Nearly 100 Gamers Drew Iconic Video Game Characters From Memory
They're what memories are made of: From classic characters to beloved console logos, certain images are emblazoned in the minds of avid gamers. Who could forget Mario's mustache or Pikachu's crimson cheeks? Certainly, you can easily visualize a Poké Ball or the curves of the PlayStation® logo.
Or can you? Sure, you've stared at gaming icons for years, but could you recall and recreate them accurately?
We asked almost 100 avid gamers to draw a mix of classic gaming imagery purely from memory. We then submitted their sketches to a panel of marketing experts, asking them to judge for accuracy relative to the real images. The judging consisted of rating the drawings on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.
When asked to draw characters, console logos, and in-game items, how did our participants do? Some efforts were truly impressive, while others were bafflingly bad. To judge their drawings for yourself, keep reading.
Remembered and Redrawn
How accurately could our participants draw gaming imagery from memory? In the eyes of our expert judges, the quality of sketches varied greatly from subject to subject.
Overall, sketches of the Poké Ball and Pac-Man received far better scores than drawings of other subjects, with an average accuracy rating of 4.6 out of 10. Our participants have good reason to draw them accurately: In the decades since they first appeared, they've remained remarkably consistent and visually simple.
Pac-Man's yellow head first appeared in 1980 and quickly began to dominate American arcades. Though the character has since appeared in countless titles, he's rarely undergone a major makeover. Similarly, the Poké Ball has been an essential part of the Pokémon universe since 1996, when the brand's first titles appeared for Gameboy. For one of the brand's latest manifestations, Pokémon Go, a Poké Ball is actually featured prominently in the game's logo.
Interestingly, a significant contrast emerged around console logos: Drawings of the PlayStation 4 symbol were rated as less accurate on average than logo sketches of the Xbox One or Nintendo Switch. This finding is somewhat counterintuitive, as PlayStation's logo is widely admired as a classic branding success. Perhaps the interlocking "P" and "S" are memorable, but too intricate for the average fan to successfully recreate.
The Good, the Bad, and the Baffling
Now that you've seen our experts' scores, it's time to view some specific examples. We compiled the best and worst rated drawings of each subject, demonstrating the wide spectrum of submissions we received.
For example, sketches of the Xbox logo ranged from precise to perplexing. While most submissions at least featured an "X" (part of the console's branding since its 2001 launch), the worst rated entry seemed to be a drawing of the Xbox One itself. Aside from this participant's apparent misunderstanding of the task at hand, the drawing is fairly impressive.
By contrast, the worst rated attempts at the PS4 and Nintendo Switch logos indicated far less effort. Similarly, the lowest-rated depiction of the Master Sword hardly seemed like a heartfelt attempt: You won't win many drawing competitions using literally two lines.
Drawings of Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog also ran the gamut: While the best sketches were admirably accurate, the worst ones were bewilderingly bad. The lowest rated Sonic drawing was more or less unrecognizable, while the worst Pikachu drawing bore a strange resemblance to Bart Simpson.
For more intricately drawn game protagonists, many participants focused on the characters' faces. The top-rated drawings of Mario and Link featured only their head but depicted their famous faces quite nicely. Conversely, in an odd twist, the worst drawings of Pac-Man and the Poké Ball added erroneous limbs.
One might assume gamers could recreate console logos fairly accurately because they appear on-screen each time users turn their devices on. So considering our console logo drawings more specifically, which elements tended to get overlooked?
In recreating the Xbox One logo, most participants did include an "X," often inside a circle. Perhaps this seems like a low standard: "X" is in the name, after all.
However, the PlayStation 4 logo also features a "P" and an "S," and participants tended to be less successful in recreating this symbol. This could relate to the complexity of the PS4 logo, rather than how memorable it is: The letters intersect at a distinct angle. From a branding perspective, at least, the console seems to be doing just fine, far outselling the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch worldwide.
In some ways, the Nintendo Switch logo might be hardest to recreate faithfully: Its logo does not prominently utilize "N" and "S," though many participants thought that it did. However, the logo does resemble the device's controllers, allowing many participants to draw it fairly accurately.
The characters featured in this project are widely considered to be among the most iconic ever created. So how did so many of our gamers go so wrong?
Let's face it: Many of the Sonic the Hedgehog drawings were downright terrible. For a character that first appeared in 1991, we might have expected better. To be fair, our participants aren't the only ones who have struggled to recreate Sonic successfully. After a trailer for a live-action reboot reached fans in 2019, the outcry was so great that the film's directors undertook a significant overhaul of the character's appearance.
To be clear, several other characters were also represented pretty roughly. Depictions of Link and Mario, for example, often lacked enough detail to be recognizable. Pikachu was frequently reduced to a yellow blob with a prominent tail and ears. Even in the least impressive cases, however, the character's classic colors came through. Most drawings of Mario used red and blue, Link was usually drawn wearing green, and Pikachu was typically depicted using yellow.
It's no surprise that these basic colors are inseparable from these characters: When they first emerged on their original platforms, video game consoles were more graphically limited. By the time more nuanced color palettes became possible, these characters were already beloved by millions.
In plenty of video games, items are crucial to completing missions and advancing to new levels. But some objects are more iconic than others, as these drawings of the Poké Ball and Master Sword certainly prove.
Because of its simple design, the Poké Ball is hard to truly mangle: Most representations were reasonably accurate. It's worth noting that there are actually several kinds of Poké Balls offering various perks for the trainers that wield them. Most participants, however, drew the classic red-and-white version that's most widely recognizable.
Master Sword sketches were usually pretty basic, failing to capture the weapon's distinctive handle or the stone embedded in its hilt. Perhaps this is because the Master Sword is an elusive item, rather than one that players use throughout The Legend of Zelda titles. In order to get it, you have to reach a fairly advanced level: It represents a level of attainment that the Poké Ball does not.
While our submissions included plenty of admirable efforts, most deviated considerably from the classic depictions they were intended to recreate. Some attempts were laughably inaccurate, while others were missing just a few key details.
But however humorous our results may seem, they're also profoundly humbling. For most of us, even the most familiar icons can be hard to recall from memory. If you had been asked to draw these characters, consoles, and items, could you have done so? Would your efforts have been much better than the sketches provided for this project?
Of course, there's a simple way to find out: Have a friend ask you to recreate some other classic gaming icons from memory, then review your results for yourself. You might find the task more difficult than you imagined – in fact, we'd be willing to bet on it.
Methodology and Limitations
We conducted a drawing experiment in which 97 avid gamers were recruited. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 58 with an average of 33 and a standard deviation of 8. Seventy-one percent of respondents identified as male, and 29% were female.
At the beginning of the experiment, respondents were taught how to use sketching software to maximize their ability to draw accurately. Directives were given to spend a maximum of 60 seconds to draw each character, logo, or item. A panel of four marketing professionals independently scored each drawing on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a perfect rendition. Scores were averaged to determine accuracy levels. The main limitation of this experiment was that participants weren't activity monitored during the task. It's possible that participants disregarded instructions and referenced outside sources to improve each drawing's accuracy. As such, we're unable to confirm that all drawings were a product of memory. Not all drawings are shown.
Fair Use Statement
Do you know a gamer who would get a kick out of seeing these icons inaccurately recreated? Feel free to share our findings and images as widely as you wish. We simply request that you do so only for noncommercial purposes and include a link back to this page. Doing so allows other readers to find the full project and take in these drawings for themselves.