Remembering Iwata

Iwata-and-the-Bananas

At this time last week, I was – along with the rest of the gaming world – still reeling from the news that broke Sunday evening. Satoru Iwata had passed away.

Just as I was about to hop off the computer for the night, I checked my Twitter feed and saw the first bit of news trickling out. I had to reread the the headline three times just to make sure I’d seen it correctly. Upon clicking a couple of links, my heart sank as the news was repeatedly confirmed.

And then I cried.

I was heartbroken, and I think I always will be.

I can’t recall if I’ve ever cried over the passing of a celebrity before now (or at least, a celebrity in my eyes), but this really hit me hard. Just as my tears would clear up and gain my composure, I’d read something else about him and lose it. That went on for three or four hours.

Named president and CEO in 2002, Iwata had been the man in charge at Nintendo since around the time I actually became aware of the names and faces behind my most beloved games and franchises. He worked tirelessly to bring joy to millions of people, and although we knew him mostly as the face of the company after Yamauchi stepped down, Iwata was a relentless and dedicated game developer, even before joining Nintendo.

There are many tales regaling Iwata-san’s prowess as a developer and programmer, even after he became president and CEO. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and loved working on games the way he had as a young coder.

I remember reading in an Iwata Asks, his ongoing developer interview series, where the tables were turned and someone asked him a question, he mentioned that as a younger game designer, he viewed Miyamoto as his rival (healthy competition and all that), although he didn’t think Miyamoto was ever aware of it, haha.

A lot of quotes began circulating around Twitter as gamers mourned Iwata’s passing, but probably the most highly-regarded was part of his keynote speech at the 2005 Game Developers Conference. I remember that speech well, having downloaded and listened to the audio file (this is before YouTube blew up).

In his speech, Iwata said, “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.”

I’m going to miss this man so much. I’ll miss his humility, his humor, his playfulness, his silly charm, and, most of all, his unfettered love for video games. It was obvious he was’t a business degree in a suit. His love for games was earnest and pure.

To that point, he once stated, “Video games are meant to be just one thing: fun. Fun for everyone.”

Iwata had not been as front-and-center in Nintendo’s presentations over the past year, whether at E3 or in Nintendo Directs. He wasn’t entirely kept out of sight, but his role in Nintendo’s conveyance of information had been reduced.

He did not attend E3 in 2014 for medical reasons. It was later disclosed that he’d undergone surgery to remove a growth in his bile duct. The next time we saw Iwata, he was noticeably thinner – gaunt, even. Nintendo fans commented on his appearance with concern, as some worried his situation might be more serious than the company was letting on.

Iwata also missed E3 2015, as Nintendo stated he would be staying in Japan to continue working. In his absence, we got a wonderful presentation in the form of Nintendo Muppets. As it turned out, Jim Henson Studios had actually created the Muppet counterparts for Iwata, Miyamoto and Reggie, as well as the StarFox crew, and even collaborated to make Nintendo’s actual presentation. Content-wise, some fans were let down, but in terms of the actual presentation itself, it was wonderful.

Just weeks after E3, Nintendo had its annual shareholders meeting. There, Iwata laid out Nintendo’s performance in the past year, detailed some of its vision for the future, and answered questions from shareholders.

Just a few weeks later, at the age of 55, Iwata succumbed to his cancer.

Even now, a week after his passing, as someone who never met the man, I’m still mourning the loss of Satoru Iwata. What a kind heart he was.

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