Like many people, I was stunned and saddened to learn that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata had passed away last night following a battle with cancer at age 55. The longtime executive had become nearly synonymous with the company since taking over in 2002, to the point that it’s nearly impossible to imagine Nintendo without him.
The news is also a little surreal. As the head of Nintendo, Iwata has had a profound impact on my life even though I really don’t know all that much about him. Outside the occasional Iwata Asks, his presence has always been more symbolic than tangible. When he became a muppet for the most recent Nintendo Direct, it was seemed like a natural extension of the role he served with the company. Satoru Iwata believed that video games should be fun, which made him the perfect figurehead for Nintendo. He was as warm and welcoming as any of Nintendo’s beloved characters, constantly exuding a timeless optimism that felt like it would endure long beyond the confines of ordinary mortality.
His death is a tragic reminder that Satoru Iwata was flesh and blood just like the rest of us, and like the rest of us, he also had his flaws. Under his leadership, the company has sometimes struggled to keep place with a rapidly changing social, cultural, and commercial landscape. Yet while I’ve frequently criticized Nintendo over the years, I’ve never questioned the company’s commitment to its vision and its love of play. Nintendo has always made excellent games with strong design principles that tried to make games more accessible for fans of all ages and dispositions.
In a way, that seems like a fitting eulogy. I know Iwata only as the head of that company, the man who came to embody its core values and ideals. He was committed to inclusivity and the idea that everyone could enjoy the simple, wholesome pleasures of interactive entertainment, and he found new ways to share that joy with millions of people around the world.
There will be many kinds words said over the next few days, many from people with a far more complete understanding of the man himself. There are others who are more directly invested in Nintendo as both fans and creators. They will all share stories and honor the man in ways that I never could.
I’m writing simply because I feel like I have to. Iwata was such a colossal figure that anything else would be inappropriate, a failure to commemorate one of the most influential individuals in the short history of the medium. Satoru Iwata made bold decisions that broke with conventional wisdom, and in the process redefined what games could be for an entire generation of players.
That deserves our respect and admiration. So thank you, Satoru Iwata, for representing the best that gaming has to offer. The industry won’t be the same without you. Rest in peace.