Pretty long article but a good and interesting read. Just to give you something to read over the Memorial day weekend.

Resistance Is Futile

IT’S O.K. to liken Shigeru Miyamoto to Walt Disney.

When Disney died in 1966, Mr. Miyamoto was a 14-year-old schoolteacher’s son living near Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital. An aspiring cartoonist, he adored the classic Disney characters. When he wasn’t drawing, he made his own toys, carving wooden puppets with his grandfathers’ tools or devising a car race from a spare motor, string and tin cans.

Even as he has become the world’s most famous and influential video-game designer — the father of Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda and, most recently, the Wii — Mr. Miyamoto still approaches his work like a humble craftsman, not as the celebrity he is to gamers around the world.

Perched on the end of a chair in a hotel suite a few dozen stories above Midtown Manhattan, the preternaturally cherubic 55-year-old Mr. Miyamoto radiated the contentment of someone who has always wanted to make fun. And he has. As the creative mastermind at Nintendo for almost three decades, Mr. Miyamoto has unleashed mass entertainment with a global breadth, cultural endurance and financial success unsurpassed since Disney’s fabled career.

In the West, chances are that Mr. Miyamoto would have started his own company a long time ago. He could have made billions and established himself as a staple of entertainment celebrity. Instead, despite being royalty at Nintendo and a cult figure, he almost comes across as just another salaryman (though a particularly creative and happy one) with a wife and two school-age children at home near Kyoto. He is not tabloid fodder, and he seems to maintain a relatively nondescript lifestyle.

“What’s important is that the people that I work with are also recognized and that it’s the Nintendo brand that goes forward and continues to become strong and popular,” he said by way of comparing Walt Disney’s role in the larger brand with his. “And if people are going to consider the Nintendo brand as being on the same level as the Disney brand, that’s very flattering and makes me happy to hear,” he added, through an interpreter. (He understands spoken English well but does not speak it beyond a few phrases, a twist of considerable amusement to him given that his father taught English.)

Mario, the mustached Italian plumber he created almost 30 years ago, has become by some measures the planet’s most recognized fictional character, rivaled only by Mickey Mouse. As the creator of the Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda series (which have collectively sold more than 350 million copies) and the person who ultimately oversees every Nintendo game, Mr. Miyamoto may be personally responsible for the consumption of more billions of hours of human time than anyone around. In the Time 100 online poll conducted this spring, Mr. Miyamoto was voted the most influential person in the world.

But it isn’t just traditional gamers who are flocking to Mr. Miyamoto’s latest creation, the Wii. Eighteen months ago, just when video games were in danger of disappearing into the niche world of fetishists, Mr. Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s chief executive, practically reinvented the industry. (Mr. Miyamoto’s full title is senior managing director and general manager of Nintendo’s entertainment analysis and development division.) Their idea was revolutionary in its simplicity: rather than create a new generation of games that would titillate hard-core players, they developed the Wii as an easy-to-use, inexpensive diversion for families (with a particular appeal to women, an audience generally immune to the pull of traditional video games). So far the Wii has sold more than 25 million units, besting the competition from Sony and Microsoft.

In an effort to build on this success, last week Nintendo released its new Wii Fit system in North America, a device that hopes to make doing yoga in front of a television screen almost as much fun as driving, throwing, jumping or shooting in a traditional game. Though there were no hard sales figures available as of Tuesday, there were reports of stores across the country selling out of Wii Fit.

In a global media culture dominated by American faces, tastes and brands, video games are Japan’s most successful cultural export. And on the strength of the Wii and the DS hand-held game system, Nintendo has become one of the most valuable companies in Japan. With a net worth of around $8 billion, Nintendo’s former chairman, Hiroshi Yamauchi, is now the richest man in Japan, according to Forbes magazine. (Nintendo does not disclose Mr. Miyamoto’s compensation, but it appears that he has not joined the ranks of the superrich.)

“Without Miyamoto, Nintendo would be back making playing cards,” said Andy McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer, the No. 1 game magazine, referring to Nintendo’s original business in 1889. “He probably inspires 99 percent of the developers out there today. You can even say there wouldn’t be video games today if it wasn’t for Miyamoto and Nintendo. He’s the granddad of all game developers, but the funny thing is that for all of his legacy, for all of the mainstay iconic characters he’s designed and created, he is still pushing the limits with things like Wii Fit.”

Mr. Miyamoto graduated from the Kanazawa College of Art in 1975 and joined Nintendo two years later as a staff artist. The original Donkey Kong was a prime force in gaming’s early surge of popularity, along with arcade classics like Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man.

He rose quickly at the company, and his name has been synonymous with Nintendo since the 1980s, when the original Mario Bros. games helped save the industry after the collapse of Atari, maker of the first broadly popular home console. When Atari failed amid a slew of unpopular games, Nintendo rekindled faith in home gaming systems; the Nintendo Entertainment System, released in the West in 1985, became the best-selling console of its era.

Since then Mr. Miyamoto has been directly involved in the production of at least 70 games, including recent hits like Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Mr. Miyamoto supervises about 400 people, including contractors, almost entirely in Japan. The popular new installments in classic game franchises have maintained his credibility among core gamers even as he has reached out to new audiences with mass-market products like the Wii.

Through all his games, his designs are marked by an accumulation of care and detail. There is nothing objective about why a goofy guy in blue overalls like Mario should appeal to so many, just as there is nothing objective in how Disney could have built a company on talking animals. Rather, the reason I stood in line at a pizzeria more than 20 years ago to play Super Mario Bros., the reason Mr. Miyamoto is almost a living god in the game world, is that his games have some ineffable lure that inspires you to drop just one more quarter (or, these days, to stay on the couch just one more hour).

Just as a film is not measured by the quality of its special effects, a game is not measured merely by its graphics. This concept is lost on many designers, but not on Mr. Miyamoto. And just as a film buff might prefer to watch an old black-and-white movie instead of, say, “Iron Man,” even Mr. Miyamoto’s earliest games hold up as worthy diversions. (The story of two men battling for the world record in Donkey Kong was made into a film, “The King of Kong,” last year.)

“There are very few people in the video game industry who have managed to succeed time after time at a world-class level, and Miyamoto-san is one of them,” Graham Hopper, a Disney veteran and executive vice president and general manager of Disney Interactive Studios, said in a telephone interview. “The level of creative success that he has achieved over a sustained period is probably unparalleled.”

Given that its roster of characters includes not only Mario and Donkey Kong but also Princess Peach, Zelda, Bowser and Link, it’s easy to imagine that Mr. Miyamoto designs his games around those characters.

The truth is exactly the opposite. According to Mr. Miyamoto, gameplay systems and mechanics have always come first, while the characters are created and deployed in the service of the overall design. That means a focus on the seemingly prosaic basic elements of game design: movement, setting, goals to accomplish and obstacles to overcome.

“I feel that people like Mario and people like Link and the other characters we’ve created not for the characters themselves, but because the games they appear in are fun,” he said. “And because people enjoy playing those games first, they come to love the characters as well.”

Mr. Miyamoto’s work is evolving from a reliance on invented characters and fanciful, outlandish settings like Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom or Zelda’s mythical Hyrule. With games like Nintendogs (inspired by his pet Shetland sheepdog), Wii Sports, Wii Fit and coming next, Wii Music, Mr. Miyamoto is gravitating toward everyday hobbies: pets, bowling, yoga, Hula-Hoop, music. It is as if an artist who had mastered the abstract had finally moved into realism.

“I would say that over the last five years or so, the types of games I create has changed somewhat,” he said. “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.”

It has proved the perfect strategy as Nintendo reaches out to nongamers who may not care to understand why this frantic plumber keeps jumping on top of turtles, or why that gallant fellow in green has to keep rescuing the same princess over and over. At this moment, when consumers crave the ability to shape and become a part of their entertainment, whether through MySpace or “American Idol,” the latest star in Nintendo’s stable of characters is you — or rather Mii, the whimsical avatar Wii users create of themselves.

“I see the Miis as the most recent character creation from Nintendo,” Mr. Miyamoto said. “What’s interesting is that regardless of the user’s age, if they’re looking at a Mii, it’s their Mii. Before, when you’re playing as another character, it’s more typical of more passive entertainment, and by creating a Mii you’re becoming more a part of the entertainment experience.”

Nintendo is expected to release more details about Wii Music this summer, but the basic concept is that while popular music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band allow players only to recreate canned tunes, Wii Music will try to enable users to capture the feelings of composition and improvisation.

Mr. Miyamoto grew up on Western music like the Beatles and the Lovin’ Spoonful. He plays piano and banjo and, as a bluegrass aficionado, immediately recognized the name of Ricky Skaggs when told over dinner in Manhattan that Mr. Skaggs was scheduled to perform in town in a few days. Mr. Miyamoto even joked about extending his stay to catch the show. (He didn’t.)

“We’re trying to create an experience where people are very simply able to get the feeling like maybe they’re creating music,” he said.

With a track record like his, it would be foolish to bet against him. When it comes to the Walt Disney of the digital generation, no one knows fun better.