With Keanu Reeves starring in the high profile release of Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk 2077, it’s worth pondering what exactly it is that superstars bring to video games. Is it simply a gimmick? Or do celebrities bring larger profit margins to video games that otherwise wouldn’t have been as popular?
Celebs in video games grew in popularity around the mid-1990s, as graphics improved and you could fully tell you were truly looking at the image of a famous person – or simply a famous character. Years before, Atari tried their hand at bringing E.T. into home consoles everywhere, and even if that game didn’t get dumped into an unmarked grave, it still would have been hard to distinguish E.T. himself from any of the other cast of characters. While the groundwork was laid by the likes of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, it wasn’t until the 90s that graphics were good enough to truly feature celebrities. Arcade games like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker let players fight while playing as a familiar star. Not long after, gamers got the chance to become 007 walking around in Pierce Brosnan’s skin (albeit a blocky version of his skin) in the beloved GoldenEye for Nintendo 64. Players could pretend to be MI6’s top agent while getting frustrated to no end by Natalya. However, despite playing as James Bond if they wished, players were still subject to text blocks instead of the actual dialogue.
Pierce Brosnan may have been one of the most notable celebs initially lending their image to a video game, but he was far from the last. Video games started to move away from the main avatar being the celebrity and moved towards superstars becoming an NPC that gamers could play alongside.
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