Hideo Kojima

If Hideo Kojima were a novelist, he would be Jonathan Franzen. If he were a television producer, he'd be David Chase. And if he were a filmmaker, he would be Peter Jackson. Kojima once dreamed of doing all those things, but he became a videogame designer instead. Which means you've probably never heard of him, despite the fact that his most recent creation was as eagerly anticipated among gamers as "The Corrections," season three of "The Sopranos" or the first installment of "The Lord of the Rings" was among regular folk. When Kojima unveiled a nine-minute trailer of the game--an unexpectedly timely counterterrorist adventure set in New York City--for the videogame press last year, the filmlike visuals prompted stunned silence, audible gasps and finally a standing ovation. "We use wind, rain, steam and other effects to make the players feel as though they're really there," says Kojima of his breakthrough achievement, called Metal Gear Solid 2. "It may look like a film, but it doesn't play like a film--it's more of an event."

Making a game today requires many skills, and in a sense the 38-year-old Kojima has been preparing for MGS2 his entire life. As a child growing up in Kobe, Japan, he played outdoor games like thief-and-detective (the Japanese equivalent of hide-and-seek) with his friends, flattening himself against walls and peeking around corners in much the same way as Solid Snake, the hero of MGS2, does today. In middle school he wrote five 600-page science-fiction novels, then took up filmmaking when a friend brought a Super 8 camera to school--charging neighborhood kids 50 yen each to see his movies. "I thought I would be like Sylvester Stallone with 'Rocky'," says Kojima. "I would write something great and make it into a movie myself." By the time he reached college, however, Nintendo had released its first videogame console. Not many people would see parallels between the plucky plumbers in Super Mario Bros. and the doomed truck drivers in the existential French thriller "The Wages of Fear," but Kojima did, and marrying film techniques to videogames became his signature.

Some have touted videogames as the medium of the future. But at roughly 30 years of age, it's a medium still in its infancy, still searching for its "Citizen Kane." There aren't many games that make you consider the duality of heroism and terrorism, raise the issue of youth combatants and, in a nod to "The Matrix," suggest that the hero himself may be trapped within a virtual-reality game. Kojima attempts to do all this and then some, and succeeds more often than he fails. "A game takes away 20 hours of your life or more," says Kojima, who's turning his attention to online games. "I like to add something to a game that is more than just a tool to kill time with." Mission accomplished.