Success Story: Satoshi Tajiri

Written by Faiz Danyal

Remember the time when you were anxiously waiting to play the next generation Pokemon game on release day? You went to your favorite game shop, camping outside the game store on pre-release day, lining up with hundreds of diehard Pokemon fans behind you who were also anticipating the new game. That was the sense of excitement for every Pokemon fan around the world when a new Pokemon game was on the horizon. From classics like the original Pokemon Red and Yellow to the current generation with Pokemon Sword & Shield, Pokemon has truly become a pop culture icon, not only with their main games, but also their spin-off games, popular anime, manga, toys, their own speciality store and others. Pokemon is still popular in every demographic globally, be it old or young, up to this day. However, this will all not be possible if not for the brainchild of Pokemon himself, the man who made collecting monsters the hottest thing when Pokemon started, Satoshi Tajiri. Most people would not have noticed but Satoshi Tajiri actually has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That is why he is definitely an icon for all the autistic generations.

Satoshi Tajiri was born on August 28, 1965 in Machida, Tokyo. As a child, he enjoyed collecting bugs, which was the inspiration for the ‘Gotta Catch’em All’ factor in Pokemon. His other children nicknamed him “Dr.Bug”. In fact, his initial dream was to become an entomologist. Meanwhile, his interest in video games started during his teenage years when he became fascinated with arcade games, especially Space Invaders. These kinds of fascinations are signs that he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as he tends to have fixations and specializations about particular subjects. In Tajiri’s case, it was his fascination with catching bugs and video games, which were beyond that of an average fan.

Tajiri’s main contribution towards the gaming industry began when he wrote and edited his fanzine, Game Freak, which became the name of the iconic company where Pokemon was developed. Between 1981 to 1986, he actually hand wrote and stapled the magazine together on his own which showed his creativity and passion towards video games. The fanzine provided an opportunity for Satoshi to share his tips and tricks in various video games as well as his own opinions and criticisms on the state of video games. The fanzine got the attention of Ken Sugimori, who decided to be a part of the fanzine and later illustrated the first 151 Pokemon in its existence. Tajiri envisioned producing their own game despite the lack of quality in games during that time. Soon, Tajiri and Sugimori pitched an arcade game, Quinty, to NAMCO and it was eventually successfully published.

The idea of Pokemon came in 1990 when Tajiri envisioned the connectivity function of the Game Boy (Nintendo’s iconic game console) to enable a multiplayer function was never seen in previous handheld game consoles. His love towards collecting bugs inspired him to create a game that enabled gamers to collect ‘bug-like’ creatures. Pokemon Red and Green was completed in 6 years despite setbacks caused by bankruptcy from the developer as employees were laid off during the production. At first, people were skeptical about the game since the Game Boy was almost at its last legs with its console sales at their all-time low coupled with the rise of the more advanced Super Nintendo Electronic System (SNES) and the Sega Genesis. However, the charm of catching Pokemon wowed the gaming fans that the game eventually became a smashing success. More importantly, Pokemon helped Nintendo to bounce back from dipping sales and made Game Boy one of the longest lasting game consoles ever made.

Those successes have proven how capable Satoshi Tajiri was in facing insurmountable odds to shape the game industry as we know it today despite his disability. Firstly, he transformed his deep interest in collecting insects and video games into a stellar idea which captured millions of gamers worldwide to this day. Second, he was willing to adapt to his social inability and shared his ideas through other media such as his fanzine,Game Freak. Tajiri was able to spread his ideas on how to build the perfect game to escape the doldrums of mediocrity and also shared his tips and tricks on various video games which made the fanzine the perfect handheld guide for gamers. His fanzine was a platform for him to speak up towards evolving the gaming industry.

In conclusion, Satoshi Tajiri is a committed individual who despite his autistic disability, worked steadfastly in rebuilding a struggling game company. He was one of the main pioneers that transformed Nintendo to become a global juggernaut in the gaming industry. He is such an inspiration for other autistic individuals. As an individual with Hyperlexia, I believe we can replicate his successes if we are able to commit our time, knowledge and strength to build a positive outlet for our obsessive interest such as being an input for a major idea or innovation that could potentially change the world.

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