Remember the halcyon days of school when you were about four or five years old? There was nothing quite like ambling home, fully gorged on Play-Doh, and turning over your latest masterpiece to an appropriately enthusiastic guardian. From an early age, we’re taught that the painstaking creation of something tangible is one of life’s great pleasures. Is it any wonder, then, that video games are increasingly selling the analog creative experience to the Peter Pan generation?
Arguably, no other company has so wholeheartedly championed digital representations of the analog creation experience than Nintendo. With great game-cum-tools like Art Academy and Flipnote Studio, the company has time and again tapped into the archetypal Japanese, but pretty much universal, theme of creating something beautiful.
This theme of the simple pleasure of labour and creation can even be traced through Nintendo’s latest offerings. Take the pint-size portable RPG Fantasy Life (3DS), for instance. The TARDIS-type title has all the trappings of your average role-playing experience, offering the player combat “Lives” like Paladin, Mercenary, Wizard and Hunter. What gives Fantasy Life a now characteristically Nintendo twist is its emphasis on gathering and crafting Lives – to truly reap the benefits of the game, you’re required to put some hours in as a Miner, a Woodcutter or an Angler to properly gather supplies. After that, you can try your hand as a Blacksmith to make your own armour on the cheap, or don your toque blanche (TIL) to whip up delicious HP revivers when you’re putting the hurt on dragons.
Don’t think I don’t see you Ninty naysayers in the back there, rolling your eyes at this Cooking Mama-esque minigame and complaining that the relaxed Angler role is a little bit too Animal Crossing for your tastes. Sure, Nintendo is pandering to its younger demographic, but to accuse them of unadulterated babyishness is too easy. There’s an almost palpable sense of workmanship in these games that provides a very real – and highly addictive – satisfaction.
Yoshi’s Woolly World (Wii U), in all its fuzzy glory, is perhaps the spiritual successor to Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii). The world went wild for Epic Yarn, which was universally praised, much of the praise concerning the clever craftsy theme and the gorgeous visuals. Woolly World has all the appearance of Nintendo’s continued capitalisation on our instinctual appreciation for the theme of the analog and the creative, and get a load of those knitted Amiibos – if you can afford them, that is.
The truth is, Nintendo have hit a rich vein with this theme in their games, from cooking and clay to stickers and knitting. It turns out that few of us can resist the charm of these digital representations of analog crafts from our childhoods, and surely it’s because of the fact that we all associate this kind of fingerpainting fun with a sense of the simple pride of creating something tangible. For Nintendo to insistently incorporate these themes into video games – a medium through which we all seek the candyfloss illusion of productivity – is nothing less than genius.
The upcoming Super Mario Maker (Wii U) looks set to be the final form of Nintendo’s fusion of the analog and digital creative process for their fans. Its intuitive, paper cut-out interface system takes me right back to when I used to construct my own games out of paper as a kid – a nostalgia-punch that I’m convinced is an intentional move by Nintendo. The title is the next logical step in the theme; the software means that our digital in-game creations are actually realised as a playable product, a check-it-out, stick-it-on-the-fridge achievement. It’s going to be a powerful experience for consumers.
In the wake of Satoru Iwata’s tragic passing this week, it’s worth sitting back and taking the time to appreciate where his company has been taking its games thematically lately, and to consider why that might be. Iwata famously attested:
“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
In revering the joy of the creative process, Nintendo’s games unite the digital “mind” and the analog “heart” of consumers. They often encourage us to find joy in in-game, digital instances of creation. They sometimes give us the tools to create something tangible. Most importantly, they always, always remind us – merely by existing – of the triumph of making something that will last.