Remembering Satoru Iwata
It’s strange when the death of someone you don’t know personally affects you on a deep level, but the sudden death of Satoru Iwata at 55 has had a profound affect on me. I’ve watched him speak “directly” to me for countless hours through Nintendo Directs, Iwata Asks, E3, and other presentations, and his insight and view of the world resonated with me. His quirky charm bringing such delight, something that can’t be said for most corporate CEOs. But then again, Satoru Iwata wasn’t just the head of Nintendo. He was a developer, a programmer, and a gamer himself. He worked substantially on Balloon Fight, Smash Bros., the Kirby’s Dreamland games, Pokemon, Mario, and Zelda series, and more.
He was never afraid to take risks, to veer in a completely different and revolutionary direction, proving that a great game system doesn’t rely on power, but how you play and what you can play. He was a visionary. He oversaw Nintendo through their best and worst, through the glory days of Wii and DS and the more sluggish days of the Gamecube, Wii U, and early 3DS. He was kind, caring, and humble when needed. Even when they were losing money and pressed by investors, he refused to layoff employees. Instead, he cut his salary in half when the 3DS was performing badly, and cut it in half again last year. It’s hauntingly sad that the last public statement he made was apologizing for Nintendo’s E3 2015 presentation not living up to fan expectations. “Please understand” became a catchphrase when explaining game delays, short comings, or even language barriers. Even myself, a dedicated and loyal Nintendo fan, wrote a somewhat unflattering piece on E3 2015. Something I will now forever regret.
Satoru Iwata will likely be most remembered by many for his charm. Whether he was staring at fruit, getting into fights with Reggie Fils-Aime, coining the year of Luigi, wearing funny hats, or transforming himself into a puppet, LEGO Minifigure, giant Brain Age head, or piece of paper, speaking to us in English instead of his own language, his hands, all the while waving “directly” to us. His sweetness as the face of Nintendo will be remembered forever.
In college I took Japanese classes for a year so I’d be able to speak to Iwata and Miyamoto in their native language should the opportunity arise. The fact that I will never be able to thank him in person is personally heartbreaking. I know this sounds horrible, but sometimes you can prepare and brace yourself for the death of people you admire. I just saw Stan Lee speak at Comic-Con, and I thought of it as closure in a sense. But when you are blindsided by a death, even someone who you’ve only seen through a screen, it hurts.
If I could write one last piece to send out to him I would say thank you. Thank you for so much of my childhood. Thank you for the days playing GameCube with my dad. Thank you for car rides filled with Animal Crossing, Mario, and Zelda. Thank you for the incredible amount of time spent with family and friends playing Wii Sports, Rock Band, and Mario Kart on vacation and on quiet days. Thank you for the more recent nights spent playing Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon with my little sister. Thank you for guiding me into the Mushroom Kingdom and Hyrule so frequently. Thank you for having a large role in shaping who I am and my interests growing up and for showing me that a CEO of a massive corporation can lead with kindness and compassion and creativity. You are responsible for bringing my family to play together on more occasions than just about anyone else.
Rest In Peace Iwata-san. You will be missed.