July 16, 2015 5:46 AM EDT

“Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing: fun.” So said Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata in 2006. The playful Japanese game designer, who died July 11 at 55, was that rarest of confluences in the business world: a corporate leader with bona fide creative experience. A game designer for decades, he became in 2002 only the fourth person to lead the company in over a century, presiding over its most inventive period yet.

It was under Iwata that Nintendo debuted its wildly successful dual-screen handheld Nintendo DS, then shook industry foundations with the motion-controlled Nintendo Wii. Iwata was diagnosed with bile-duct cancer in 2014, but he remained vigilant until the end.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president,” he said in 2005. “In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

–MATT PECKHAM

This appears in the July 27, 2015 issue of TIME.

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Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com.

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