Most gamers cry at the sight of a shattered device or gaming console. Corporate overlords whimper when sales dwindle. However, a tragic event this past Saturday left gamers and company employees alike saddened after the death of Satoru Iwata.
Satoru Iwata was the fourth president and CEO of Nintendo, serving as both a game programmer as well as a businessman for the Japanese video game company. While managing the day-to-day operations of a multibillion-dollar company, he also spent a significant amount of time in the process of game development alongside programmers.
Straight out of university as a computer-science major, Iwata initially joined HAL Laboratory as a freelance programmer. During his time there, he assisted with some of the company’s major titles, including Balloon Fight, Kirby, and Earthbound games, as well as Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Gold and Silver. He was later asked to join Nintendo, where, after only working for only two years, was asked to become the president and CEO by Hiroshi Yamauchi. This promotion proved to be historic, as it marked the first employee to be elected to this revered position who was not related to the family that founded Nintendo.
Aside from programming many of the company’s games, Iwata was also one of the esteemed masterminds behind some of the most distinguishing features that casted Nintendo as a pioneer in new gaming concepts. Iwata was one of the key figures to call for a transition from the Game Boy to the Nintendo DS, hoping that the new dual-screen design would allow for novel games, ultimately redefining and breathing new life into handheld gaming devices.
Iwata also contributed greatly to the revolution that swept through the video game industry with his push for the development of the Wii, with its notable feature of utilizing motion-sensitive remote controllers, something that was certainly ahead of its time for the gaming industry giants. Championing creativity, interacting with fans constantly, as well as pushing the limits of video games helped to not only secure Nintendo a spot as a forerunner in many regards in the industry, but his work and passion helped to rejuvenate an interest in incorporating new technologies into the world of video games.
In later years, Iwata was heavily involved in the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS; however, these gaming devices failed to meet the successes experienced by their respective predecessors. As an expected result of this, Nintendo’s finances took a nosedive. Instead of watching the company he loved suffer great losses and leave the gamers with a disappointing future to look forward to, Iwata took it upon himself to save the company by slashing his salary in half. This would allow for Nintendo to remain relevant amongst its competitors in the market, Sony and Microsoft.
Then, on July 11th, 2015, Satoru Iwata died as a result of complications from a tumor in his bile duct at the age of 55.
Iwata provided a generation not only with delightful nostalgia but an excited optimism for the future of gaming. Video gamers around the globe mourned not only for the loss of a technological pioneer and genius, but also for a champion for creativity. Satoru Iwata defied the rigid notions of video games as being cold, rigid machines working for a small subset of gamers as they clunked away at their buttons. This legendary figure wanted to expand the world of gaming to people of all walks of life, and to transform the gaming experience into a human experience.
The day after the death of Satoru Iwata was a muggy one in parts of Japan, as the people and the skies joined to weep for the world’s loss. Overheard Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto stretched a long rainbow, something that many people took note of, and appropriately called Iwata’s “Rainbow Road to Heaven.”
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.