Ask Iwata (Gaming Books)

Last week, I finished reading Ask Iwata which is a short compilation of motivational anecdotes from Nintendo’s former CEO, Satoru Iwata. The book is a collection of writings by and about Iwata. Even though it’s a compilation it’s laid out in a way that follows Iwata’s life featuring his philosophies and contributions to the gaming world. We lost Iwata in 2015 due to complications with cancer.

The book goes very briefly into Iwata’s early life and becoming a programmer. From a young age Iwata was curious about technology. In high school, he found himself tinkering with his programmable calculator and creating his first games. In college, he spent his time at the computer store writing programs and landing a job at HAL Laboratory (started by the computer store manager). He later became CEO. Here he created games like Pinball, Golf and Kirby’s Adventure.

Although I can’t find my Kirby’s Adventure (NES) cartridge, I do have this instruction booklet.

Ask Iwata isn’t necessarily a “gaming book” it’s more of a “gaming adjacent book.” The book features stories of Iwata’s involvement and contributions to big Nintendo franchises and decisions (DS and the Wii), but it’s mostly sharing his unique perspective on business, life, employees and programming.

Ask Iwata goes over some of the strong relationships Iwata formed with some big names at Nintendo (Shigeru Miyamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Masahiro Sakurai). We also get to hear about their admiration and appreciation for Iwata. There’s plenty of stories in the book that show how Iwata helped make huge decisions that forever changed the gaming landscape.

I’m not sure if it’s just my first time reading about Japanese culture, or if Iwata truly stands out among his peers (I believe it’s the latter). His view of the world is unique. We can’t all be Iwata clones, but we can all learn something different from him. Most chapters end with a small Iwata’s Words of Wisdom section featuring Iwata quotes.

Here are some shorter memorable quotes:

I’ve been thinking: people waste time worrying about problems that can’t be solved by worrying. If worrying would solve the problem, then I’d say go ahead and worry, but somehow we can’t stop ourselves even when worrying solves nothing and leaves us empty-handed.

Some say that constraint is the mother of creativity.

A video game is interesting when you can have fun simply watching someone play.

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.

No part of my experience has turned out to be a waste of time.

-Satoru Iwata

This is a great read for pretty much anyone — especially anyone who’s a fan of Nintendo. First, it’s short so it’s quick and if you don’t appreciate it then you won’t be too disappointed. Second, there’s some great little stories in there. Stories that I had no idea about, but relate to games I’ve spent much time with. Third, from the stories in this book it seems that Iwata was someone who was always looking for solutions and was always curious to hear from everyone on the team.

We can’t all be Satoru Iwata, but we can all learn something from his legacy and this book.

Ask Iwata is available in book stores, online and pretty much wherever books are sold.

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