VGT – Is Shigeru Miyamoto the Socrates of Video Games?

Greek philosphy and video games.  Can there even be a connection?  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m taking a Christian Thought & Greek Philosphy course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and I can’t help but to find connections (if and when possible) to my fascination with video games.  Keep in mind, I’m not going to document anything or give references – I just don’t have time with work and class.  Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to pour back out whatever knowledge I may have gained in my studies.  So, if something doesn’t sound right or add up, please be sure to comment and set me straight.

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

Socrates was an early Greek philosopher who didn’t mind asking a few questions.  In fact, that’s just about all he did.  He questioned everyone about everything.   This constant asking of questions could be very irritating and I can imagine that his foes would get frustrated by his technique.  But he had a purpose.  He would plainly state, “I know nothing” and then through his questioning process (now known as the Socratic method) prove that his opponents were no experts either.

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

My wife told me that in law school the professors would use the Socratic method in the classroom.  She saw grown, intelligent people reduced to tears as the professors would ask question after question – proving that the students know nothing and that they need to begin again.  It sounds like the teachers were acting like jerks!  I don’t think Socrates necessarily acted like a jerk.  He seemed to ask questions in a gentler manner, but he did find himself in some serious trouble later in life.  You see, there was rioting in the city and the culprits were youth who claimed to be students of Socrates.  Therefore Socrates was arrested and put on trial for his life.  His main defense?  He claimed that he didn’t know anything, so how could he teach anyone anything?  How could he even have students?  It was a unique and compelling argument but the verdict did not go his way.  He was sentenced to die by poison.  Although Socrates never wrote anything, his legacy and his words were carried on by his students (most notably Plato).  But wait, I thought he said he didn’t have any students!  Sometimes philosophy just goes around and around in circles!

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

So why do I think that Shigeru Miyamoto may be the Socrates of Video Games?  First of all, few can question the amazing mind and incredible creativity of Nintendo’s most famous employee.  Not only did Miyamoto create the Mario franchise, he also made Star Fox and the Legend of Zelda.  What are some of the others?   He has always had the ability to look at game concepts in a new and exciting way.

What made the connection in my mind, was an article I once read in Nintendo Power back in 2010 or 2011.  I have a boxful of the NP magazines and I searched for the article but was unable to find it – so I’m working on this from memory.  It was an interview with Eiji Aonuma – who some say is the creative successor for Miyamoto at Nintendo.  In the interview, he was talking about the game Skyward Sword and how Miyamoto came in at a certain point in development and “upended the tea table”.

Great, the game's done.  Oh no!  Here comes Miyamoto!

Great, the game’s done. Oh no! Here comes Miyamoto!

I can only imagine being a game developer and thinking that I’m working on a great idea.  Then in comes “Mr. Mario” and he starts asking questions.  Soon all my plans and ideas are reduced to nothing as Miyamoto starts to give feedback and take the game concept in a completely new direction.  Who does he think he is?  Does he even know how hard it is to program?  Actually, he probably does.  But it seems clear that he has a purpose and he wants to make the best game possible.  (By the way, whether or not Skyward Sword is a great game is up for debate)

I found it interesting that Aonuma’s view of the process was not negative and in fact he thought it was a necessary ritual in the game design process for Miyamoto to come in and turn that tea table over.  It is often good to stop, reduce it to basic ideas, and then start again with renewed focus and energy.

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

So Miyamoto, in that small way – may be similar to Socrates.  As far as I know he has not been the cause of any riots.


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