Gambling, Banjos, And George Lucas: Surprising Facts About ‘Super Mario’ Creator Shigeru Miyamoto

Getty Image/Nintendo

Nintendo likes to present Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto as a sort of twinkle-eyed, video game-producing Willy Wonka, which is understandable, but the real man behind the public image is far more complex and interesting. Here’s a few things you might not know about the man who made most of our childhoods a lot more fun…

Shigeru Miyamoto’s lack of a TV when he was a kid helped shape his games.

Miyamoto’s family wasn’t poor, but they lived in the country outside of Kyoto, and in the 1950s, TVs were still a rarity, especially in old-fashioned rural Japan. Children were expected to find their own entertainment outdoors (and out of their parents’ hair) and lil’ Shigeru spent hours exploring forests and dark caves no child today would ever be allowed near. These childhood adventures would form the basis of games like Super Mario Bros. and, especially, The Legend of Zelda. In other words, Miyamoto has basically made his career packing and reselling his exciting, enriching childhood to today’s sedentary kids who aren’t allowed to cross the street on their own. If you can’t have the real thing, it’s a pretty good substitute.

The dude was a prototypical hipster in his 20s.

As you may have heard, all millennials are doomed. The whole generation is directionless and entitled and they all just want to grow their hipster beards while wearing their ironic hats in their vegan, fair-trade coffee shops. Bah! Pfah! You’ll never get anywhere like that! Well, not so fast.

After graduating high school, Miyamoto wasn’t particularly sure what he wanted to do, so he enrolled in art school and slouched his way to a diploma over the course of five years. He dressed in blazers and wacky patterned ties and socks, spent all his time in record shops searching for the latest from unknown-in-Japan artists like The Ramones, Doc Watson and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and focused most of his energies on playing the banjo in a bluegrass band. Sound familiar? Miyamoto was doing the hipster thing when most millennials were still a glint in their disappointed parents’ eyes. So, how did Miyamoto finally find his calling? The most Millennial way possible…

Miyamoto’s dad got him his interview with Nintendo, and he didn’t even bother to bring a resume.


As luck would have it, Miyamoto’s dad happened to know Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, so he pulled some strings and got his son an interview, although Miyamoto, free-spirit that he was, didn’t take the opportunity that seriously. Or perhaps more accurately, he took it seriously in his own unique way.

Rather than show up with a cover letter and resume, Miyamoto came toting a variety of handmade toys he had designed himself. Among his creations were cartoon bird and elephant-adorned kids clothes hangers, a three-way seesaw and a whimsical clock designed to be used at an amusement park. Shockingly, the infamously no-nonsense Yamauchi ended up hiring him. Miyamoto’s dad must have called in one hell of a favor.

This obscure racing game is the first video game Miyamoto helped create.

So, once Miyamoto joined Nintendo, he got straight to work churning out classics like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., right? Not so fast. When Miyamoto was first hired in 1977, Nintendo was just starting to dip its toes into video game development, and there were no plans for Miyamoto to work on the games themselves. Miyamoto was hired as an industrial artist and graphic designer – basically, it was his job to create the plastic housing Nintendo’s products came in, and maybe some of the art on that housing.