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Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo, died earlier this month, succumbing to cancer far too young at the age of 55. Some consider Iwata Japan’s Steven Jobs, an instinctive, ambitious and stubborn visionary who bent an industry to his will — mercifully free of Jobs’ sharp edges. Any observer will credit him with revolutionizing gaming, transforming it from a refuge for 18-35 year old males to a form of entertainment and activity for all.

Born in Sapporo, Iwata was a computer-science major at the Tokyo Institute of Technology when he joined HAL Laboratory, a Nintendo affiliate. (HAL was so named, he said, because each letter preceded the initials of IBM). While there, Iwata worked as a programmer and helped develop some of the company’s biggest video games. That success propelled him to the company presidency in 1993; seven years later, he was picked by Hiroshi Yamauchi, then president of Nintendo, to join the parent company as head of corporate planning. Two years later, Yamauchi asked Iwata to succeed him as the company’s fourth president and CEO, the first time in Nintendo’s history — founded in 1889 as a playing card company — that a non-family member assumed the top position.

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