Satoru Iwata

So I guess I owe a small part of everything I am to Satoru Iwata. It’s taken a week or so for this fact to finally click into place, but there really is no denying it.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 01.03.42To explain this fully requires some fairly personal backstory, but here we go: as a teenager I suffered from fairly severe depression that led to me dropping out of school and eventually finding it hard to leave the house without panic attacks or stress-induced stomach problems. So I was a friendless, isolated teenage shut-in. But, without dwelling on this too much, thanks to a ton of therapy and support services (the quality of these services on the NHS is much maligned, but God knows I probably wouldn’t be here without them), I eventually started to make some progress.

With that out of the way, here is where Iwata stepped in. I already loved video games, and after admiring the Pokémon games from afar for many years, they quickly became a favourite of mine when I was finally able to get my hands on a US import copy of Pokémon Blue. I played that game a lot. Like, seriously, a lot. When I finally out it down on that first day I found it hard to walk around without seeing caves moving in front of my eyes.

 

Flash forward a few years. Pokémon Gold had just been released in Japan, and I came across a copy behind the counter in the Birmingham CEX (Back when the store was still officially “Computer Exchange” and the CEX branding was a cheeky joke, and long before Nintendo cracked down hard on these kind of imports). Even though the game was in Japanese, I knew the RBY mechanics off by heart and had read enough about the new game to make a decent crack at it. Through a combination of memorising menu layouts and sheer perseverance, I was able to make a solid attempt at it.

The first thing Pokémon Gold gave me was communication. After a while, as the game’s plot developed and required a degree of backtracking for progression, it started to become harder and harder to decipher my goal against the relentless onslaught of Japanese gibberish. It was while searching the Internet for a guide that I came across by first honest-to-god online community – a Pokémon forum that also held full guides and loose translations of various stages of Gold and Silver. It was there that I began to learn that there were, out there, people with the same interests as me, who wouldn’t tease me for liking video games. I don’t think I was ever a major part of the community, but I remember it fondly, and it began a chain of discovery that moved me from forum to forum, chat to chat, that I can firmly chase to the friends I hold to this day.

I’m forced to consider what would have happened without Pokémon Gold. I suppose I would have found Internet forums eventually, but would I have moved between them in the same way? It seems possible, even likely, that by removing that one small link from the chain of my social development that I could have ended up in entirely different social circles to the ones I frequent now. It’s possible that with different friends and influences during a trying period of my life, that without Pokémon Gold I would have ended up an entirely different person to who I am today. Would I know my friends? Would I have met my fiancé? It’s a sobering thought.

Years later, Pokémon Gold had been released in English and the game would go on to help me again. By this point I was starting to work my way back into society – I’d finished a rough facsimile of school intended for problem children, and at their suggestion I’d enrolled in a part time IT course at the local college. A big coping mechanism for me is routine, (and in a way it still is, which is why I single-handedly keep my local Starbucks afloat with my regular visits) and each day before the course began I’d follow the same ritual. I’d wake up, shower, lie on my bed listening The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s By The Way and play Pokémon Gold until the taxi arrived to take me away. I followed this same routine for months, and the small comfort it provided was enough to get me securely through the course.

The rest of my struggles with depression are almost inconsequential here, but for the curious, here we go: Building on the minor qualifications I was eventually able to enrol in a basic college program offering GCSE equivalent grades. Following that with an A level equivalent BTEC and night classes I somehow managed to get myself into university, get a degree, and now I pass as a normal human being heading up development at a small media agency.

But, one way or another, I probably wouldn’t be here without Pokémon Gold. Which means that, as small as his contributions were to the game, I probably wouldn’t be here without Satoru Iwata. The man loved the games he helped to bring to life, and he loved his job, but I wonder if he ever knew that the games he helped to create managed to touch the life of a troubled teenager on almost the other side of the planet. Could anyone really comprehend their actions having such wide-ranging, drastic consequences?

I hope he did understand how deeply his work touched the lives of those who played them. I’m just one person of millions who played his games, who bought the consoles he pioneered, who watched Iwata Asks and laughed when I saw him as a puppet only a few weeks ago. I doubt I’m the only one of those millions whose life was changed in some small but significant way by his games.

I don’t think there’s any great meaning in death, despite the natural scramble to try and make such a cruel, random twist of fate carry some meaning. But, to fall on some old clichés, Iwata’s influence will live on as long as the people he affected continue to live on. I’m not sure that’s a comforting thought or an upsetting thought. Either way, Iwata, I doubt I’ll ever forget your legacy.

Special thanks, Satoru Iwata.