We're going to kick off our run of year-end features with this touching piece by long-time reviewer and news writer Tim Latshaw. He reflects on the way gamers commemorated and remembered Satoru Iwata following his passing, and how his legacy lives on.
An interesting form of tribute to Satoru Iwata was observed in the weeks following his passing. If you caught a major gaming event that was streamed during that time, odds were good that you would see a save file or main character christened after the late Nintendo president.
Camp Fangamer 2015, celebrating the 25th anniversary of EarthBound, renamed Ness "Iwata" in honour of the man who had saved development of the game. This trend continued in the Summer Games Done Quick 2015 charity marathon, as viewers used their donation money to vote on Iwata's name for characters and save files; even for games in which he had no direct influence. Iwata would ultimately be entered in seven games during the event, including EarthBound, Donkey Kong Country 3, four Zelda titles, and the marathon's finale, Chrono Trigger.
Tributes to Satoru Iwata have been made in a variety of ways, from art to videos to music, but the desire to see his name in beloved games speaks in a unique way. A save file is just instructions to recreate a virtual field the way we left it. In many cases, however, we assign much deeper personal significance to this data. A file can become a collection of experiences; a memento not just of our play time, but the ways our lives felt during those periods. It's why some of us are so squeamish about hitting the erase button and dutifully guard memory cards we might never pop into a system again. Something is important just in the knowledge that we can access it if we want. It's not lost to us.
In the weeks we still reeled from news of Mr. Iwata's death, during these events so closely associated with our memories of play, were we, in a subconscious way, trying to "save" Mr. Iwata? Had he become such a part of our experience with Nintendo that we wanted to tie him to the games and moments many of us find unforgettable? Make him the stranger who prays out for the safety of Paula and her friends; the figure Marle or Lucca throws her arms around, never wanting to lose again?
We are creatures who cling, fearing the loss of things to time. We try so hard, but data corrupts; systems fail. Sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly so. We are almost never fully prepared.
When it comes to preserving the memory of Satoru Iwata as he related to fans, however, we have been left a magnificent cache of save states. He was not just a figurehead for Nintendo who interacted through Directs, but also a deep appreciator of the development process who never shook his desire to get elbows deep into a game. As such, Mr. Iwata has left his history and ideals as they relate to games among a collection of classics.
Play Balloon Fight to reach Iwata as a young, ambitious programmer who loved to see his friends enjoy his games. Play EarthBound to see Iwata as a firm yet compassionate leader who knew the importance of allowing developers to chart their own journey. Play Super Smash Bros. Melee to know Iwata as a man who would dive back into the trenches and work alongside subordinates to make sure a project was finished on time.
Kirby's Dream Land. Pokémon Gold & Silver. The very Wii and DS. These and others each tell a different piece of Mr. Iwata's story; all because he cared so greatly about what he did, who he worked with, and who he worked for.
EarthBound creator Shigestao Itoi closed a deeply moving message to his late friend with the assurance that he would still remain in touch with him on a certain level:
So for now, let's plan on meeting again. You can call me up whenever you like, and I'll give you a call, too. I still have a lot to talk to you about, and if I come up with any particularly good ideas, I'll let you know.
So let's meet again.
No–I suppose we're already meeting. Right here, right now.
We as the general gaming public did not have the relationship Mr. Itoi had with his friend, but we still have a wealth of memories in the games he touched. Mr. Iwata can still be accessed in ways that bring the joy and fun he held in such high regard to anyone, and inspire the young, ambitious programmers of our generation to follow in his footsteps. His legacy remains. Right here, right now.
We cannot save Iwata, but we never had to. He saved himself for us.