What Happens When Miyamoto Dies?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

The fact is that we, as older gamers (and by that, I mean anyone that actually remembers getting an Atari 2600 back in the 70s) have been privileged to see our hobby grow up with us. But this also means that those people who have taken gaming from its infancy to its more mature state today aren’t getting any younger. They’re getting older. And some day they’re going to retire, or simply die of old age

We’ve seen a little bit of that future already. Last week, Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muyzka the founders of BioWare, announced their retirement. I wish them well, and I can’t say they haven’t earned their rest; after all between the two of them, they’ve defined the RPG as we know it today. But now they are taking themselves away from the studio—and industry—that they founded and helped flourish. We were fortunate enough to be there and watch them take a fledgling genre and turn it into something wholly more subtle and complex. And we’ve now lived long enough to watch them exit stage right, as it were.

In the years to come, we’re going to keep seeing this.

Peter Molyneux is another of the giants of the industry, having invented an entire genre of gaming all by himself with the original Populous and moving on to Black & White and then Fable. He’s another one of those pioneers that’s been with the industry from its younger years, and over time his experience and expertise allowed him to climb to the very top of the corporate ladder. There’s really not much higher you can get as a game creator than being in charge of Microsoft’s European game development division. So what happened? Unlike the BioWare doctors, or Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, Molyneux took what some might see as several steps back. He walked away from being a division head to starting a small independent studio to work on games again.

In many ways, what Molyneux has done is the exception to the rule. As most game developers rise in stature and title, they get further and further away from the hands-on development that made them talents to watch in the first place. Hideo Kojima is far removed from the days when he would work with designers, building levels for Metal Gear Solid out of LEGO blocks. It’s the same for other giants within the industry. Richard Garriot, aka “Lord British,” and Will Wright have moved further away from the actual development of games, and even the “Walt Disney” of games, Shigeru Miyamoto spends more time as a manager than he does “in the trenches” directly overseeing the creation of a game.

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It’s not the sort of thing that anyone really thinks about. But at the same time, it’s the kind of thing that is completely unavoidable.As our game creators have gotten older, a lot of them have put more distance between themselves and the actual crafting of a game. That’s understandable as time passes. The retirement of the BioWare doctors can be sympathized with when you compare the freedom and experimentation of gaming in the 90s when they started their business with the brutal, regimented “AAA” cycles we have today. But there’s one thing that we, as gamers have not yet had to face. The death of prominent people within our medium.

In film, art, literature and every other medium you can imagine, it happens all the time; a news announcement about a major figure dying, and a well-spring of memorials. Literature has already had many key writers and editors die over the centuries, and even Hollywood has its fair share of celebrity actors and directors passing on. But gamers have lived in a world where the people who brought us this medium and industry are still here today. And someday, perhaps someday soon, we will have to face the fact that they won’t.

There will come a time when through accident, illness or old age, Shigeru Miyamoto will no longer be with us. Hironobu Sakaguchi the “father” of Final Fantasy is already divorced from his creation, and his death will make that separation final. Some day in the not too distant future, “Lord British” will leave these shores for Britannia, and Tim Schafer will tell his last joke.

It’s not the sort of thing that anyone really thinks about. But at the same time, it’s the kind of thing that is completely unavoidable. We, as gamers, have had the honor and privilege of being able to stand in the shadow of the medium’s creators, watching them create. In the years to come, we will witness the complete transition to a new generation as these pioneers, vanguards, artists and trail-blazers finally pass on.

We should really treasure this time with them while we still can