We don’t talk much about games these days, but there’s no question Nintendo has been a huge part of our love affair with Japanese culture. So I felt it would be appropriate to mention that we here at The Glorio Blog join so many others in mourning the loss of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. It’s a bittersweet feeling to try and fondly remember all the great games he made possible without dwelling too much on the fact that there were so many more to come. He will be missed.
For me personally, seeing the outpouring of love and hearing the stories of how he became president have been inspiring. I’ve never been a huge enough Nintendo fan boy to dig into any of his history until now. I only knew him as the stiff but endearingly goofy president that showed up in their press conferences and the increasingly entertaining Nintendo Direct videos. I saw him as a suit trying hard – and mostly succeeding – in humanizing a huge company that was still ultimately about the bottom line.
But now, as everyone recounts his life’s accomplishments, I am incredibly impressed. I won’t cover all of them here as plenty of other outlets have done a fine job of that, but basically seeing someone who started at the bottom as a programmer, had the passion to perservere even when his family opposed him, and stuck with his ideals under financial pressure – something unheard of for a company so large – really made an impression on me. The fact that so many people have been affected by the loss of a corporate executive tells you he was a true rarity, a man in charge that actually cared about the work his company does as much or more than the amount of money it makes.
It’s easy to praise Iwata’s direct accomplishments as a programmer, president of HAL Laboratories, and then president of Nintendo. But I am particularly moved reading his 2005 “Heart of a Gamer” speech that has been circulating since he passed. Parts of it are almost chilling when you think about them in the context of this post “Gamer Gate” world. Consider this quote:
“Finally, I am most concerned with what we think of as a gamer. As we spend more time and money chasing exactly the same players, who are we leaving behind? Are we creating games just for each other? Do you have friends and family members who do not play videogames? Well, why don’t they? And, I would ask this: how often have you challenged yourself to create a game that you might not play? I think these questions for an important challenge for all of us.”
Iwata gave this speech a little after the release of the DS and a little before the release of the Wii. I remember my mindset at the time. To me, talk of widening out into broader audiences just sounded like marketing talk. It was a greedy cash grab that would leave “real” gamers high and dry. Even as the Wii went on to be one of the most successful consoles of all time I kept thinking to myself it couldn’t possibly last. All these grandmas and housewives buying game systems would get their Wii Fit and Wii Sports and grow bored with it in a few weeks.
Ten years have passed since that speech and I have been proven wrong. It’s true the Wii’s popularity waned and the WiiU hasn’t quite lived up to it’s success, but Iwata’s goal to reach all audiences has had a huge impact on the games industry. The Wii made it ok for everyone to play video games again, whether it be on the WiiU, the 3DS, their phone, or their iPad. Sure there is still much work to be done, but when game companies see stats like women making up over half of the people who play games, it makes it a lot easier to push for more diversity and better representation moving forward.
I don’t own a WiiU and I don’t get to play games as much I used to, but my final thought goes to my 7 year old niece who is just as passionate about Nintendo games as I was when I was her age. Kirby, created by Masahiro Sakurai under Iwata’s direction, is her favorite. She even bought his amiibo with her own money she had saved. The idea that it’s weird for her to play games just because she’s a girl is a completely foreign concept. I hope that decades from now, when most of the industries illuminaries’ have passed, that will be Iwata’s legacy. He was not just a suit trying to improve his company’s bottom line but he truly believed his own words:
“Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: Fun for everyone.”
Thank you, Mr. Iwata. I finally understand.