Video game characters have been accompanying us since "Space Invaders" was developed as a commercial video game for the first time in 1978. They have been with most of us since childhood, growing and evolving alongside, influencing our communication through visual media and gaining an almost iconic meaning. These characters soon became conveyors of the whole new iconography the video game technology brought with it. Massive expansion of video game industry at break neck speed launched some of these fictitious protagonists into stars, making them as famous as some real contemporary celebrities. Nowadays these characters seem like some sort of ancient cave drawings to us, simple by today's standards of graphic design, yet the feeling of awe towards their pioneering value still remains. This, combined with feelings of nostalgia and warm memories of our childhood heroes, has earned these characters place in the hall of fame not only for video games, but for pop culture in general. Withstanding the test of time, their visual value has risen to a symbolic level, and through various media they are as present as ever in our everyday life. This is evident even more since some street artist have taken it upon themselves to revive them on our streets. We have selected the ten most popular video game characters in street art.
Q Bert is an arcade video game developed by Gottlieb in 1982. Warren Davis and Jeff Lee designed the two-dimensional arcade game and the cute trumpet-like creature. During development Q Bert was named Cubes, Snots and Boogers, and @!#?@!. Q Bert was a huge success when it launched. Arcades and critics celebrated the graphics, game play and the main character. Whilst struggling to lead the jumping character through different levels and logical conundrums, player is confronted with unique pseudo 3D-effect of the video game, unparalleled by that time, which was bound to leave strong visual experience. The simple and fun imagery and design, supported by logical yet difficult game play, have secured Q Bert's place among video game classics. The character's iconographic value is confirmed as several street artists have recreated graffiti and mosaic versions of it. The most prominent example is Invader’s Q Bert in Paris.
Ever felt like being a pink blob running up and down the meadows of Dreamland, all while sucking in your enemies' powers and using them as your own? Well, it seems you are not alone. Kirby is a Japanese video game character developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo in April 1992. It is a fantasy video game in which the main protagonist can inhale enemies to adopt their abilities. Kirby has sold over 30 million times. There are few who can resist the charms of the little chubby protagonist, and his visual appearance left a mark on many generations to come. The success has inspired a variety of street artists to place Kirby on walls, streets and lanterns. The best-known example is the mosaic of French street artist Invader.
The Sega video game Sonic the Hedgehog was first released in 1991 and is still being released today. The blue, superfast Hedgehog has to face his nemesis Doctor Eggman to destroy his plans to total world domination. Many have found inspiration in the hedgehog character. Although the video game has undergone through many drastic changes, such as going from 2D to 3D environment and characters, the most frequent Sonic depicted in street art is the 16-bit Sonic from 1991 to 1998. One example of the 16-bit Sonic comes from the German street artist Geist Zero that spray-painted the pixelated Hedgehog. Of course, the godfather of arcade game street art, Invader also has his Sonic interpretation in mosaic.
Astro Boy is a manga character developed by Osamu Tezuka. His original name is Tetsuwan Atomu, which is Japanese for Iron Arm Atom. The lovable half robot - half boy hero has won the hearts of many in his first appearance in the manga series, and soon became loved for his heroic fight for justice. His popularity evem sprang a series of anime. Twenty years after the original manga stopped publishing, Konami developed the video game Mighty Atom for Nintendo. In following years Banpresto, Sega and Sony Playstation developed their own Astro Boy video games based on the Japanese anime, thus introducing the character to western market. The most recent take on Astro Boy comes from toy designer and street artist KAWS. Together with the Japanese toy manufacturer Medicom, KAWS developed his Astro Companion. Astro Boy also found his way onto walls in the form of graffiti by Bier & Mias in 2009.
Dragon Ball is a Japanese manga series that eventually inspired numerous video games. Akira Toriyama developed the main character Son Goku in 1984. Only a few years later, following the great success of the manga, the first arcade video game was developed, and initially it could only be found in Japan. After a while, the American Viz Media bought the franchise rights for Dragon Balls and Son Goku began to take over the world. The worldwide expansion was almost instant, earning the franchise the title of one of the most successful anime series in the world. It didn’t take too long until the image of the main character Son Goku took over towns in form of street art. Street artist Combo and Speedy Graphito are the best examples of Dragon Ball inspired street art. Speedy Graphito’s take on Son Goku is graffiti, while Combo pasted the Dragon Ball Z characters on walls.
Pokemon is a media franchise owned by Nintendo and created by Satoshi Tajiri in the mid 90’s. Pokemon proved to be a huge success for Nintendo as the imaginative critters proved irresistible for both western and eastern audiences. Nowadays, the franchise includes card games, animated TV shows, comic books, but it all originated from the initial video game. It has been the second most lucrative game Nintendo developed, beaten only by the Mario franchise. Pokemon, a name that derives from the Japanese ‘Pocket Monsters’ is the collective description of over 700 imagined species that are known everywhere in the world. The sheer number of different species of Pokemon, each one a character for itself, made possible a choice that fits any given taste or preference. The most famous Pokemon is Pikachu. It is Pikachu’s fame as the main Pokemon that have caused replication in the thousands. Pikachu and the other Pokemons inspired Steven Wong, Gameboy One, Joram Roukes and Nefasth.
Pac-Man is one of THE classic arcade games that has a retro charm for millions of people. Developer Namco released Pac-Man in 1980 and since then, he became an icon of video game culture. Only five months later, the Midway Company licensed the distribution for the United States and there was no stopping Pac-Man from that point. The funny looking character started appearing in many more media such as animated TV series, and soon market was flooded with merchandise with Pac - Man's face on it. The unbelievable success of the video game, and simplicity of the iconic design of the character, inspired hundreds of street art interpretations. The most outstanding Pac-Man’s and ghosts found on the streets are from the 3D street artist Leon Keer, graffiti artist Zlin and the infamous Invader.
Donkey Kong is a Nintendo developed game that was created in the early 80’s and is still being published in newer versions today. In the original game, Donkey Kong was Super Mario’s opponent, throwing barrels in Mario’s way up to the top to save the princess that the giant gorilla was holding captive. The first edition of Donkey Kong was a two-dimensional arcade video game in an industrial construction site setting, but later it evolved in a 3D environment, and was expanded to other genres apart from arcade, such as racing, rhythmic, and mashup games. The most accurate street art example of the Donkey Kong setting comes from Phil Flash in New York. The fire escapes on the side of the building are integrated into the piece to represent the original feel. Other street art Donkey Kong’s come from Invader and Paint.in.Full.
Space Invaders is one of the earliest shooter video games. The goal of the game is to defeat waves of alien invaders, collect as many points as possible and save the earth from an invasion. Designer Tomohiro Nishikado drew the inspiration for the game from Breakout, The War of the Worlds and Star Wars. The game represented crucial breaking point in the video game history, but also in visual design of the game play. The clear and simple imagery was able to convey the tension of the campaign without flaw, and despite 8-bit technology immersion was unprecedented. Street artist Invader drew the inspiration for his entire body of work from this game. He has spread the Invader characters over the entire globe. Until today the French street artist has invaded over 40 cities with the characters from the 1978 developed arcade game Space Invaders.
The Italian plumber is by far the most widely known video game character in the world. Super Mario Bros. also includes Mario’s slightly taller and skinnier brother Luigi. Together they took the video gaming to the next level. Super Mario was developed by Nintendo in 1985 and is still being produced every year. Nintendo has sold over 262 million copies of the video game classic. This evergreen character has also been loved by the street art scene and the artists, such as Invader, Speedy Graphito, Combo and Trust iCON.