France is in a twilight zone. The cold is still but the sun finally
decided to shine on the “City of Lights” which, contrary to the
nickname, had never looked so grey. Representatives from all the French
video game media outlets were unusually gathered at noon with national
television crews and mainstream press in one of the golden reception
rooms of the Ministry of Culture. All cameras fixated on a pair of
microphones standing on a small stage.
press waiting patiently behind a purple velvet cord, the well-preserved
building from another time, and the Le Palais Royal (royal palace) park
harken to an earlier, more monarchical age. When Shigeru Miyamoto,
Michel Ancel and Frédérick Raynal entered the room, the 21st century is
French Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, began a long
oration chronicling, for the crowd, the careers of the three game
designers peppering in words like “genius”, “Hyrule” “Rayman”, “Beyond Good & Evil”, and “Alone in the Dark.” On March 13, 2006, Paris, the heart of the institutional French culture, had just entered the Twilight Zone.
How did two French game designers Michel Ancel (Rayman, Beyond Good & Evil) and Frédérick Raynal (Alone in the Dark, Twinsen's Odyssey) along with the beloved Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda)
come to receive the honorific title of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts
et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Literatures) from the
hands of the French minister of Culture and Communications?
The honorees with their medals (Photograph courtesy of Bliss Press).
knew. The Ubisoft and Nintendo PR departments didn't know. Both CEOs of
Nintendo France (Stephen Bole) and Nintendo Europe (Laurent Fisher)
supposedly didn't know. What is known is that to receive the
prestigious title of Legion d'Honneur in France, somebody has to put
you on a long list of candidates. Could it be different for the
Chevalier medals? The question seems inappropriate. We do not dare to
ask the honored people why and how. After a while, tracking this
non-mystery became like a game.
when the ceremony was fading out with frozen empty glasses of wine on
the big terraces of the minister building, the dictaphone was
instinctively put in front of Mr. Jean-Claude Larue, spokesman for the
SELL (French equivalent of the ESA): "They deserve it don't you think?
You know their work, their talent." Of course, but still, how come?
"Well, you know, we're always talking with the Ministry of Culture, and
it's our job to explain our industry to the political body." So the
idea just "emerged" during casual conversations between some minister
and some video game representative. And when two French game designers
were picked, it suddenly seemed obvious that it couldn't be a serious
initiative without including Japanese legend Shigeru Miyamoto.
those officials realize how affable it was for the father of Zelda and
Mario, on the verge of a video game Revolution, to come to Paris to
give, in a way, his international prestige to an otherwise French-only
desuet ceremony? "There are some other French game designers that would
deserve the recompense as much as us" admitted, without being asked,
the French game designers. In fact, French veteran Philip Ulrich who
founded the Cryo company and was at the origin of such games as Dune, Megarace, and Alien,
was already given the medal of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des
Lettres back in 1999! Many artists from all horizons are given this
honorific recognition: writers, painters, Hollywood stars, movie
Michel Ancel was quick to point out the merits of compatriot Eric Chahi (Out of This World, 1991) who pursued other projects after the hard and too long development of Heart of Darkness (1998), and Frédérick Raynal remembered French game genius Paul Cuisset (Flashback, 1992, Fade to Black, 1995, Moto Racer 3, 2001) with whom he made Time Commando
(1996) and might work with again in the near future. When Sega withdrew
its offices from France after the Dreamcast showdown and his ambitious Agatha
project had to stop, Frédérick Raynal, whose No Cliché studio was
attached to the Japanese company, kept a low profile and did some game
consulting. With his medal on the chest, and his talented illustrator
wife, who was responsible for the look of all his games, by his side,
Raynal seemed almost ready to make a come back: "What I miss most is
the teamwork, this is the great part of this work, not the game that
ends up in a box on shelves. It's the process that I miss, even if it
Michel Ancel who dealt, for the first time, with guns in King Kong
while he "avoided having the characters take aim at other human
beings", made a great deal of encouraging the development of games with
some minimum moral or human values in his thankful speech. "The youth,
our children, play so many hours with our games at an age when all
their emotions will impact their adult lives. We have a
responsibility." This official recognition from the Ministry of Culture
may reactivate the "video games vs art debate", but Ancel is obviously
ahead of the controversy: "I think the purpose of art is to open the
mind, so I will continue to try to make games that have some value," he
Miyamoto receiving his medal (Photograph courtesy of Bliss Press).
Miyamoto showed neither vanity nor shyness. His mischievious spirit
showed as he embraced the Minister of Culture upon receiving his medal.
The applauds were unanimous and while modestly receiving them,
Miyamoto's eyes rapidly made contact with as much people as he possibly
could as if to say, "Everyone counts." Or maybe he was looking into the
audiences' eyes to find out how important, or not, this Chevalier
honorific title was.
award speech began with a vigorous "Bonjour!" and went straight to the
heart of French culture by saying that he was honored to receive such a
distinction from a country he admired for the Impressionist painting
movement, especially Monet. He then explained that when he started to
work on video games for Nintendo in the '80s, "they were conceived by
technicians, not artists". He now feels lucky to have been a part of
the evolution of the video games towards an entertainment medium.
confronted with the always blurry status of the video game, both French
game designers Michel Ancel and Frédérick Raynal agree, with careful
words: "This recognition is good for video games as a whole".
Even though France is less plagued by anti-video game lobbies than the
US, and games are selling by hundred of thousands, video games are not
really acknowledged or respected. Could this be a step toward changing