Once upon a time, video game culture was confined to dingy arcades with adolescent boys huddled around a Space Invaders cabinet or spending hours in their bedrooms programming endless reams of code into a ZX Spectrum to create games of their own. The situation today could not be more different. The computer and video games market is more profitable than the movie industry and video gaming is a genuine, recognised pastime for all the family alongside going to the cinema or watching television. Gaming is now truly a central part of popular culture.
Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, a series of iconic video game characters helped to usher in this revolution, especially with the advent of massively popular home consoles such as the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. Such was their impact that they are recognisable to people on the street, who take only a passing interest in video gaming. Here, we will look at a few of the main characters responsible for this shift in thinking.
The star of the Tomb Raider series first appeared in 1996 on the Sony PlayStation and has gone on to become one of the most recognizable characters in gaming. A true feminine icon, she was the first female game character not to play the helpless damsel in distress but was a gun-toting action hero in her own right. Such was the impact of the Tomb Raider series that they spawned two Hollywood movies starring Angelina Jolie. That was proof that Hollywood is now following in the wake of the games industry.
The official mascot of gaming giant Nintendo since 1983, the Italian-American plumber has become a truly cross genre smash hit. Instantly recognizable the world over, the character has spawned a franchise in his own right, including rather a forgettable film and television series, and merchandising. More than 262 million copies of games in the Super Mario series had been sold worldwide, making it the best-selling video game series in history.
Sonic the Hedgehog
During the console wars of the 1990s, in order to keep up with their great rival Nintendo, Sega needed an iconic character to be a flagship for their brand. A blue super-fast hedgehog called Sonic is what they went for, and he quickly starred in a series of wildly popular 2D platform games. Since his debut in 1991, his games have sold 80 million copies, spawned numerous TV show spinoffs and seen the release of various kinds of merchandise.
The hero of the Halo game series is a relatively new addition to the ranks of video game superstardom, but deserves his place nonetheless. When the original Xbox was launched in 2001, Microsoft was in need of an iconic character. Halo: Combat Evolved became more successful than Microsoft could have imagined and the game’s hero, Master Chief, became the unofficial mascot for Microsoft’s new gaming console.