Today the Internet is paying its respects to Satoru Iwata, who passed away at only 55 on Saturday, 12 July 2015. And rightly so, for Mr Iwata was a titan for Nintendo and the video game industry in general. He was part of HAL Laboratory back in the 80s, working on the Kirby and Earthbound games, becoming president of that Nintendo subsidiary in the 90s. He joined Nintendo proper and became its president in 2002, only the forth in the company’s history.
Mr Iwata was a man of the people when it came to video games, and as President of Nintendo he bucked trends and ignored naysayers by pushing the development of a motion-controlled video game device that would become the Wii. The Wii was not as graphically powerful as its contemporaries, and it didn’t boast the same roster of games that would appeal to hardcore players. A lot of people made jokes about the Wii, but it became the highest selling console at the time. This happened because Nintendo, helmed by Mr Iwata, reminded people that games were meant to be fun and simply enjoyed – you didn’t need massive hardware or really expensive consoles, you didn’t have to sink half of your life (in either time or money) in order to get satisfaction out of a game.
Video games were headed in a direction that was excluding most people, people who used to like video games but got pushed out by the hardcore community. These were people with jobs, kids, mortgages, you name it: responsibilities, basically, and these regular folk were who needed video games the most. Maybe even more important was that children were beginning to be left behind by video games as the Xbox and Playstation targeted twenty somethings more and more aggressively. In introducing the Wii and its games (not only Mario, but games that required nothing more instinct like Wii Sports), Mr Iwata reminded people that video games were supposed to be fun. He helped usher in an era where being a casual gamer was not an insult. At the same time, he oversaw the development of the Nintendo DS, which allowed people to sink deep into gaming culture. This is the definition of a visionary. He helped return gaming to the masses without leaving the other gamers behind.
“Above all,” he said, “video games are meant to be just one thing: fun. Fun for everyone.”
He had excellent hair and a great sense of humor. You could tell he loved gaming and loved his job. “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart I am a gamer.”
Mr Iwata died on Saturday due to tumor complications. He is survived by his wife, Kayoko, and there will be a funeral this Friday. But for now, the Internet remembers a great man who had a really cool job, gave everyone the giggles doing adorably weird things during for Nintendo Direct, and who inarguably changed things for the better. 55 years is far too short a time, and he will be missed.