In the latest issue of long-running UK gaming magazine Edge, industry legend and creator of Super Mario Bros. Shigeru Miyamoto sits down to talk about the direction in which Nintendo is heading. During the interview, which spans several pages and touches upon subjects ranging from upcoming title Splatoon to the lack of young talent at the company, the veteran game designer is quoted as saying that casual gamers are “pathetic” for not wanting to delving and getting the most out of video games.

A handful of gaming news sites immediately leapt on this statement and ran with it, hinting that Nintendo may be about to turn their backs on the very people who made products like the Nintendo DS and Wii the hits they were. But did Miyamoto honestly just diss the casual gaming public? We really don’t think so.

Numerous gaming sites are today running articles with headlines focusing on Shigeru Miyamoto’s use of the word pathetic in his Edge interview, focusing on juicier soundbites such as: “Their attitude is, ‘OK, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.’ It’s kind of a passive attitude they’re taking, and to me it’s kind of a pathetic thing.”

But let’s take a closer look at this conversation between Edge and Miyamoto and think a little harder about the language the veteran game designer is using.

In our modern lexicon, words like “pathetic” can be perceived as somewhat acerbic. We use the term in casual conversation when we’re deriding someone or something, and being labelled pathetic is never a nice feeling. For a man who is famous for having hobbies like gardening, taking care of his pets and chilling with the mandolin, such terms seem oddly uncharacteristic of Miyamoto. He may be famously demanding of his staff at work, and is known for writing entire projects off when he’s not completely satisfied, but on the whole he’s known as being a nice guy who views video games as a medium that should be embraced by people of all ages – hence the decidedly family-centric approach Nintendo took with the original Wii.

In his Edge interview–which we can only assume was conducted in Japanese or with the help of a translator since, although he tries, Miyamoto is not known for his English language ability–the magazine broaches on the topic of Nintendo’s main audience, quoting Miyamoto as he describes the kind of people the company does not currently have in its crosshairs:

Miyamoto and his staff are not designing games for “the sort of people who, for example, might want to watch a movie. They might want to go to Disneyland. Their attitude is, ‘OK, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.’ It’s kind of a passive attitude they’re taking, and to me it’s kind of a pathetic thing. They do not know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself. [If you do that,] you’re going to learn how fun it is.”

Nintendo may have learned from its recent mistakes, and Miyamoto’s interview does indeed suggest that the company aims to shift its focus more towards the kinds of games that many of us knew and loved in Nintendo’s pre-Wii days, but his (or perhaps the translator’s) use of the word “pathetic” here may be a little misleading, and not quite the inflammatory statement some news sites are presenting it as.

Miyamoto may have used the English word pathetic in describing casual gamers, but let’s not forget that the original meaning of the word is “to inspire pity or evoke feelings of sadness for a particular thing or person.” It’s often said that William Shakespeare’s plays have a number of “pathetic” characters, but this isn’t just a bunch of snooty critics dissing old Will’s work; rather it’s that such characters are there to make audiences feel sympathy.

More likely, though, is that the “pathetic” we see here is a translation of the Japanese word kawaisou. Not to be confused with regular old ‘kawaii‘ (cute), kawaisou (written with the characters 可哀相 and meaning poor, pitiable and, yes, pathetic in its original sense of the word) is an expression that is commonly used in Japanese when one expresses feelings of sympathy or regret for another. Your pal just went to surprise his girlfriend at work with bunch of flowers, only to find her in the arms of another man? Kawaisou! Your son or daughter just spent the afternoon building a Lego house only to drop it on the floor as they’re presenting it to you? That’s so kawaisou! You spent the entire day looking forward to eating delicious, limited edition ice-cream when you got back to the office only to find that a certain coworker has eaten it all? You’d better believe that’s kawaisou.

So before we get too upset about Miyamoto’s choice of words here or jump to the conclusion that Nintendo is about to start making nothing but Super Meat Boy-level difficult platformers and giving the very people who made them rich by buying millions of copies of Nintendogs and Wii Fit, let’s all take a deep breath and remember that working with two or more languages can be tricky, and that sometimes things get lost in translation. After all, it really would be “kawaisou” if Miyamoto, one of the nicest guys in gaming, suddenly started getting hate mail, wouldn’t it?

Reference: Edge #271
Feature image: Wikimedia Commons – Vincent Diamante