Hideo Kojima Speaks on Creativity, Business, and Wanting to Be in the LAPD When He Grew Up

The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrated the opening of its new exhibit, The Art of Video Games, this weekend with GameFest, three days' worth of entertainment and panels with game industry notables. On Saturday, the museum featured a one-hour talk with game design legend Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame.

Kojima's mere entry into the auditorium was greeted with a standing ovation from enthusiastic fans, many of whom had waited outside the museum for hours before opening despite already having tickets for the sold-out talk. Moderator Chris Melissinos, the exhibit curator, asked Kojima a number of questions about gaming's past, present, and future.

Melissinos at one point posed a question that in many ways summarizes the entire art and industry of game design and many debates players have over their favorite series, asking, "Some artists struggle having to balance the commercial interest with their creative desires. How do you maintain this balance and make sure your games are yours?"

Kojima responded that his role as producer exists to make sure creativity takes top priority in the design process and described a bit how he came to the role, saying:

Well honestly, there are only 24 hours in a day. If I could, I would love to use all those 24 hours as creative time, creating a game. But I think in order to create something truly great, you have to create the environment that allows people to create freely. And in order to accomplish that, I decided that I had to become a producer, that becoming producer would allow me to create the teams that I wanted to create.

So, you know, part of the idea is, one, I wasn't a producer, so I was very bound by dates and budgets. I had no control over hiring people, I had no control over budget, a lot of times I didn't really know where the deadlines came from, so I really didn't have that power that I wanted.

So I think there may be a lot of people here in the audience who maybe want to produce a creative type of occupation, whether it's games or something else, and I think if you have a great supportive producer there, who can encourage you and bring that creativity out of you that's great, but if there isn't a person like that, then I think really it's up to you to take the leadership and become a producer yourself.

But then of course to become a producer, and maintain your position as a producer, you have to know business. You have to look at the business aspects, keep multiple lines of things running at once, you have to be very organized, keep track of the budgets and whatnot, so I think it's very important to have that skill. But what I want to emphasize, though, is that that role as a producer, that's only to facilitate creativity. So creativity and creation is always priority number one, and I've become a producer to support that creative endeavor, and in order to support my role as producer I've studied the business. But priority is always on creation.

Kojima also confirmed that yes, he intends to keep making games and is currently working on what he hopes will be his "great accomplishment." But when asked what the future holds for video games, his response wasn't about his own projects at all. Instead, he focused on the impact games and interactive entertainment have on the world at large. The creative technology developed for gaming, he explained, has uses well beyond entertainment that we're only just now starting to investigate:

Of course I don't know what the future holds, but I believe that interactive entertainment will not go away. I think that people will have that need for that type of entertainment. In addition to that, the evolutionary step of technology, I believe that will also become much wider in society and will impact a lot more areas of society, so useful in things like maybe medical science, or various other parts of our daily lives, I think. So games will become much more important not just in the community, but across a much wider audience.

So I guess you could say that games kind of serve as a testing ground for a lot of technologies that could later on become very useful in medical fields, medical science or education or critical social services. So I think in that respect, games are a very important part of our future, and I think the future's very bright. As an example of that there's the Kinect, which I think probably many of you have in your own homes, and it's first introduced as a part of a game experience but I think maybe in five to ten years we'll be using that type of interaction with a lot of other things besides games. So in a certain way, games are kind of at the cutting edge of technology, introducing people to these new technologies that will be part of our daily lives in the future.

During the talk, Kojima also discussed his sources of inspiration at length, describing how his love of film and and of Space Invaders ultimately led him to a career in game design. He explained how prevalent Western influences were when he was growing up, adding that as a young boy he wanted to grow up to join the LAPD because of CHiPs on television. As a final thought, when asked how it feels now to be the inspiration for others, he said:

When I was young, growing up, I was influenced by novels, movies, comic books, and I took all of those input, processed it within myself, and the result was a game, which I output. But to hear now that the games that I've created are influencing other creators in other fields I think is very exciting, and it's an honor. In a way I think it's come full circle, and I feel to a certain extent it's kind of like... I don't want to say "destiny," it's a little bit too much, but it feels like something very special to me.

A recording of the full hour-long panel can be viewed at the Smithsonian's website.