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I'd like to know what game came up with hearts for showing the player's character's health.

It's very common today in many games, but how did this come to be?

Image of a game displaying hearts as a measure for health

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2 Answers 2

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What game came up with the Heart metaphor for health?

From various sources, it is implied that the first game to utilize the Heart symbol to represent health is the first Legend of Zelda games, released in 1986.

Heart symbols were used to symbolize "health" or "lives" in video games; influentially so in The Legend of Zelda (1986)
Heart Symbol

and

The original Zelda is the very first game to incorporate the trope and the franchise has been using it sinnce.
HeartsAreHearts1

How did this come to be?

Two years prior of Zelda's release, a game title Dragon Buster was the known as the first game to implement a health bar to indicate the players remaining health. It's possible Nintendo copied the idea and changed it to use hearts instead of a bar. But without a statement from the director, this is speculation


1 Credits to snoozingnewt

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Chubby Cherub uses hearts to represent how many lives you have left. Released in Japan in 1985, it's older than Legend of Zelda. Not a health bar though. Heart metaphor is used in this game because the main character is based on Cupid.

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    This is a nice find! It's only two months older than Legend of Zelda, but older nonetheless Oct 20, 2020 at 12:33
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    interesting. two months older would mean to me that either: coincidence of invention, or zelda changed design at last time to copy Chubby Cherub (unlikely to me, but I don't have data on development time), or they may both be inspired from an even older game.
    – Pac0
    Oct 20, 2020 at 14:55
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    @Pac0 One of the things I remember from when I was looking this up, is that there were several games from around this time which were using custom icons to indicate how many lives the player has left. It looks like it was already an established trend to theme the life bar. Then Chubby Cherub used hearts because it was themed around Cupid. I strongly suspect the Legend of Zelda's choice to use hearts was an original decision as well (and that's the most plausible game to have popularised it). I got the sense that a lot of the games before this were using stick people as a metaphor for lives.
    – AnonFNV
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:13

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