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Cartography in the realm of fiction commonly concerns maps of fictional worlds in books, movies, and TV shows. But maps have also become an essential element of videogames as games have grown bigger and more complex over the years. In fact, as an avid gamer myself, I would suggest that they play a much bigger role in videogames, since the player makes use of the map in his or her adventure, often having to choose which route to take when the path through the world is not linear.

Like many young people born in the 80’s, I grew up playing the Super Mario games, and a glance at that series shows how maps evolved as games became more complex. The first game for the Nintendo (NES), Super Mario Brothers, did not even include a map, and the player had no choice but to move from one stage to the next (unless he found a warp pipe). In Super Mario Brothers 3, there were 8 maps, one for each world, but no map linking them all together. For the first time, the player could move backwards and forwards, sometimes choosing which stages to play, but could not replay stages (until he or she beat the whole game).

This brings us to Super Mario World, released in 1991 for the Super Nintendo (SNES). It was pretty advanced for its time. Just look at the world map!

There are 9 worlds in this game (including 2 bonus worlds), and they are all accessible from this main world map (although some are underground, hidden from the main world map until you enter them, or in space). The player starts in the bottom left corner, moving up in a clockwise motion until finally reaching the entrance to Bowser’s Keep rising out of the water in the middle. There are also many areas not shown in the above map because they have not yet been unlocked.

The great thing about this map, which I loved as a kid and still can appreciate 20 years later, is that there are so many different paths one can take. Every red dot you see on the map is a level with multiple exits. If you’re clever enough to find a secret exit, you might discover a path that leads you halfway across the world. One of the bonus worlds is the Star World, which can be accessed by five star gateways hidden across the main world (they have not yet been unlocked in the above map). After all the Star World levels are beaten, and the gateways are open, it becomes kind of like a highway that lets the player traverse the world much quicker than moving through the main world over every individual stage.

As videogames moved into the third dimension, the maps became even more elaborate and interactive. In Super Mario 64, for example, the world map is a giant multi-storied castle which Mario can run around in, finding levels by jumping into paintings hung in the castle’s many rooms. In Super Mario Galaxy, the world map is a spaceship hurtling through the galaxy. It is not hard to lose one’s bearings and fall off into space.

Personally, I prefer the simple 2-D maps which are more easily navigable. Luckily, they have brought them back in newer 2-D games like the New Super Mario Brothers series.

Happy gaming!