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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Growing up, a lot of people loved video games. In fact, they still do.  Mario in particular tends to be one of the all-time favourites. His name is well established, and one of the first characters to pop up in anybody their heads when they are told to think of a video game character. That is what this essay will take a closer look at.

Who is Shigeru Miyamoto?

Shigeru Miyamoto is a Japanese video game designer and producer who works for Nintendo. He is known for his best-selling video game characters including Mario, The Legend of Zelda (Link), the Pikmin and Donkey Kong.

Miyamoto used to be a part of the basketball club in his high school, but decided to start the manga1 club. This did not sit well with his peers, and he later quit the basketball club and joined the cartoon club. This is where his passion for design started.     Shigeru Miyamoto

After high school, he entered the Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts, here he majored in industrial design. Miyamoto's attitude to tackle the lecture seemed to be unique, and from the professor in charge he was advised to become an accessory designer without graduating normally.

After graduating and receiving his Industrial Design degree in 1977, he joined Nintendo. In addition to the idea of wanting to work to design mass-production products, he became interested in video games and in the culture, that has released many unique products. At that time Nintendo did not recruit designers, but Miyamoto's father was a friend of the Nintendo president, Yamauchi Takashi, and was able to get an opportunity to interview by special exception.

In 1981, Miyamoto created Mario for the game Donkey Kong, which got released in 1981. He was not the protagonist and did not have a name yet (in the original he was unnamed, but in the English version he would be dubbed ‘Jumpman' or ‘Mr. Video') Yet, he would soon become one of the most established video game characters in the world.

1 = Manga are Japanese comic books.

Who is Mario?

Mario is a fictional video game character owned by Nintendo. He is an Italian plumber who is in love with Princess Peach, the damsel in distress he has to save from his arch-enemy, King Bowser. His ‘real' name is Mario Mario. Since he first appeared in the arcade game "Donkey Kong" which began operation in 1981, he has appeared in several different games. He has a brother named Luigi who looks really similar to him, but the red has been replaced with green and he is taller.

As a Nintendo signboard character, he has also been adopted in the design of icons such as the official Nintendo website and marketing for their brand. His face and name can be seen on loads of Nintendo related merchandise and advertising.

The cumulative sales volume of "Mario series" in which Mario appears as a protagonist has reached more than 275 million worldwide. This record is the world's number one in the entire game industry, and there is no one that exceeds this record.

Mario teamed up with his brother Luigi for his own star turn in 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. But it was not until 1985's release of Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System that the character became a superstar of sorts. That game sold 40.24 million copies, and the Mario platformers are now considered the most successful game franchise in history.

Mario quickly jumped his way into popularity. There are Mario cereals, Mario chocolate bars, Mario ice cream, Mario clothes. You name the product and there will probably be a Mario version of it. He is the face of Nintendo.

Mario is best known for his red cap, blue overalls and moustache. The cap was initially only part of his design because Miyamoto found drawing hair too difficult, but later it became one of his signature features. The sole reason for his big moustache is that the game used to be in 8-bit format, and a moustache would be more readable than a mouth.

   An example of 8-bit Mario.

How culture had an impact on Mario

Mario has been around for quite some time now, around 37 years.  One would think that with the many years Mario has been known, his popularity would have died down. But it is quite the opposite. Younger generations start playing his games, while older fans stay hooked on their childhood nostalgia. The Mario-mania is only growing with time. But the culture around him and his games have changed majorly over time.

Shigeru Miyamoto is Japanese, as are most of the developers of the first Mario games. This shows in the design choices and gameplay in general. It is all very influenced by Japanese culture from the late seventies and early eighties.

Miyamoto told website CVG that "When it comes to the pop culture in general, the movie Easy Rider was kind of a bible for our generation,"

Western Influence

‘Easy Rider' is a movie heavily influenced by the rise of LSD and Marijuana culture in the United States, and thus the Japanese Mario games have bright colours and a lot of surreal imagery. There is a rumour that Mario's mushrooms are also a representation of drugs, as they change the perception of the game when consumed.

The author of "Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism" asserts that much of the artistic direction of Nintendo comes from the relationship with the West. Japan has become modernized since the 1800's and became Western, importing many cultural properties from the West.

It is a clear example of "a man saving woman from a castle''. It can be tied to the myths of Western European knights and princesses. Princess Peach is obviously designed with a very European look, blue eyes and blonde hair. The architecture of the castles present in the game also seem to represent old European castles.

In The Legend of Zelda, one of Miyamoto's other well established games, the traditional Japanese scenes, characters and curtesy are obviously present in the game despite the fact that the Western influence on Nintendo is clear.

Over time, since Mario has had global success, he has become more westernized. The grounds he plays on have become more globally recognisable, the games get released in more and more languages and characters get more varying appearances.

The technical aspects

Mario is a video game character, so nearly all the technical aspects of the design of Mario would be digital.

The beginning of his design had to be simple, since the screens were too pixelated. The 8-bit design at the time did not allow for much detail, so Mario had to be recognisable.

Miyamoto and the other designers of the Mario games worked on paper for a large part of their careers. They would draw entire courses and characters on paper, and then send it off to developers who would digitalize it. But this became too much of a hassle.

They invented a computer programme for themselves, which they later released as yet another Mario video game called ‘Super Mario Maker'.

The programme allows you to select one of the several basic Mario backdrops and place the props available for that selected backdrop. This way the creators and now also the players can create an uncountable amount of different levels.

With time however, Nintendo and Miyamoto started creating free-roaming games instead of side-scrolling games. This meant they could not use the method of copying and pasting. This resulted in them having to retort back to a lot of design on paper.

Miyamoto is a very physical person. He loves his machinery, but also loves to draw his ideas out on paper. This means that while he cooperates with other designers, he does a lot of his work on paper.

The collaboration between technical and non-technical design is what makes the design process much easier.

Mario's design has come a long way since 1981. He went from barely having any detail to an insane amount of detail, all thanks to technology.



Mario consists solely of simple, round shapes. He has to be appealing mainly to children, so there are not a lot of sharp edges and shapes present in his design. He has to look friendly and approachable at all times for Nintendo to get the most out of their character.

His stature is small, like that of a child. Since children are the main demographic of Nintendo's video games, it is crucial that the characters are somewhat relatable. Children have to be able to place themselves into his shoes, even when he is a 37-year-old Italian plumber.


Mario has a simple colour palette. His main colours are the primary colours. Red is his signature colour, with accents of blue and yellow. His cap and shirt are red, while his overalls are blue. The yellow is a little subtler, as the buttons on his overalls are this colour. Colours make a character identifiable, even when the screen is cluttered with other characters or details. Colours can group objects or characters that belong together, while separating others on purpose.


Since Mario is still a video game, he would not be physically touchable. This however does not imply that texture is not present in his design. In the more recent games, the stiches on his clothing are visible, as are hairs on his moustache. This texture makes his character even more believable and relatable than it already was.

Although the texture cannot be touched through a screen, it can be brought back in merchandise. Take a plush toy for example, due to the design choices of the game, it will be clear whether this toy should be wearing leather shoes or not, whether his shirt should be made out of polyester or maybe cotton. These small attentions to detail can make or break a character.

Texture is clearly visible in Mario's design


Mario is a video game character created by Japanese game designer Shigeru Miyamoto in 1981. He is an Italian plumber whose goal is to save the love of his life, Princess Peach, from the evil tortoise king Bowser.

His design is something so easy it could almost be called complex. He has come a long way since 1981. He went from being extremely pixelated to begin so detailed you can see every single stich in his clothing and hair on his head.

Mario is well known for his friendly appearance and bright colours. Shigeru Miyamoto's creation of Mario changed the video game industry. Mario has had a huge impact culturally and is one of the most well-known video game characters to date.


There is a lot more to a character than there initially seems to be. Every little detail is thought out. From the exact shade of blue used to colour a character's eyes, to the number of buttons on their clothing.

Where someone is from and at what time they are alive heavily influences their choices, and this was certainly true for Shigeru Miyamoto. Would Mario have been created today, he would have looked really different, but he would not be the Mario we all know and love.

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