by Jed Pressgrove
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is dead. When you look at his history as a developer, executive, and, most importantly, a joyful man, it’s no surprise that perfect strangers have felt intense sadness in the days after his death.
Both Iwata’s amiability and cause of death (cancer) make it difficult to be critical in assessing his impact on video games. Yet it’s important to celebrate what Iwata did versus what some people want him to represent as part of a consumerist fantasy.
Iwata’s passing presents an opportunity to reflect on the role of his enthusiasm and vision in Kirby’s Dream Land, often dismissed as too simple by critics who overlook the elation and originality in the game’s marriage of platforming and storybook appeal. Unfortunately, this artistic milestone hasn’t received as much attention as Iwata’s supposed creation of a “gamer” world. While I have no problem with the term “gamer” by itself, the word has been and will continue to be used to patronize audiences, as in Chris Kohler’s article “Thanks to Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata, We’re All Gamers Now.” Kohler describes Iwata’s legacy as “bringing them [games] to everyone” within the last decade, yet he can only support this notion with a nonexistent scenario: “[T]he perception that games as a medium are not ‘for’ any particular gender or age of person is gone, thanks in great part to Iwata’s pursuit of game hardware that would weaken such barriers and software that would tear them down entirely.”
The suggestion that video games no longer have any possible negative connotations in terms of gender and age is ludicrous, but the bigger problem lies in dollar-sign logic. Intentionally or not, the basis of Kohler’s eulogy has more to do with his belief in Nintendo product than it does with Iwata’s influence. Overstating the effects of Nintendo marketing is different than acknowledging Iwata’s vision for an inclusive gaming mainstream.
Iwata used “gamer” in a context much more articulate than unofficial members of the conservative and progressive gaming parties are likely to admit: “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” Iwata’s comment is remarkable not only in its admittance of his privilege but also in its separation of the corporate and the personal. His perspective should inspire us to reconsider “gamer” as an internal conviction rather than as a marker of consumptive standing. If we can’t see the humanity in Iwata’s phrasing or in Kirby’s Dream Land and EarthBound, what’s the point of remembering him?