Remembering Iwata: Thoughts from an NES Kid

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I was an NES kid. Starting with Atari Computer I was a gamer from a young age and I came into the true world of console gaming, as many of my generation did, via the NES.

Admittedly I haven’t been a fan of Nintendo for the past decade or so. Attribute it to personal taste more than anything, but the franchises and input methods proffered by Nintendo just don’t grab me anymore.

That being said, Nintendo is the only game console and game publisher who truly concentrates on making games. While AAA publishers scramble for DLC, cliche storytelling, and the biggest and best engines and graphics, Nintendo has been essentially making the same Legend of Zelda game since 1986, just in varying wrappers and finding success.

More than anything I feel Nintendo has a continued focus on what made games great when the modern console industry began in the 80s. Their games almost never put anything above pure entertainment. Of course it doesn’t always work but even in their failed attempts the game is a game, designed to entertain. No blown up pretentious nonsense, just fun.  They can have extended depth but almost never at the expense of the fun.

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The loss of Satoru Iwata this week gave me a moment to really think about the gaming industry as a whole. Nintendo’s success with the Wii (even though I didn’t care for the system) and the handheld market shows a totally different kind of thinking than other hardware companies. Nintendo has always felt inclusive rather than exclusive in its design and marketing philosophy. Even in the 8-bit days the games could be played and enjoyed by an eight year old or by a thirty-five year old. That still holds true, even after their latest hardware was toppled from primacy in the current generation, I know as many adults who love their Wii-U as I do kids.

Iwata always seemed to embody the whimsical spirit of Nintendo. He had a playful personality that undermined the stoic “cool” personalities on display from competitors.

Every company can make mistakes, read consumers wrong, and even unintentionally alienate fans with decisions. During this week too many have focused on the recent failings in Nintendo’s policies. Even as a current, distinct non-fan of Nintendo I feel Iwata’s loss was a tremendous loss to the whole of the industry. He was the human face of the “fun” side of gaming. And in an environment where frame rates, exclusivity, and fan-boyism can spark shocking hate campaigns the fun of gaming is something I think everyone could use far more of. It’s entertainment, people, and Iwata’s philosophy was that it should be entertaining always and first. It should always be just for the fun of it. Like him I’m a gamer at heart and I’ll miss him.

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