Home » The Mount Rushmore of Nintendo Part Three: Shigeru Miyamoto

The Mount Rushmore of Nintendo Part Three: Shigeru Miyamoto

by Izsak Barnette
Published: Last Updated on

There are many people who’ve made Nintendo the giant it is today. Join us as we take the next four weeks to dive into the lives of four people who left an indelible impact on one of the games industry’s largest corporations. Check out part one of our series, which covers Hiroshi Yamauchi, here, and part two, which covers Gunpei Yokoi, here.

Shigeru Miyamoto is, without a doubt, the most famous developer to ever work for Nintendo. The father of Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and others, Miyamoto is associated with Nintendo the same way Steve Jobs was with Apple or Hayao Miyazaki is with Studio Ghibli. A genius in his own right, Miyamoto has created some of the most memorable characters in the industry’s history, imbuing his work with the sort of creative panache that defines Nintendo.

That creativity began when Miyamoto was a child. Growing up in Sonebe, a small town in the countryside near Kyoto, Japan, Miyamoto loved to explore his world. [1] Whether it was through the surrounding rivers, rice fields, or hillsides, Miyamoto explored the idyllic land of his youth, soaking up books, drawing, painting, and creating “elaborate puppets which he presented in fanciful shows.” [2] This sense of exploration saw him once journey through a cave that, though small, he went through with some help from a homemade lantern. [3]

The Kanazawa College of Arts, where Miyamoto attended. Credit: HIrorinmasa / CC BY-SA

When his family moved to Kyoto proper, Miyamoto explored his environment further, developed his skill at drawing, and daydreamed his way through class. [4] He created “plastic models and wood-and-metal contraptions” until he was eventually forced to study by his father. [5] He took his drawing very seriously, investing time into creating a cartoon club that “met regularly and had yearly exhibitions,” and creating flip books that held sketches of his own characters. [6]

After taking five years to graduate from the Kanazawa Munici College of Industrial Arts and Crafts, mainly as a result of attending classes only half of the time, Miyamoto asked his father to connect him with Hiroshi Yamauchi, the president of Nintendo. [7] Though demurred, at first, by the prospect of employing an artist instead of an engineer, Yamauchi liked Miyamoto enough to prepare a portfolio of toy designs for their next meeting. [8] Miyamoto’s designs, a child-safe clothes hanger and some other, more elaborate toys, impressed Yamauchi. [9] He was subsequently hired as the company’s first staff artist. [10]

Shigeru Miyamoto
While not a shining moment in Nintendo’s history, Miyamoto’s appearance on stage at Nintendo’s E3 presentation in 2006 showed off the eccentricity of the Nintendo lead. Credit: Jon Jordan

Eventually, Yamauchi would come to Miyamoto with a request. He desperately needed a replacement for Nintendo’s failing game, Radarscope, and was interested in having Miyamoto create his own game, under the supervision of longtime Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi. [11] Working at first with the rights to Popeye before utilizing his own art, Miyamoto would craft Donkey Kong, a platformer that introduced the world to both Donkey Kong and another character, Jumpman, who would eventually become Mario, Nintendo’s most iconic character. [12] Despite initial concerns from sales managers in America, the game was a hit. [13]

Further success awaited Miyamoto with the release of both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda on Famicom and NES. Despite a few questionable decisions and a few games that failed to impress fans, Miyamoto’s run has been incredible, and his games, from Pikmin to Star Fox to Super Mario and beyond, have completely changed the landscape of the industry. Far from conforming to the norms of the games industry, Miyamoto’s work allowed the industry to blossom, transforming what had been, at least in the West, an industry overtly focused on heavy themes of action and violence into one that everyone could enjoy.

It was as Miyamoto said, “The game is not for children, it is for me. It is for the adult that still has the character of a child.”

Bravo, Mr. Miyamoto.

For more information on the life of Shigeru Miyamoto and other members of Nintendo’s early leadership, check out Game Over by David Sheff. You can find it on Amazon.

Footnotes:

[1] David Sheff, Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World (New York: Vintage, 2011), Location 730.

[2] Ibid., Location 730-738.

[3] Ibid., Location 738-746.

[4] Ibid., Location 746.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., Location 755-762.

[8] Ibid., Location 762.

[9] Ibid., Location 770.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., Location 770-778.

[12] Ibid., Location 787-795.

[13] Ibid., Location 811.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4

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