In 2006, I turned 16 and threw a birthday shindig that is still clear in my mind today. I unwrapped a Nintendo Wii and realized why my parents allowed me to have roughly 20 kids over for my birthday: Wii Sports.
If you’re a gamer like me—you’re always trying to get your friends and family to play videogames together. The closest I ever got was playing Mario Kart 64 with my father.
Nintendo’s new strategy was the brainchild of Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo from 2002 until his death at the age of 55 on July 11th 2015.
The Nintendo Wii expanded the videogame industry with innovative motion controls, and two years prior, Nintendo redefined the handheld gaming experience by adding touch controls. These features were replicated and remixed by Nintendo’s competitors in later years, but it was the big N who put these signatures (just like they did with the D-Pad in the 80’s) on the map.
Iwata was originally hired at Nintendo as a programmer in 1983. When he eventually became President, he made it his goal to bridge the gap between gamers of all ages and expand the company’s public relations.
With the success of the DS in 2004 and the critically acclaimed Wii in 2006 under his belt, Iwata launched “Ask Iwata” on the company’s website which offered fans the chance to speak directly to their favorite company’s president. Shortly afterwards he implemented and anchored “Nintendo Direct” which allowed developers and programmers the chance to inform their audiences directly.
Previously known as a company who protected their intellectual properties like a father with his pre-teen daughter, Iwata began to turn the wheels and get intellectual properties to cross mediums with games like Sonic & Mario at the Olympic Games and Bowser’s appearance in the blockbuster hit Wreck-It Ralph. Unafraid to trail blaze new territory, it was reported in 2015 that Nintendo, under Iwata’s leadership, was in talks with Universal Studios to create a Nintendo theme park and that the company was finally open to expanding their retro game library to Android & Apple devices.
Only 55, Iwata suffered from a tumor in his bile duct in 2014. Unable to remove it completely, it later expanded and caused his untimely death this year, leaving people like myself on the pause menu.
I was in shock, as the news of his death caught me off guard. Everyone has their foundations—things we hold dear because they anchor us down. For many who grew up in front of the TV playing Super Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Kirby and more, the loss of Nintendo’s president in some ways isn’t THAT far off from losing the President of the United States (take this with a grain of salt if you’re feeling salty).
Nintendo’s existence reminds gamers such as myself to dream, to wonder and to never forget the kid we once were. With Nintendo’s president having passed, there is a notion of fear in my heart that worries what the next direction of Nintendo will be. Will they follow through in Iwata’s footsteps, or will they decide to take a new direction?
At a time when the company had finally decided to become more charitable with their intellectual properties, we can’t help but wonder without Iwata at the helm, how soon (if ever) will these new ventures be implemented.
But I think at the core—what makes Iwata so loved was his dedication to the love and excitement video games bring us. In the same vein as going to the movies, videogames offer an escape from reality, but the adventure never truly leaves us. They say we learn best by doing and an adventure we go through ourselves is an experience no other medium can match. Iwata knew the significance of the videogame experience, and despite being a programmer turned businessman, he never lost sight of this. Iwata cut his own salary by 50% to compensate for the Wii U’s poor launch in 2012. This decision allowed the company to operate as normal under his umbrella. In a time when companies and CEO’s are so willing to lay off workers, Iwata respected his company and specifically employees just as much as the fans.
His actions and legacy have prompted many video game publications such as IGN, Kotaku, Gamespot & more to release tributes in his honor, and artwork of Iwata with Nintendo Characters is now overcrowding Instagram, DeviantArt, and Tumblr. Mii’s in the likeness of Iwata have been spotted across Super Smash Bros & Mario Kart 8.
On the day of his death, a rainbow stretched over Nintendo’s headquarters, to which many have dubbed “Iwata’s Rainbow Road to Heaven” in reference to a level in Mario Kart.
From me personally, I thank you Satoru Iwata for the awesome 16th birthday.