoft. This year, the majority of what the other developers exhibited was bloody shooter software that was mainly set in violent surroundings or, in a different sense, realistic and cool worlds. Because so many software developers are competing in that category, it seemed like most of the titles at the show were of that kind. In such circumstances, Nintendo looked very unique and was able to receive such positive reactions as “Nintendo had a variety of different software” and “the company is offering games we can feel safe with.” From this aspect of differentiation with the other companies, we had a great E3 show this year.”
Despite the fact that Nintendo only revealed one new game property in Splatoon and fan favorite Metroid was no where to be seen, Nintendo was able to showcase games that made us smile and reminded us of the fun we had as younger gamers before the gun was put in our digital hands. The candid talks in the yarn shop about Yoshi’s Wooly World was a show stealer and someone on etsy is going to make a pretty penny if they can sell Yoshi dolls like the ones showcased in the video.
But before the Nintendo event, the creative immaturity Miyamoto references was shown off at the Microsoft and Sony press conferences. Bloodborne, The Order, Let it Die, Assassin’s Creed: Unity were the stand out examples, but the one that took the show was Mortal Kombat. Spinal columns being exposed and crushed, ribs being broken in, metal claws through the eyes and nose and reaching through Sub Zero’s blasted out chest to grab his spinal column and break it in half made one of the most disturbing displays of gratuitous carnage in recent memory. And like Saint Augustine’s confessions there was a draw to it which was exhibited in the E3 crowd’s cheer during the Sony keynote.
During the Nintendo shareholder meeting Mr. Miyamoto was asked a question near the end which gave him an opportunity to further clarify his comments:
…to some, it might have seemed as though there wasn’t a wide variety of software at E3, and as though many people followed the same direction to make their video games. I believe this is a revelation of creative immaturity on our part as creators in the video game industry.
Indeed between the severed heads in the Reign of Terror to the pounds of brass expelled from guns during the multiple shooters on display at E3 it is easy to see what the thinking amongst major publishers is: violence sells.
Mr. Miyamoto had one further reflection that bears mentioning.
“In the world of comic books and movies, there are people who are challenging themselves to be even more creative than before in creating their content. I believe that we (those who are creating digital content called videogames) are still in a transitional period and will eventually step up into the phases where we expand and enrich the substance of our creativity.”
If we take this literally we can look and see an interesting parallel to the movie industry as it reached the end of what is known as the Classical Hollywood phase. The 1950’s and 1960’s cinema was dominated by large scale films, musicals, historical epics. The Sound of Music, Ben-Hur and The King and I are examples of films that took advantage of Technicolor, CinemaScope and the extreme widescreen formats allowed by a theatrical setting.
However, by the end of the 1960’s a new type of film maker was emerging. The “new wave” was put in the forefront with the 1969 film Easy Rider which marked the end of the classical Hollywood era.
The movies that followed bucked the trend of traditional storytelling and composition, favoring the influences of European and Asian artistic cinema. And in many ways the independent developers of today are filling the role in the same way Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper did.
To illustrate this one only has to look to the most popular game on Xbox as of this writing, Super Time Force which is built on a retro pixel-art style. Shovel Knight has also risen to prominence on the Wii U, 3DS and PC markets with its NES style platforming action. Even Cuphead (pictured below), an independent studio game revealed at E3 2014 as part of the ID@Xbox platform, is built around the old 1930’s animation style of Walt Disney.
Making a game is giant undertaking no matter the size or budget. Countless hours of art, coding, bug fixing and play testing are involved. Large studios and publishers that are beholden to investors have a tight line to walk in delivering a great game for the players and assuring the shareholders that they are keeping an eye on the bottom line. One investor on the Nintendo shareholder meeting exemplifies this attitude with the question he asked to management:
” I do not understand video games and I even feel angry because, at Nintendo’s shareholders’ meetings, the shareholders always discuss things relating to video games or such childish topics as “what the future of video games should be,” while I, for one, was flabbergasted that Mr. Iwata continues to hold his position although he had said that he would resign if the company’s performance were bad.
I hope that Nintendo’s shareholders’ meeting will become an opportunity where the shareholders discuss the company’s business operations from the viewpoints of capital gain and dividends.
The creative immaturity Shigeru Miyamoto noted of the industry will likely be with us for some time. Looking at games like Far Cry 4, Rainbow Six and Let it Die on the horizon it is easy to see the Duke Nukem mentality from the 1990’s still haunting us to this day. The progress will hopefully come from the independent developers and trickle upwards to the major publishers. It will be up to gamers to show publishers that the maturity is something that is desired.