Satoru Iwata, the late Nintendo chief executive, died in July 2015, and though many retrospectives and obituaries have been written since then, few are as comprehensive as this reflection on his career by Did You Know Gaming? now emerging as the premier archivist of console video game culture.
Iwata famously ascended to Nintendo's big chair in 2002 more as a games developer than a salesman or business administrator. He succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had been president of the company since 1949, and was the first chief executive not related to that family. He presided over the 2004 debut of the DS line and the 2006 launch of the Wii, both of which somehow elevated Nintendo's name in Western mainstream culture beyond the standard it had already set with the NES, SNES and Nintendo 64. As buck-chasing investors rubbed their hands in anticipation of huge paydays, Iwata remained steadfast in his commitment to Nintendo's toymaking culture of joyful and sentimental experiences, even if that alienated those chasing higher short-term monetary goals.
Few brands, gaming or otherwise, rate such loyalty and trust, or jealousy among their competitors. In many ways Nintendo and its diehards still are right, in principle, even if company's beautiful, well designed platforms are today mainly walled gardens for its own ecosystem of characters and the canons they inhabit. And only today are we are seeing the Nintendo awaken to the power and reach of mobile devices.
But if Nintendo was slow to jump on the latest bandwagon— Facebook gaming, hell, does anyone remember that? — its name has remained uniquely evocative of a high-quality, singular type of fun, surrounded by personalities that are the equal of the animation stables at Disney or Warner Bros. And they are, still, the kind of games Satoru Iwata strove to build as a developer, and the kind of games that gave him the moral right to hand someone a business card that said "corporate president" while saying he was, honestly, a video gamer at heart.