In memory of the creator of the Nintendo console, Uemura Masayuki
Engineer Uemura Masayuki has had a disproportionate impact on the lives of countless children around the world. In the mid-1980s he created a video game console for Nintendo known in Japan as Famicom and elsewhere as NES. It was hugely successful, selling 60 million units and bringing Super Mario, Zelda, and Dragon Quest into homes around the world. Following Uemura’s death in December at the age of 78, NHK’s Kagawa Nao recalls a conversation he had with the game industry icon about his work and the nature of the game.
In the spring of 2019, I sat down with Uemura Masayuki to talk about what it means to “play”. Some of his responses surprised me, and others resonated deeply a year later when the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way people interacted socially.
Ready, player one
Uemura explained to me that Famicom’s success was the result of a confluence of factors, including improvements in computer processing power, the rise of gaming media, and changes in the way children were raised.
“I think Famicom games were a way to play at home when urbanization made it more difficult to play outside,” he said.
Kids embraced the new kind of gaming console with relish, but parents and teachers feared they might miss out on opportunities to socialize. Uemura told me he didn’t see such a problem.
“When people criticize video games, they often describe it as a lonely activity with players sitting alone in front of the television,” he said. “The reality seems to be the opposite. People are looking at the same screen, taking turns, sharing information. I think games are actually a social adhesive that connects people.”
Uemura explained that it was the Japanese talent for creating cute characters that helped make the NES a success abroad, and he attributed this talent to the animism that has influenced Japanese culture for centuries.
“The concept says that objects have a life of their own,” he said. “And that manifests in the game in the form of simple, peaceful titles that contrast with the violent games of the alien. Pac-Man is actually just playing cat, and Pokemon gets bugs. Anyone in it. the world can figure out how to play this. “
Uemura retired from Nintendo in 2004, but remained involved in the industry at Ritsumeikan University’s Games Research Center, where he was Director for 10 years.
I asked him if the game had more to do, having already embraced the Internet and virtual reality. His answer surprised me.
“We still haven’t created a better video game than menko,” he said, referring to the traditional Japanese card game in which players throw their cards on hard ground, with the aim of turning them over. cards of their opponents.
“In terms of graphics, we have reached the highest point possible,” he said. “But we can’t reproduce that physical feeling of hitting something.”
In fact, Uemura thought maybe the graphics had gotten too good-looking, so that they didn’t leave enough to the imagination. He felt that this was the reason why the old graphics of his famous first console had seen a revival.
“People prefer it when they can use their imaginations,” he told me. “What your eyes see isn’t realistic, but it’s real in your head. The more room for the imagination, the more fun.”
The future of gaming
We discussed what makes games fun and if there is a way to make one that never gets boring.
“Impossible,” he said with a smile. “The only thing people will never get tired of are people.”
Our interview took place before the coronavirus pandemic. But it was reminded to me when it started and it got harder to interact with people, and Nintendo’s latest “Animal Crossing” game became a huge hit.
Over the past couple of years, games have continued to evolve, and on top of that, the services for individual users have grown and become more satisfying.
But for the first time, I really understood what Uemura was talking about when he said that at the end of the day you never get bored with people.