Sunday, April 1, 2007

Mario: Can He Inspire the Next Generation?

At TheUniversity of Southern California, where I attend school, graduation impends, and with it thoughts of the next step after college occupy the forefront of our minds and students are forced to ponder the question, what should I do with my life? In response to and in recognition of the passage into a new realm the University selects a remarkable acheiver from the intimidating world of postgraduate existence to address the students. The selected speaker is conferred an honorary degree by USC to “honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities”. Today's post is dedicated to selecting the person who is most deserving of the honorary degree for this year’s spring commencement. Recently USC began to offer a degree in “Interactive Media” through the renowned School of Cinematic Arts, which is largely dedicated to game design. The school’s high regard for gaming as a discipline is established and expresses a sincere desire to see USC graduates make an impact in rapidly expanding feilds such as interactive media. With the current success of the game industry and the recent support at USC for students who choose to pursue game design, I feel that it is fitting to choose somone from within that discipline; and that person is Shigeru Miyamoto, whose fansite is depicted to the right.

Miyamoto’s career in gaming is not only exemplary because of the success of his titles, most notably, the Mario and Zelda series, Mario is pictured below, but also because of his dedication to innovation and maintenance of the lifeblood of game development. Both of these are among the best selling titles of all time and Mario in fact tops this list with over 193 million games worldwide. These products only touch on the vast amount of industry changing work he has been responsible for over the years. His accomplishments speak for themselves and already earn him the right to be honored. USC's criteria for the award dictate that the recipient will be a person, "who is widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor". He clearly falls within this category however his philosophy and approach toward game development are what truly set him apart. Another highly esteemed developer, Will Wright, creator of the Sims, considers Miyamoto as the one with the most “creative impact” on games and praises him, “because he has always remained focused on what actually matters in a game: the player's experience… His insistence upon simplicity and his appeal to our inner child recognize that play is an important part of being human.” Wright’s words not only validate Miyamoto’s status as a game maker but also qualify it with what truly sets him apart; his vision of games is truly unique and he is wholly dedicated to what makes them a unique medium for not just entertainment but creative expression.

James Freedman, former president of the University of Iowa, raises the issue that the, “purpose of honoring distinguished personal achievement has been widely modified . . . to flatter generous donors and prospective benefactors,” or “trivialized” with awards to “mere celebrities”, resulting in an “ill-chosen” recipient. Though I think it is fair to say Miyamoto is not a “mere” celebrity, there is an argument to be made that he could be ill-chosen. He is perhaps an obvious choice, already having been bestowed with the lifetime achievement award at the 2007 Game Developers Conference. And he is as much of a celebrity that one can become as a game developer. When Miyamoto made his first public appearance in america, “More than 2,000 gamers lined up Sunday outside the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Center to get an autograph”; most game designers cannot make this claim. However, I do not feel that this detracts from his viability as a candidate. Fame, in most cases, is not dispersed aimlessly: he has earned it. Simply because he is widely recognized that does not negate his impact or importance. USC stipulates that honorands should be considered, “whether or not they are widely known by the general public,” in order to support nominees who may be less prominent, as this does not always ensure true worth. However the converse is also true and fame surely does not equate to triviality.

His accomplishments are astounding, but the honorand not only needs to exemplify excellence professionally but also have a message pertinent to the students; a message to send them off into the “real” world. In his first public appearance in America Miyamoto gave the following advice to the youth in an interview with MTV, “See what you personally can create and what you personally can bring to the world… The more you can step off that path, the more you're going to grow and the more that you can experience in the world.” He preaches what he practices: dedication to one’s field, love of a career, the importance of creativity, and the value of perseverance. These qualities can all be seen through Miyamoto’s example, but his words are just as beneficial and significant to the students of this generation. Students faced with the tremendous burden and excitement of taking the next step, are also given an opportunity to experience more. In accordance with Miyamoto's credence they need to take full advantage and provide the world with personally significant work, as this is the only way to be truly successful.

No comments: