Video gaming has erupted in recent decades from a niche hobby to a global cultural institution. Nonetheless, video games, particularly console and PC games, still have a limited reach to some audiences. Some people go through their lives without so much as touching a controller.
That doesn’t mean these people are totally ignorant of gaming, however. On the contrary, video games have gotten so culturally mainstream that some of their most iconic characters can reach those outside the medium, whether they’re company mascots, present in other forms of entertainment, or simply inescapable in pop culture.
Pac-Man‘s titular character is inescapable due to his long history. He has appeared in video games since 1980, serving as one of the most prominent icons of arcade gaming. This has given him a long-lasting pop culture presence that many other video game characters lack.
Most people will recognize Pac-Man by sight. His distinctive appearance of a circle with a mouth makes him unmistakable. In addition, he’s one of the first characters non-gamers will imagine when they think of arcade gaming. Pac-Man is a nostalgic childhood reminder for some, and a symbol of an entire subculture for others.
9 Lara Croft
Lara Croft has helmed nineteen Tomb Raider games since 1996. She’s long been one of gaming’s most distinctive protagonists due to her long history, distinctive design, and representation. She’s well-known to some non-gamers because of the cinema. There have been three Tomb Raider movies since 2001, some of which have done respectable box office numbers.
However, Lara Croft’s fame goes beyond Tomb Raider games and films. She’s entered general pop culture consciousness. In particular, her design has made her one of gaming’s first genuine sex symbols. Her design and the debates around it have made the character well-known to the general public.
Minecraft is far and away the best-selling game of all time. It’s told over 200 million copies since 2011 and become a global pop culture juggernaut. Minecraft has become emblematic of 2010s gaming as a whole. This popularity has brought it a sort of cultural ubiquity.
Non-gamers can be exposed to Minecraft from a number of sources. Non-gaming parents are almost certainly aware of it through their children. Internet users are exposed to memes, YouTube videos, news, and more. People who don’t play games might not know the name of Minecraft‘s protagonist, Steve. However, they certainly recognize his blocky, everyman design.
7 Geralt Of Rivia
The Witcher‘s Geralt of Rivia is one of the most iconic video game protagonists of recent years. He’s a clear fan favorite with gamers due to his cool aesthetic, compelling characterization, and central role in some of the most popular games ever. In addition, however, he’s become well-known to people outside of gaming.
For one thing, Geralt’s origins are in print. The Witcher has been a short story and book series for far longer than a video game trilogy. In addition, The Witcher has recently become a mainstream Netflix show, helmed by popular celebrity Henry Cavill in its early seasons. This has increased the character’s pop culture exposure dramatically.
The Pokémon franchise is far more than just video games. It’s known for its trading card game, merchandise, television show, and more. However, Pokémon has its roots in gaming. As a result, its mascot Pikachu, first introduced in Pokémon Red & Blue, is one of the most recognizable video game characters ever.
Pikachu’s role as Pokémon‘s mascot isn’t limited to video games. It’s the result of its iconic partnership with Ash Ketchum in the Pokémon anime. This has immensely boosted its profile both in and outside the games. Pokémon and Pikachu are so well-known to general audiences that mainline news sites have reported Ash becoming World Champion to millions of non-gamers.
5 Master Chief
Halo is one of the oldest and most influential first-person shooter franchises still running today. Its protagonist, Master Chief, is a beloved and iconic character in gaming. His simple design, stoic personality, and long place in 21st-century gaming history have won him a great many fans.
Master Chief’s status as an emblem of one of gaming’s most profitable franchises has carried him into pop culture. He’s also a mascot for the Xbox, one of the most-recognized consoles in the public eye. The recent Halo series has enhanced his pop culture profileies, particularly debates about its characterization.
The Last Of Us
The Last of Us has some presence outside gaming due to its immense prestige. Many gamers hold the franchise up as an example of video games as art, prompting scholarly discussion. This has raised the game’s awareness in the public eye. As a result, joint protagonist Ellie has become one of PlayStation’s mascots and is well-known to many people.
Several other things have catapulted Ellie to prominence. The controversy over The Last of Us Part II‘s storyline has been divisive and widespread enough to make mainstream news. In addition, HBO’s The Last of Us series has proven to be a consistent hit, climbing to high ratings over its one season. It’s helped make the franchise much more popular.
Mario has been a gaming icon since 1981, with the release of Donkey Kong. He’s since gone on to helm his own series at Nintendo, complete with numerous other sub-series, crossovers in other franchises, and many more. Gamers can’t go more than a few months without seeing Mario in something.
However, the character’s prominence extends outside of the Mario games. He’s Nintendo’s overall mascot. Nintendo’s prominent place in pop culture has made him very well-known. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is unusual because everyone who saw it likely knew who Mario was beforehand. He’s gaming’s most recognized character by a long shot.
2 The Doom Slayer
Doom holds the unusual accolade of being one of the first truly contentious video games. Aside from being a pioneer of the first-person shooter genre, it has been in the news for decades. Doom’s history includes numerous people and groups protesting it due to its inclusion of demons and the occult.
As a result, Doom has both fame and notoriety. Gamers know it for kickstarting a beloved genre and its successful revival in Doom (2016). More general audiences know it as a controversial game where players fight their way through the hordes of hell.
1 Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog is an icon of the 16-bit era of gaming. He’s spent time as a fierce rival to Mario for gaming’s most recognizable character. Although he’s fallen behind his one-time foe, Sonic is still undeniably well-known to the public. He’s the first ‘mascot with attitude’ of gaming, and the one with the longest shelf life.
In particular, Sonic’s profile has been raised in recent years in live-action. The Sonic the Hedgehog films have proven unexpected successes, popular with many audiences. In addition, the widespread controversy over Sonic’s appearance in trailers for the first film became a mainstream media sensation.
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