Nintendo And The Cult Of Personality

Nintendo And The Cult Of Personality
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Mario. Link. Donkey Kong. These are the face of Nintendo. But those aren’t the only Nintendo icons. There’s also this guy.

This guy is Satoru Iwata. He is the President of Nintendo Co., Ltd. Chances are, however, if you like Nintendo games and Nintendo game news, Iwata is more than just a corporate suit. Way more.

Since 2011, Nintendo has been using online press conferences called “Nintendo Direct” to get the word out about new games, as well as drip feed PR. Satoru Iwata appears in all the Nintendo Directs, making him an even more familiar face for those interested in video game news.

Iwata’s constant appearance in the Nintendo Directs is a brilliant move. Increasingly, Iwata is more and more inseparable from Nintendo. He is now another face of gaming giant, up there with your favourite Nintendo characters and the company’s in-house genius, Shigeru Miyamoto.

But it’s not just Iwata’s constant appearance alone. Like Steve Jobs and his black sweaters, Iwata is building up a set of iconography: the banker suits, the floppy hair, and the gesture.

Whenever Iwata says “direct” or its Japanese equivalent “chokusetsu” (直接), he gestures both hands towards the camera. Iwata does this gesture in all the Nintendo Directs, making it his own catchphrase, as if he were a character himself.

The Nintendo brass also has a regular series of “Iwata Asks” columns on Nintendo’s homepage in which he interviews game developers. The interviews are controlled PR in the sense that you have a Nintendo employee often asking other Nintendo employees questions, which makes the interviews feed relatively safe. That being said, the interviews are often interesting, and Iwata occasionally even breaks news.

Both the Nintendo Directs and the Iwata Asks help entrench Iwata in Nintendo. The company is old and traditional. Iwata is only the fourth president, and the first one not to be related to company’s founding family and not to be from Kyoto.

Yes, Iwata worked at Nintendo, developing games, but he is still an outsider. Nintendo isn’t just a very Japanese company. It’s a very Kyoto company. That’s why before he helped turn Nintendo around, the Hokkaido-born Iwata was in a far more precarious position. But even recently, things have been better.

Doing things like the Nintendo Direct, Iwata Asks, or even appearing in Nintendo games, Iwata continues to try to make himself as inseparable from Nintendo as Mario or Miyamoto. Creating this cult of personality around himself might be fun for Iwata, but it should also make him more secure in his spot at one of the biggest companies in gaming. Talk about being direct.


  • I don’t think you know what a cult of personality is:

    “A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” (from Wikipedia)

    Iwata is just a spokesperson, a voice for the company, similar to the Major Nelson for Xbox or the fictional and now ex Kevin Butler for Playstation. The phrase “cult of personality” in no way applies to him, it’s the kind of phrase reserved for people like Kim Jong-il, who was worshipped as a god-like figure. If Iwata leaves Nintendo and somebody else takes over, nobody would give two shits.

      • Yeah definitely Miyamoto would be a candidate. If he left Nintendo he’d take fans with him.

        EDIT: Though I still don’t think you can use the term “cult of personality” even with Miyamoto… I mean, there’s no media propaganda there – he actually deserves his heroic and god-like status. MIYAMOTO HAVE MY CHILDREN! …oh noes, perhaps I’m actually a brainwashed miyamoto cultist…

      • Miyamoto is cool.

        Reggie is like the dorky uncle who has a lot to say at family gatherings but the people listening sometimes have one eyebrow raised as they listen and glance at each other.

    • I think the author is arguing that Iwata could be seen to be (ahem) cultivating such a cult, rather than being at the top of one. To call Iwata ‘just a spokesperson’ may be accurate today, but it may well be less accurate tomorrow, and even more the day after.

      More usefully, compare Iwata’s persona with that of, say, Kotick, who is held to be an exemplary business-ass. Compare not just the reputations that the two individuals possess, but the way they go about maintaining and improving such.

      • Maybe. Perhaps I’m just biased because I had no idea who Iwata was and I consider myself a Nintendo fan. It’s this sentence which got me “Iwata continues to try to make himself as inseparable from Nintendo as Mario or Miyamoto” – really? Iwata is trying to make himself as strong of a brand image for Nintedo as Mario?

        Good point on Iwata vs Kotick, they are both a reflection of their companies though. People also hate EA and most don’t know who the CEO is.

        People think of ex-dev Cliffy B when they tried to put a face to Epic Games. With Irrational they think Ken Levine. Valve’s got Gaben. These people definitely have a following amongst fans, a following that will go with them even if they leave the companies that they made their names in. But that’s just marketing and having a public spokesman right? I guess at a stretch you could apply the term Cult of Personality to these people, but to me it just seems so negative – it’s something people say about dictators who use propaganda to brainwash people.

        Perhaps it is something he is actively trying to create. In which case – Good luck Iwata, on making yourself as inseparable from Nintendo as Mario is, you’ll need it!

        • A cult of personality is in no way limited to being used as a derogatory sling at people who get hate from old-world media organisations, though that’s really the only popular usage of the term most folks are likely to hear. I’d definitely be putting people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates up there, and people like Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin leverage their own personality and persona to great effect.

          You’re right in that you don’t see Iwata getting the same veneration as Miyamoto, but then again, I’ve been reading Kotaku quite a while, and all the “Iwata Asks” articles as well as the more recent Nintendo Direct segments have left a reasonably positive impression of the man with me.

          Bonus aside: I vehemently dislike EA, know who the EA CEO is (John Riccitiello), and don’t actually blame him for it. He seems relatively okay, based on his press and comments to the media.

  • I love watching Nintendo Direct with Iwata. His terrible English and strong accent make it even more entertaining to watch.

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