The Games are Popular, but the Creators are not.

Being the largest entertainment industry in the world, video games are massively popular today, and why wouldn’t they be? The industry has had some of the most passionate and talented directors that have shaped it into what we now recognize today. With each generation they expanded, innovated, and pioneered game design throughout each generation with such icons such as Super Mario Bros and Sonic The Hedgehog to name a couple. To put it simply, gaming has grown and evolved over the past four decades since the NES revitalized the industry in 1985, so it is no surprise that these icons and the medium as a whole are quite popular. So, with all of that innovation and sheer ambition, these directors surely would be recognizable to anyone, right? Well, not really. See these directors are only known by huge fans. To describe what I mean, you don’t have to be much of a film buff at all, but you know who Steven Spielberg is. You don’t have to be much of a music fan, but undoubtedly know who Freddie Mercury is. With video games on the other hand, nobody even has an idea who Shigeru Miyamoto is. Only die hard fans of video games would know who he is while the vast majority of people outside of the community wouldn’t have any idea. Which is odd since his most famous series, Super Mario, is known by everyone. What is it that could be contributing to this?

One potential reason that these directors are unrecognized is because video games aren’t seen with the same significance that other mediums such as film and music are. Traditionally nobody saw gaming as an artistic medium, thus not being curious as to who created it. Or perhaps it is because the industry is far more recent. Other entertainment mediums were big in the early 20th century, whereas video games are quite more recent. Although they existed since the 1950s, they were far from commercial products back then, they were housed in labs and universities with high end computer technology which were primarily used for research. The industry only reached popularity in the 1970s with the rise of Pong and Space Invaders which is only half a century, and since the mid-80s, a majority of games have primarily had a younger age demographic as its target audience. Of course, there were, and definitely still are, a lot of games marketed to adults, but the point stands that they were not held in the same regard as other artistic mediums. It is probably for these reasons that people wouldn’t have a clue about who these celebrities are which is unfortunate because these developers had to not only put in the work, but have extensive knowledge as well.

Game design is a huge commitment. First of all, there is extensive knowledge needed, as it is essential that you are knowledgeable in mathematics and programming since those are fundamental skills in the creation of computer games. Along with that, designing a game brings with it many difficult hurdles on its own that I could mention in its own paragraph, but in short it requires a lot of devotion and passion to design a game. Back then it was even tougher, if you were looking for a education that targeted these skill, you would have to go to specific schools that taught computer science and it was incredibly difficult to find a job. Even if you got a job, you had to learn the inner workings and overall architecture of the hardware you were developing for. All of these things are what developers and directors needed knowledge in before designing a game. Whilst they had to face those challenges, they also had to take memory limitations into account, particularly early on with 3rd generation consoles such as the NES as those early consoles had little memory to work with. Even as technology evolved, there were new challenges that emerged with the progression of hardware. One such example is the early days of 3D game design where designers had to learn entirely new skills as previous experience in visual design and even programming would not prove useful. They needed to learn almost entirely new skills such as modelling which had a completely different skillset to drawing sprites. Developers such as Nintendo had to learn fundamental concepts such as algebra and calculus to then apply it in programming. Now you could argue that things such as learning to play an instrument or sculpt would require a lot of devotion, however prior knowledge is hardly a necessity. You do not need to learn drawing in order to sculpt. It can be helpful; however it is not essential. With something like music, rhythm is essential, but it is something you learn for every song and doesn’t take years of learning like mathematics does. The common thread of both is that they do not require extensive prior knowledge, whereas in game design you cannot do much programming without mathematics. Since you cannot do much programming without mathematics, you are not able to design games. You simply cannot do one without the other. You could be in a team of developers where you’re an artist and someone else is a programmer, but no matter what role you are in, you still need some knowledge of programming to implement it into the game. The extensive knowledge and effort that went into the creation of said games did somewhat pay off as some made a huge impact within the gaming community, gaining lots of traction and popularity, however, the creators themselves did not. It is unfortunate as the history of these games and the people that made them is fascinating.

As stated in the beginning, these directors shaped the video game industry. Without these creative minds, the industry would be vastly different today. But perhaps the game that has had the biggest impact on and even saved the entire gaming industry was Super Mario Bros. It has gone on to become one of the most famous series in pop culture. Being the director, Shigeru Miyamoto was responsible for this title, in fact, he was responsible for the franchise as a whole since Donkey Kong, the very first installment in the franchise, and he still oversees the vast majority of Mario games as he is still the producer to this day. When he directed Donkey Kong, he did not have any knowledge in programming, he did however, contribute heavily through writing the storyline and conceptualizing the mechanics and stages that would be implemented into the game. His passion extended beyond the technical aspects as he had an artistic vision, taking influence from prior works such as Popeye, Beauty and the Beast and King Kong to which all of these shaped the game. When it was released in 1981, it was a huge success for Nintendo, more importantly however is that it was the first ever platformer, a genre which, just five years later, many games would follow. Without Miyamoto’s creativity, those games would not have come to be, and thus other directors wouldn’t have anything to build upon, potentially leading to a vastly different gaming industry than the one we know today. This was only one demonstration of his broad achievements. There were many more that led to the exploration of new ideas and the creation of games. Another instance is, when Miyamoto was a child, he would often go exploring outdoors in his hometown, Kyoto, wandering through the nearby fields, woods and caves. Because he explored these areas without a map on hand, it often led to him discovering new sights which he hadn’t encountered before, feeling a sensation of limitless wonder. When he was well established director in game design, he wanted to design a game that differentiated from the overall design of Super Mario Bros, so he drew inspiration from those memories by translating them into the design of this next game, which would come to be The Legend of Zelda. A game where the player explores the world of Hyrule, leading to the discovery of new sights, and providing the sensation of limitless wonder. These games would go on to be revolutionary. Miyamoto is a perfect example of how passion and talent have shaped the industry, and there are so many more with directors such as Hideo Kojima, Keiji Inafune, John Romero, Tim and Chris Stamper, to name but a few. All of these directors, including Miyamoto, are only famous within gaming community, and I feel they are deserving of recognition from the broader culture. I emphasize this because these creative minds have set trends in the gaming industry and, as stated previously, that is not an easy thing to do. It is unfortunate that no one recognizes this talent as I feel this has led to negative coverage, leaving a dent on the industry.

Because these developers are culturally unrecognized outside of gaming, it led to the games themselves, and the work of said developers, often receiving negative coverage in mainstream culture that extends to the medium as a whole. The news in particular would negatively cover games. They would report the latest gaming trends and far too often it was concerns being discussed about the effects that the medium would have on society. This has gone on since the early 80s with the vast majority of reports, and because this was the only real exposure of video games to the mainstream, the medium was mostly, if not only, portrayed in a negative light. The popular media rarely thought about, let alone actually researched, the development process of said games that were being reported. Although there were a few news reports that examined the development process, even those would write it off as if the workers weren’t passionate in what they were creating. The opposite would have definitely, in most cases, been true because it required massive amounts of devotion, as stated earlier, as those fields of work require commitment from a young age. These kinds of reports still go on today with gaming addiction and gaming causing violence reports, largely tending to blame games and position them as the issue. I understand that it may seem like I am harping on about this negative bias from mainstream media, but I cannot fathom the amount of work going into a game and finally completing it only to have it be met with backlash. Since video games, as a medium, already had little regard when compared to other artistic mediums and in addition to that the frequent news reports, it really made it seem as though video games did not have much passion behind them and were much more corporate and money focused, thus leaving a negative reputation on the medium as a whole.

I must state that this is not some massive issue that absolutely needs to be dealt with. What I am saying is that whilst game directors get a lot of recognition by gamers, the amount of recognition in the outside world by comparison is miniscule, as if gaming is just isolated from everywhere else. I’d go as far as to say the creation of a computer game requires as much work as filmmaking, maybe even more and what brings it up to that level is the amount of prior knowledge needed, especially back in the ’80s and ’90s. The sheer passion and talent that went into these games is astonishing as these developers put massive amounts of work into them. The amount of ambition put into these games is simply incredible, with lots of directors breaking ground. These developers had one thing when making these titles; passion. An ambitious passion, one where they knew the industry had potential to be what it is now, and they have certainly demonstrated that, and I hope that they will become well recognized in mainstream culture.

Whilst they are not as recognized in mainstream culture as other celebrities, game directors have seemed to be getting positive coverage in the mainstream media in recent years. A particular show, High Score, does a phenomenal job with this as game directors and gaming as a whole get positive coverage in mainstream media. It explores the general history of gaming along with the directors and developers that created them and even the players that played them. Ranging from the famous to the more obscure figures that share not only the history of the games they made and or played, but a bit of their history too. It is extremely well put together. If there was anything that could give game directors the positive coverage they deserve, this series is certainly it. However, that is not all. This year, the news gave coverage to Charles Martinet, the voice actor of Mario, and stated that he had retired. Upon seeing this particular article, it was a major surprise to see a gaming celebrity get covered on the news, let alone gaming getting positive coverage by the news but it is quite wonderful nonetheless and I am grateful because it shows the public a glimpse of the talent that goes into game design. The recent attempts to expose the mainstream culture, such as what was done in High Score, is such a huge deal as these celebrities are starting to achieve recognition, and I believe that if this is kept up, introducing gaming celebrities to the mainstream, it could potentially lead to them being equally recognized and regarded as other celebrities.

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