I found myself a lot more affected by Satoru Iwata's death than I thought I'd be.
Earlier that night, before I heard the news, a friend of mine joked that people I'd met but didn't have any personal affection for might as well have died, and I'd feel nothing, because I didn't consider them part of my life. He wasn't wrong. Just a few hours later, after hearing about Iwata's death, I was told about a few deaths of people related to people I knew. Not that any of them were close to me, but beyond the general pang of sadness you feel when you hear about loss, it didn't really affect me. Iwata's death affected me. Honestly, it fucked me up a little.
In a very concrete sense, Satoru Iwata was directly responsible for a significant amount of games I love. Iwata was the person who recommended Sakurai replace the original characters in his fighting game, Dragon King, with Nintendo characters, birthing Super Smash Bros. There's that old story about how he, after already taking the job as General Manager of Nintendo, heard that Super Smash Bros. Melee wasn't going to make its release date, so he went and did a code review and debugging himself to make sure it wouldn't be delayed. There are legends about how he single-handedly programmed Earthbound. After hearing about the memory problems Game Freak faced with Pokemon Red and Blue, Iwata built compression tools for them that let them pack all of Kanto into Pokemon Gold and Silver. He made games I loved, games people loved, and that on it's own should be enough to feel sad that he's gone.
But in a more abstract sense, Iwata represented something important to me. He represented a company executive who, for lack of a more specific and pithy term, "got it". Iwata's public appearances were downright goofy. He appeared next to people in Mario and Luigi costumes while wearing white gloves and doing his "direct to you" pose. It was a pose that was likely meant to be a one-ff thing, but the internet took hold of it, turned it into a meme, and Iwata was only happy to oblige to turn it into the signature of his Nintendo Direct presentations. He was the guy who, at this E3, what is now his final public appearance, starred in a video with a puppet version of himself. He wasn't just programmer and president, he was also pitchman, and he took to the role with aplomb. Sure, it took a few E3s to work the kinks out, but by the era of the Nintendo Direct, he was easily the most charming and personable press conference host out there. He never took himself too seriously, he knew that at the end of the day, he was in charge of a company that was supposed to make fun. To invent new ways to have fun. So he had fun with us, his audience.
And beyond the part of him that we, the general public got to see, there never seemed to be anything that indicated that he wasn't deeply involved with his development staff. Putting aside all the stories and the outpouring of love going on on Twitter right now, Iwata's legacy, to me at least, are the dozens of thoughtful, fascinating interview he did as part of Iwata Asks. Every single one of those interviews is illuminating, and reveals parts of gaming history that we probably never would have got otherwise. He knew the questions to ask because he was there. And for the games where he wasn't, he still understood, because he wasn't so far removed from the trenches.
In an even more abstract sense, Iwata's death saddens me because it reminds me that we might not have a lot of time left with gaming's pioneers. Iwata is the first of the old guard of developers to die, other than Gunpei Yokoi. Yokoi's death was a tragedy, but a random one. Iwata wasn't old, but he was ill, and unfortunately, he definitely won't be the last death in the industry. The men and women that invented modern video games are getting older. Yuji Horii is 61, Shigeru Miyamoto is 62, Genyo Takeda is 66. I hope they have many years left in them, but in a few years, we're likely to hear about the death of at least a few of the people who built the indsutry and the art form. We've already lost a few, like Danielle Bunten Berry, and Kenji Eno. Game designers have died young due to health failures, one has to wonder if the stress of it all is a factor. Those interviews, the Iwata Asks, those were his way of preserving the history of what is often an invisible, thankless job. Far be it from me to say what his greatest achievement as a person was, but his interviews taught me so much, and offered insight into a process most people only ever get to see from the outside. Beyond all the fun the games Iwata worked on brought me, beyond how much it seemed like he was a genuinely decent person, an increasingly rare trait among CEOs, he taught me, and many others, so much. And that's an incredibly important thing to me.
Iwata was a lot of things. Beyond his famous President, Developer, Gamer, quote. He was the face of a company that people have an incredible, undying loyalty to, one that inspires an equal amount of love and hate, and he took it all on the chin. He was a fascinatingly humble figure, at least from afar, when he took his 50% pay cut due to poor WiiU sales rather than fire anyone. He was a person I felt represented so much of a the good things about the games industry. I've criticized his decisions before, but never as a person. Iwata was a legend, and, speaking as a person who never met him, he'll be missed.