Special Topics In Gameology: How games use hair to define characters

Special Topics In Gameology explores a specific corner of the gaming world in a miniseries of articles. The current theme is bodies, in which we examine games’ representation of the physical form.

When designing the original sprite for Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto focused on every detail to help the character stand out in a busy arcade. His big nose made him recognizable. His red and blue clothes gave him contrast on the screen so you could tell his arms swayed when he ran. Most famously, his mustache and sideburns gave his simple face definition that would have otherwise been impossible. It’s funny how far a few tiny pixels can go toward making a basic, blocky character feel somewhat human. The effect worked, and Mario has maintained cultural relevance for more than 30 years.

To test just how important that hair is to Mario’s character, I’ve removed it from …

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