The Groundbreakers: Videogames

Shigeru Miyamoto has been a nearly godlike figure to avid videogamers for more than two decades. As Nintendo’s creative mastermind, he oversaw the icons that defined an industry, from Donkey Kong to the Mario Bros. and Zelda and Link. Other pioneers like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell may have started the videogame revolution in America, but Miyamoto was the first to create characters and worlds that gamers cared about — and still do to this day.

After Mario starred in the first 3-D game, in 1996, Miyamoto and Nintendo seemed to fall by the wayside as competitors like Sony, Microsoft and Rockstar pushed new boundaries with the first CD and DVD-based games, online multiplayer and open worlds. But while the rest of the industry was going bigger and hi-def, Nintendo tacked the opposite way, embracing simplicity and accessibility. Now well into his 50s, Miyamoto’s creations are attracting people who never thought of themselves as gamers.

Launched in 2004 and ’06, respectively, Nintendo’s DS and Wii have far and away outsold more powerful competitors like the PSP, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, thanks to their intuitive and accessible touch screen and motion-sensing controls. The handheld DS has sold more than 80 million units worldwide, while the Wii has sold more than 30 million.

Though new “Mario” and “Zelda” sequels continue to perform well, Nintendo’s biggest successes have been deceptively simple games like “Wii Sports” and “Nintendogs” that aren’t nearly as deep or graphically lush as competing titles that they regularly outsell. More recently, Miyamoto has led Nintendo to make games that barely qualify as “games” at all, like last spring’s fitness trainer “Wii Fit,” which has already sold more than 3.5 million units worldwide.

“Whereas before I could kind of use my own imagination to create these worlds or create these games, I would say that over the last five years I’ve had more of a tendency to take interests or topics in my life and try to draw the entertainment out of that,” Miyamoto recently reported.

Miyamoto’s latest creation is “Wii Music,” his take on “Guitar Hero” that lets players improvise on classic songs with no score, end goal or chance of losing.

Asked at this year’s E3 industry confab whether “Wii Music” isn’t more of a toy than a game, Miyamoto curtly concurred, “That’s why it’s more interesting than a videogame.”

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