Bits & Bytes: Iwata-San

Our first installment of Bits & Bytes focuses on the new Ask Iwata book, which is all about the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/18/2021 19:25 Comment on this     ShareThis

Iwata Banana masthead

Bits & Bytes is a weekly column where Editor-in-Chief Robert shares his thoughts about video games and the industry on a lazy Sunday. Light reading for a day of rest, Bits & Bytes is short, to the point, and something to read with a nice drink.

Ask Iwata has finally gone from being a pre-order with Barnes & Noble to an actual book sitting on the table in front of me. I’ve been reading it since early this afternoon. The book was delivered earlier in the week, but I haven’t had time to sit down with it until now.

Ask Iwata presents Iwata-san, the beloved president of Nintendo who passed away in 2015, as the antithesis of the corporate shill types that I’m not a fan of. Just a couple of chapters into the book, Iwata comes across a genuinely decent man. Discovering the origins of his love for programming reveals a curious intellect, a mind driven by a desire to solve problems. Yet, for Iwata resolving problems was as much about helping people as it was creating the code for games.

It’s evident that Iwata was a different sort of executive. Certainly, in the years when he headed HAL Laboratory he was arguably less of a well known figure than he came to be as the leader of Nintendo. It seems apparent to me, though, that Iwata’s desire to listen to others, to heed their concerns and advice, and to be as fair as possible carried into the time he served as president of Nintendo. The additional exposure he received transitioning from HAL did nothing to diminish his compassion for his workers.

I’m trying to temper my warm reaction to the book with the knowledge that I’m likely predisposed to want to like Iwata because I have such a fondness for Nintendo. However, if I’m being completely honest, I also don’t have much love or patience for “celebrities” of any kind. Iwata might not be Robert Downey, Jr., but he was a rockstar in his own right within the video game industry. Which is why, at least at this point in the book, I’m inclined to believe that a man who spent seven years interviewing every single employee at HAL on an annual basis to gauge their happiness working for the company is someone I can possibly have some faith in. After almost a decade it would be one hell of an elaborate vanity play to keep up.

Another highlight so far in reading Ask Iwata has been getting to learn a bit more about the early days of HAL, which would become such an integral partner for Nintendo over the years. One of my favorite things I discovered while researching the development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was how everyone shared the load. While one person might be assigned to a particular task, they would still assist with or even take over an additional or related task to help get things done. Reading about Iwata stepping in to help with projects at HAL even while running the company brought a grin to my face.

I’ve been trying to make a point of late to get out of my house and back into some of my old routines before the pandemic hit. Part of that was walking downtown where I live to get something to drink and then sitting around either doing work or getting some reading in. This is the second Sunday that I’ve dedicated to doing this and can’t think of a better fit for this returning ritual than Ask Iwata. Full thoughts soon, but even now I feel comfortable telling anyone who enjoys Nintendo or is curious about the video game industry to give the book a purchase. Here’s a B&N link (I personally avoid buying from Amazon whenever I can), but by all means get in touch with a local bookseller or comic book shop to order your own copy.

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