The Tale of the Mysterious ‘Super Mario World Screenshot’

If you’ve ever read a story about Super Mario World online, you’ve probably seen this picture. A depiction of Mario jumping on a Goomba in a grassy plains level, it’s been used for pretty much everything from a Kotaku article on speedrunning to a Gamnesia article about a 40-level made in ‘Super Mario Maker’. It’s almost a symbol of the game itself.

Mysterious Super Mario World Picture

Which is kind of strangewhen you think about it. Why?

Because the picture doesn’t actually show Super Mario World at all. Indeed, everything from the level design to the enemy graphics and object placements are completely off here. So why is it used so much?

Where did it come from in the first place?

Well, you’re not going to believe this, but the answer is DeviantArt.

Yup, it’s a piece of fan art. Indeed, the original picture is by a user called PolkaDotStudio on the site and can be found at the following address:

https://polkadotstudio.deviantart.com/art/Super-Mario-World-203145119

And seeing the full version doesn’t exactly put journalists or YouTubers in a positive light. I mean, there’s a giant watermark on the bottom right they clearly cropped out to hide its origin. Pretty low if you ask me.

But that aside, why is this image so common? Where did all these random people find it?
That’s actually a really good question.

Cause if you look up Super Mario World in Google Images, this particular picture doesn’t actually start showing up until 2013, despite being posted online all the way back in 2011. Until then, the results are purely a mix of ROM hacks and original game footage.

So, we did a bit of digging. And thanks to a service called TinEye, identified what may be the first ‘unauthorised’ use of this image.

A Crave Online article from November 2013. Yep, their article about the ‘Top 10 Best Console Launch Games of All Time’ seems to be the first example of this image being used to illustrate an article. Of course, they don’t credit the artist for the image, nor mention where they got it from. It’s just there to ‘illustrate’ a game it doesn’t really depict at all.

After that, well it just seems the image gradually moved up the Google Image Search results, and more and more lazy writers and video creators just used it for Mario related articles without actually thinking about it.

Of course, this raises a few ethical questions. Firstly…

Do any of these people know what copyright is at all? Because the images on Google Images are not free for anyone to use for whatever purpose they want. They’re owned by the people who made them/took the photo/whatever.

Now admittedly, this is a bit more of a grey area if it’s a screenshot or official released piece of media. In those cases, the developer owns the picture and is likely fairly fine with media outlets using it for the purpose of their job.

But this wasn’t like this. It was a piece of fan art whose creator hadn’t clearly marked it as reusable (having it downloadable as a wallpaper is different from allowing it to be redistributed) and which was clearly edited to remove any and all copyright notices by journalists and other media folk.

That’s terrible journalism right there, and shows a complete lack of respect for other people’s work on the part of those responsible.

Yet that’s not all it shows.

Oh no, it also shows ‘journalists’ and ‘creators’ who clearly do no research for their work.

Seriously. Super Mario World is not an obscure game. It’s one about 20 million people played in the 90s, and which has been a fixture of the gaming world for decades.

And it’s one which this image clearly doesn’t show. Need more proof? Go look at the 3.9 million view walkthrough video that comes up as the first result on YouTube for the game’s title:

Or the numerous other sources telling you what’s in the game. Mario Wiki, VG Maps, various sprite websites, numerous walkthroughs… There’s no shortage of information about this one.

Either way, that’s one mystery solved. As for any journalists or creators that read this article?
Heed my advice:

  1. Stop downloading random images from Google Images and using them in your work. It will bite you in the ass somewhere down the line.
  2. Actually do some research when you’re considering a piece of media for your article or video. Make sure it actually depicts what you think it does.

Otherwise you’ll end up with a laughably inaccurate thumbnail or feature image that makes you look like you have no clue what you’re doing.

So, thanks to Guinea on Mario Fan Games Galaxy for bringing this to our attention, as well as PolkaDotStudio for making the image and TinEye for providing a way to track down various uses of it.

And no thanks to the hundreds of people who took it and claimed it as their own.