Most Recognizable Video Game Characters

Most Recognizable Video Game Characters

For many millennials, hanging out with school friends may have involved digital pals as well. Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the cast from video games were often integral members of our childhoods. But which characters made the most lasting impressions? And would millennials be more likely to recognize these fictional characters than some of the world's most powerful politicians, professional athletes, or musicians?

The short answer is yes – we know our video game characters better than we know our real-life leaders and pop culture icons, with a few exceptions. We surveyed nearly 600 millennials across the U.S. and asked them to identify pictures of prominent figures from LeBron James to Cardi B and President Donald Trump. Read on to see how the characters existing solely in the digital world stack up against these real-life personalities.

America's Most Memorable

Character recognition

If you're a millennial who can't recognize Mario, Pikachu, or Pac-Man, you're in a very small minority. Just over 92% of this group could correctly identify Mario, 86.5% recognized Pikachu, and 85.5% knew Pac-Man. Mario's slightly lesser-known, green-suited counterpart is his brother Luigi, who was identified as such by 85% of respondents. A rare copy of "Super Mario Bros." recently sold for $100,000, making it the most expensive video game ever purchased and underscoring the franchise's popularity.

Pokemon may have also cleaned out your (and your parents') pockets when you were younger. The media franchise has already grossed over $90 billion in lifetime revenue, having experienced resounding successes in film and retail.

Pac-Man was a classic even before millennials' prime video game-playing years, but he's still seared into the millennial memory. Over 85% of this generation correctly identified Pac-Man, narrowly beating Sonic the Hedgehog and Luigi.

The most recognized female game character was Princess Peach, the princess of a fictional mushroom kingdom in the Mario world. Her blond hair, pink dress, and crown called the right name to mind for 80.1% of our respondents.

Rankings IRL

recognizability index

As millennials got older, the video game characters they loved may have stayed in their lives, but new characters appeared on their screens as well. As indicated in the chart above, certain categories of people (both digital and in real life) were more recognizable than others. Politicians actually fared very well in terms of recognition, with all of them having been correctly identified by more than half of millennials. President Donald Trump would be happy to know that he is more recognizable than Mario. Toad beat Robert Mueller by a large margin, and even more so Chuck Schumer. Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, narrowly beat Charizard with a 58% recognition rate.

Athletes, however influential they might be, were also no match for many video game characters in terms of popularity. Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Roger Federer were all recognized by less than half of respondents. Although they may not be used to losing to real-life opponents, these decorated athletes lost by a landslide to Kirby, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong.

Political vs. Electric Power

politician recognition

Nintendo characters continued crushing politicians in popularity contests. Seventy-nine percent of people could name Donkey Kong, but only 53.1% could say the same for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Sixty-five percent correctly identified Toad, but 61.3% recognized Beto O'Rourke. Finally, Mitch McConnell suffered an ego blow compared to Bowser, with 5 percentage points fewer people being able to identify him by name.

Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren would have lost her campaign against Princess Peach among millennials. A whopping 80% of respondents could recognize Peach, but only 68.6% could identify Warren based on her picture. Perhaps Princess Peach could be a politician in her own right.

Lara Croft vs. Lyrics

musician recognition

The tomb raider, Lara Croft, defeated Cardi B easily in terms of recognizability. Cardi B was a formidable opponent, however, as she was correctly identified by more than half (53.9%) of respondents. The successful rapper has also amassed a reported $8 million, we might add, so this contest isn't likely bringing her down.

"The Voice" host and country music star Blake Shelton was most often confused with another country singer Luke Bryan. This lost him major points against Charizard, who was correctly identified by nearly 17 percentage points more millennials.

A surprising result was associated with Lil Nas X. Although the rapper and singer topped the Billboard Hot 100 List for 19 consecutive weeks, only 16% of millennials were able to identify him. Perhaps his most recognizable trait is his voice, as opposed to his face!

Fighters and Athletes

Avatars vs Athletes recognition

Stephen Curry lost to Sonic the Hedgehog in a popularity battle. Even LeBron James couldn't hold his own against Yoshi, the Nintendo dinosaur. While Sonic and Yoshi had respondents writing down their correct names 85.1% and 77.2% of the time, respectively, Stephen Curry and LeBron James could only say the same thing 53.6% and 61.3% of the time, respectively.

Lastly, we pitted Crash Bandicoot against "The Notorious" MMA fighter Conor McGregor. Not only did Conor not emerge victorious in this face-off, but he also hasn't exactly been winning in his own octagon, following allegations for both unsolicited fighting and breaking a stranger's phone.

Virtual Recognition

Millennials embraced their beloved video game characters more than professional athletes, powerful politicians, and even some of the world's most famous musicians. Time and time again, Mario defeated basketball players, singers, and even world leaders in terms of recognizability.

Nevertheless, being recognized for recognition's sake isn't always a good thing. Seek to be worth knowing instead of well-known. And, of course, don't take yourself too seriously either way.


To compile the data shown above, we showed 593 millennials a series of images and asked the question: Who is the person or video game character? The directives prompted respondents to enter the name of the person or character – first or last names only were acceptable. To qualify for this recognition task, respondents were required to pass screener questions that confirmed each respondent:

When it came to spelling mistakes and obvious indications of recognition, we erred on the side of generosity in accepting respondents' answers. To ensure data integrity, we identified and omitted submissions that only accurately identified a couple of figures presented. In some cases, nicknames or "creative" answers were submitted; in all of these instances, an earnest effort was made to ultimately determine if respondents recognized the figures. This content was created for entertainment purposes.


Fair Use Statement

Want to see if your friends and family can recognize as many of these characters as you did? You're welcome to share this article for noncommercial purposes so long as you link back to this page and its authors.