Psycho-biography on Shigeru Miyamoto - MyPersona Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Psycho-biography on Shigeru Miyamoto

So at long last I am posting my psycho-biography on Miyamoto. This was for one of my psych class focusing on theories of well known psychologists. It may be difficult to understand if you are unfamiliar of the theories, but please do enjoy some interesting thoughts on Miyamoto.


A kid at heart, Shigeru Miyamoto has made himself one, of very few, prominent figures in modern video games. Some may call him the "father of modern video games" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1), though he prefers to simply be a manager of Nintendo. Through some miraculous process, Miyamoto wound up conceiving a concept, Donkey Kong, which went beyond the simplicity of video games currently being made in the early 80's and created the first gaming icon, Mario. His ability to generate a wide variety of odd and wonderful worlds into video games has made his work innovative, causing a storm of interest of how he came up with such classic game ideas. Growing up, Miyamoto would spend most of his time outside, exploring. The legend of Miyamoto is closely associated to the story of his discovery of a cave that "Miyamoto has told variations [of]...in order to emphasize the extent to which he was surrounded by nature, as a child, and also to claim his youthful explorations as a source of his aptitude and enthusiasm for inventing and designing video games" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1).  A known theory of Miyamoto's genius is that his early childhood experiences of exploration greatly influenced his creative thought, as if he has an interesting way of using George Kelly's constructive alternativism to interpret the world in a way others cannot. Miyamoto uses his childhood and current experiences to drive his creative power and perception of the world.

            The origin of creativity is a debatable subject. Several psychologists, such as Adler, Erikson, Fromm, Skinner, and Maslow, have discussed what creativity is determined by. Two tenets of Adlerian theory discuss how such creativity could have been acquired by Miyamoto. One Adlerian tenet, style of life, is a product of a person's creative power and is established around 4 or 5. For Miyamoto, Alfred Adler's style of life would relate to how Miyamoto spent his early years exploring the outdoors. Such exploration developed how Miyamoto runs his life and how it could have led to his Adlerian final goal of becoming a designer of the arts. Looking further in to Miyamoto's style of life, which Adler considered healthy if it was flexible, it could be likened to his creation of games that "have spanned many genres" which is "unlike most of the better-known game designers" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 9).From platforming games to open-world third dimension gaming to motion controls of the present, Miyamoto wisely stays flexible for the ever-changing, and very young, business of video games. Miyamoto continues to display this forward thinking, explaining to Paumgarten that "When [he is] making video games today, [he] want[s] people to be entertained. [He is] always thinking, How are people going to enjoy playing the games we are making today?" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 7). According to Adler, a person's style of life is molded by creative power. Adler believed that environment was one of the essential building blocks of personality, which, in the case of Miyamoto, would mean that the adventurous environment Miyamoto grew up in helped develop a style of life that he then put to use with designing his games. Worded in a way Adler may have said it, Miyamoto creatively expresses his style of life through the use of video games and, therefore, he has creative power. His creative power relates to the video game experience itself. Anyone who plays video games is given a problem and a solution which the gamer must creatively figure out by themselves. For a game like Miyamoto's Super Mario Bros., "the game had just fifteen or twenty dynamics in it-how the mushrooms work, how the blocks react when you hit them-yet they combined in such a way to produce a seemingly limitless array of experiences and moves, and to provide opportunities for an alternative, idiosyncratic style of play" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 4) and therefore allows for any gamers' ability to see the video game in his or her own way. To sum up this Adlerian view of Miyamoto's creativity, the application of Adler's Individual Psychology, early recollections, can be applied to Miyamoto. Miyamoto's story of the cave he discovered as a kid is the early recollection and that recollection is consistent with his present style of life. To go further, research has been conducted that confirms that early recollections can have an impact on career choice, which could explain why, because "[Miyamoto] didn't really have any toys [as a child]...he made his own, out of wood and string" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 3), he went on to earn a degree in industrial design and make toys that earned him a position at Nintendo.

            Guilt vs. Initiative can be deciphered as Erik Erikson's psychosocial struggle that develops creativity. During the play age of Erikson's theory, children are developing their locomotion, curiosity, imagination, and the ability to set goal from ages 3 to 5.  The combination of all these developing skills contributes to the need for children of that age to explore new things. Being able to reliably move about in the world gives rise to children running around in their backyards. For Miyamoto, it's obvious that as a child he excelled in the initiative portion of this psychosocial struggle. Living "in the rural village of Sonobe... [By] a river valley surrounded by wooded mountains" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1) during the early sixties would be a substantial reason why Miyamoto was reliant on the use of his imagination, curiosity, and locomotion skills just to pass the time. Unlike children who are subjected to television and a large quantity of toys, Miyamoto passed his time during his play age going outside to explore or developing his own imaginative worlds or toys. Growing up only added to his ability to traverse farther and farther in to the wooded lands near his home. Miyamoto was exposed to an environment that consistently required the use of his creativity. Such an environment has an impact on how a child may perceive the world, which will be discussed later on in the psychobiography. Though using Erikson's theory may seem a simplified way to look at Miyamoto's creativity, it is quite relevant that simply being able to explore and be around nature during his play age contributed greatly to Miyamoto's psyche. An interesting tidbit is that a few of Miyamoto's characters in his video games are portrayed as young kids, such as Link who is the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series. Link, especially in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, may start off as a kid who begins his adventure through curiosity and exploring 'dungeons' which could be related to Miyamoto's 'cave'.

            Discussing more about the impact of nature, Erich Fromm's human need of rootedness relates to Miyamoto's early connection with the natural world. Fromm believed that humans were the freaks of the universe due to their lack of relatedness to all the other animals in nature. Therefore humans craved the ability to reunite with nature, which Miyamoto was able to do early on in life. This early reunion impacted Miyamoto's creativity based on Fromm's belief that if rootedness was sought productively that the person actively and creatively relates to the world and becomes whole or integrated. Miyamoto's integration in to the natural world can be seen in such video games as Legend of Zelda, where the majority of the video game is spent "roam[ing] a fantasy world" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 2) and seeing the many facets of that fantasy world, Hyrule. The majority of Miyamoto's video games are meant to transport that wonder of nature and exploration to the people who play his video games.

            Through a behaviorist's perspective, B.F. Skinner would explain Miyamoto's creativity as an accidental behavior that was reinforced. In this view, Miyamoto was reinforced as a kid to explore the world outside of his home because he continued to do just that as he grew up. Ironically, if Miyamoto's creativity arose based on Skinner's theory, Donkey Kong (Miyamoto's first successful video game) would be considered an accident. Surprisingly enough, it can be seen that the reinforcement of such a radically innovative game like Donkey Kong led to Miyamoto's further development of the protagonist Mario, who was once simply named 'Jumpman'. The next game that would be released by Miyamoto would be Super Mario Bros., starring Mario, and once again it amazed the video game world.  As each game Miyamoto released was praised, it only bolstered his quirky creativity. It can even be seen in Miyamoto's present attitude; he is always attempting new and exciting innovations in the video game business like motion controls (and throughout the history of Nintendo whenever it licensed a peripheral for their earlier systems or the release of the Game & Watch portable game systems). Skinner's theory is further supported knowing that Miyamoto is consistently attempting to bring new ideas to the video game world, which Skinner's very definition of creativity is; the result of random or accidental behaviors that happen to be rewarded. In this logic, video games themselves were merely a creative idea that was lucky enough to be reinforced by the culture at the time.

            Creativity is only a small part of how someone perceives the world. Focusing on another Adlerian tenet; subjective perceptions, a person's vantage point in the world is a factor in their personality and behavior. These subjective perceptions spawn fictionalisms, unknown or false ideas of what the world is like, that influence people even if they cannot be proven to exist. For Miyamoto, a fiction of his is due to his fondness of childhood. His video game designs reflect the whimsical imagination he had as a child, "fill[ing] his games with his childlike interpretation of the world as a carnival of quirky perils and hidden delights" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 5). When Paumgarten (2010) first saw Miyamoto in person at a E3 Expo he described him as:

"Grinning broadly, dressed in a white Zelda T-shirt, an untucked and unbuttoned dress shirt, and jeans, he wielded the Wii's two controllers-the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk-as a sword and a shield. At fifty-eight, he is trim and agile, with a boyish mop of black hair and an easy smile. In public, Miyamoto often strikes a lighthearted crouching pose, a proto-Wii stance that seems to owe a little to the gunslingers of the first video game he ever played, Western Gun, and a little to Yosemite Sam." (p. 2)

Paumgarten's description reflects the childish personality that still emits from aging Miyamoto and, explained by Adler, it is due to that subjective perception of childhood that Miyamoto has. Due to Miyamoto always using his childhood imagination successfully, he technically repeats Adler's teleological belief that people are motivated by present perceptions of the future. But Adler's subjective perception tenet only draws upon Miyamoto's personality and behavior because of Miyamoto's perception of the world, not explaining how Miyamoto has an ability to morph his view of the world in order to form new video game worlds.

            The theories closest to attempting to explain Miyamoto's unique ability is George Kelly's constructive alternativism and personal constructs. Kelly's constructive alternativism states that people construe reality in different ways and that people, like Miyamoto, are capable of changing their view of the world. Miyamoto's quest is to "re-create his childhood wonderment, if not always the actual experiences that gave rise to it, since the experiences themselves may be harder to come by in a paved and partitioned world" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1). He designs his games to reflect his view of the world when he was a child, as well as his current view. As previously stated, Legend of Zelda is basically an expression of Miyamoto's adventures in the outdoors as a child. Paumgarten (2010) refers to Miyamoto as "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." (p. 8)

Recently Wii Fit, a fitness game, was envisioned by Miyamoto:

"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 weigh...All this became, for his wife and his daughter, a source of curiosity and amusement, and an idea occurred to him..."If I could make it into a game, it could probably help isolated fathers get more association with their daughters"... 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." (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 8)

Even the minor details of Miyamoto's life are transferred to his games, such as when Miyamoto went "bushwhacking through the cedars and pines on a small mountain near the junior high school" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1) as a kid can be seen in Legend of Zelda where Link must clear a path through a dense forest of bushes to find a dungeon. An enemy in several Legend of Zelda games called 'Bow Wow' (also called 'Chain Chomp' in several Mario games) is literally Miyamoto's experience with "a neighbor's bulldog that would charge him each time he passed by, jerking on its chain" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 5).  All of Miyamoto's games can be linked to his past (that's actually a pun on a Legend of Zelda game that is subtitled 'A Link to the Past') or present perception of the world. This minor details slipped into Miyamoto's video games can be seen as Kelly and Adler's belief that a person's interpretation of events is more important than the events themselves. Kelly's personal constructs can be attributed to Miyamoto's way of seeing a normal dog on a chain as a monster in a video game that's a ball with teeth attempting to break free of its chain to harm the characters as they adventure. Miyamoto has a fascinating knack for construing the world like Kelly thinks some people have the ability to do.

            'Fascinating' cannot truly describe the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto. He may be only a manager of Nintendo, but many see him as "Nintendo's guiding spirit, its meal ticket, and its playful public face" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1). Being deemed one of the first to imagine the world of video games is not a small feat.  Miyamoto himself says that the process of his imagination is all but easy by stating:

"I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish...That's something that I just can't express in words. It's such an unusual situation. I wish that children nowadays could have similar experiences, but it's not very easy."

Abraham Maslow's theory on creativity was not discussed earlier because of its simplicity, yet it deserves to be a conclusion on Miyamoto's character. Everyone is creative in their own way and that creativity can come from anywhere. In the case of Miyamoto, that creativity "happened to develop...while playing outdoors, at whatever amusements or mischief he could muster" (Paumgarten, 2010, p. 1). No designer in the first generation of video games could have developed their talent of crafting video games because they were the first to bring up the very existence of the technology. It is important to note that a great deal of these video game designers could have backgrounds or abilities similar to Miyamoto, yet Miyamoto went beyond the capabilities of video games and created what video games are now. As Paumgarten (2010) explains, Miyamoto "has been at the forefront of three major phases: the side-scrolling game; the free-roaming 3-D game, like Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, to which Grand Theft Auto and its ilk owe their existence; and...the motion-capture game, now the prevailing paradigm. (Consider Kinect, the new Microsoft toy.)" (p. 9). The future of video games, for nearly three decades, has been set forth by Miyamoto's creativity power and perception of the world. 

-Works Cited-

Paumgarten, Nick (2010). Master of Play. The New Yorker.


 

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