So You Want To Be a Data Journalist: Learning From a Pro

Nick Paumgarten, in a 2010 article in the New Yorker, brilliantly introduces readers to Shigeru Miyamoto by describing Miyamoto’s childhood fantasies. I didn’t know who Miyamoto was. I didn’t realize that Miyamoto is the man behind a game brand that is played by millions of children across many generations. Who is the Japanese video maker? Paumgarten describes him as “the father of modern video games” who is best known for creating Super Mario Bros. Miyamoto also helped create the Legend of Zelda.

I grew up in a house full of girls and the last video console we owned was the Nintendo 64 console that you put your game cartridge in. And that was given to use by our cousins. I don’t even remember playing Super Mario Bros. often because our mom was strict with the amount of television we watched.

But I do feel a sentimental attachment to the game. Miyamoto also had a large role in the team that created the Wii. My family owns a Wii even though my sisters and I are the youngest members of household, at 25 years old. So what makes Super Mario Bros. so popular and Miyamoto so successful?

Paumgarten says that Miyamoto’s games are popular because they have all the right elements: emotions, clean design, easy narrative, etc. Super Mario Bros. becomes familiar easily because it’s linear – you know what happens when you touch a red mushroom versus a green mushroom, you know that you have to go through the level from left to right on the screen to pass, and that there are eight worlds in total.

Paumgarten also says that games are exciting when it is a competition, it makes you take a risk, it’s a simulation, and it is vertigo, all of which Super Mario has.

“When there is a game that is not yet interesting, I have to think about how I can change it or adjust it so that people can be entertained,” said Miyamoto, who is elusive because he prefers to hold on to his anonymity.

I always enjoy Super Mario Bros. because the instructions are easy to follow but the game is still fun to play. I find games like Halo or Gears of War too complicated, and designed for a target audience.

As data journalists, we can learn from the tactics that game developers use to figure out how to make our visualizations appealing and easy to understand. We can be like Miyamoto and present data in a way that is simple and available for a large audience, or we can present data that, while also visually stunning, is readable only to a certain audience that is already familiar with data journalism.


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