Play Stuff Blog

My Son’s Video Game Art and Level Design  

Ashton, my five-year-old son, loves playing video games on his Nintendo Wii. His favorites include Disney Epic Mickey, Hot Wheels: Beat That!, and Wii Sports Resort; he plays the New Super Mario Bros. Wii the most. I’m also a huge fan of the game, and we often team up as Mario and Luigi in the game’s multiplayer mode to save Princess Peach from Bowser and company.

Like most children his age, Ashton enjoys diverse activities. He plays cars with his Hot Wheels collection. He enjoys sports and outdoor activities. And he draws. When I get home from work, I can’t wait to see his latest masterpiece. “Hey Dad, look what I drew today!”

Recently, Ashton’s drawings reflect some of his favorite video games, including New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Rather than drawing individual pictures depicting Mario or the other characters, his illustrations focus on level design and gameplay features. To depict this side-scrolling adventure, many of Ashton’s pictures incorporate three or four sheets of paper taped together horizontally—an example of his building his spatial/visual intelligence. These highly detailed pen-and-paper representations of the game show the relative location of obstacles, enemies, flagpoles, and, of course, the valuable Star Coins.

As fascinating as these recreated levels are, I particularly like those Ashton designs himself. When I asked what level a certain drawing represented, he said, “Those aren’t from the game, they’re the levels that I made up.” He then gladly walked me through his boards and provided a tutorial of the best tactics for using power-up items to reach the flagpole. I would love to show you a few of his brilliant new levels, but Ashton is currently talking with Nintendo to see if its designers want to use them in the next iteration of Mario (that’s code for “those drawing are too special to let Dad take them to work”). You know how secretive game designers can be.

I’m captivated by what’s on his sketch table every night. It wouldn’t surprise me if additional video game levels and gameplay inspire Ashton to create more sophisticated and more intricate drawings as he gets older.