Happy Birthday to Pac-Man: An 80’s Legend That Transformed the Gaming Culture [For Good]

On May 22, 1980 something special happened. Namco tested Pac-Man, an eye-catching maze-chase video game with bright ghosts and flashing dot trails.

The fact that the general public was quick to fall in love with this iconic arcade game came as no surprise. Pac-Man was something different. It was bright, dynamic and most importantly, it was inclusive.

After a decade of games centered around war gore and sports-based themes, Pac-Man with its cute characters and simple layout came as a breath of fresh air. Video gamers were quick to lick it up and even the critics took to it. It is considered one of the greatest video games of all time by video game journalists.

Since Pac-Man had its 40th birthday only a few weeks ago, we deemed it fit to pay a tribute to this timeless game that holds a special place in the heart of every gamer who’s fond of classics.

How It All Started: Of Japanese Characters and Pizza Slices

Toru Iwatani, one of the lead designers in Namco, embarked on a challenge to create the perfect video game for the male and female audience. There are many theories as to how he came up with the yellow perpetually hungry Pac-Man character that we’re all familiar with.

One of them is the ‘pizza slice theory’. According to it, Toru got inspired when he was feasting on a pizza. When he saw a slice missing, he used the outline to design the distinctive Pac-Man character. According to another theory, Toru wanted to create a game plot that focused on eating.

 While Toru popularised this theory by posing with a half-eaten pizza, he confessed that the pizza theory was ‘partially true’ in an interview he gave in 1986, following the game’s success. Toru stated that he was inspired by ‘kuchi’, the Japanese character for mouth.

In Toru’s own words, this is how Pac-Man came into existence: “In Japanese, the character for mouth [kuchi] is a square shape. It’s not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out,” he explained.

Critical and Commercial Success

Pac-Man was swiftly added to the list of the best video games of all time. It may appear basic now but it was a wild hit back in the 1980’s because of its engaging levels and appealing aesthetics. While the game was also popular in Japan, it was a booming success in the US where gamers flocked to arcades to sample the iconic game.

Within one year, over 100,000 arcade units were sold (totaling to $1 Billion) in quarters. The number of arcade units sold (and the revenue) doubled and then tripled by 1982. The same year, it was estimated that there were over 30 million active Pac-Man players in the US.

Pac-Man was very sophisticated for the ’80s and perhaps that’s why it is considered one of the most influential games of all time. It was the first video game with power-ups in which the individual ghosts reacted to player actions through deterministic artificial intelligence (AI).

Basic Gameplay

Pac-Man is simple to play and that only adds to its appeal. The single-screen game features an enclosed maze with dotted trails, a ghost generator in the lower center, and an ever-so-hungry Pac-Man at the lower half of the screen.

The goal of the game is to navigate through the maze and eat up all the dots before one of the four adorable ghosts (nicknamed Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Cyan) get to you. If one of the ghosts touch Pac-Man, then it’s the end for your yellow binge-eating orb.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t hit the offensive in Pac-Man. At each of the four corners of the screen are ‘power pellets’ eating which weakens the ghosts (by turning them blue) and gives Pac-Man special powers through which he can even gobble up one of the ghosts for a quick bonus.

Each level features the same maze design, but the difficulty increases as the player progresses. Advanced levels have faster ghosts and power pellets that last a shorter duration.

 Pac-Man: Lessons in Gender Inclusion

To understand Pac-Man’s transformational role in the gaming landscape, one first needs to understand the Japanese arcade space. The arcades of the late 1970s were largely considered masculine spaces and most video games were designed to cater to the needs to adult males. As a result, the arenas and arcades were flooded with sports or war-themed games made by men for men.

Iwatani Toru wanted to do things differently. In a gaming era dominated by shooting games such as Space Invaders, he wanted to create a light-hearted game that targeted female gamers. Pac-Man was initially designed for female players.

 Here’s how Toru explains it: “There were no games that everyone could enjoy, and especially none for women. I wanted to come up with a ‘comical’ game woman could enjoy.” Toru succeeded. Pac-Man was in fact, the first game that was popular with both men and women.

Pac-Man did what many war-themed games of the time failed to do: it supported an inclusive arcade culture. Pac-Man with its food-themed, non-violent, and cheerful layout was the reason why women and young children began frequenting gaming spaces that were exclusively reserved for young male adults and teens in the past.

Pac-Man as a “Pop Culture Sensation”

Pac-Man was a powerful game back in the 1980s. Before you knew it, Pac-Man was everywhere: from cereals and toys to merchandise and clothing. Buckner & Garcia even released a top 40 song titled “Pac-Man Fever”. Pac-Man still remains one of the most influential characters in video gaming history.

Perfect Pacman Score

Pac-Man seems never-ending, but did you know there’s a glitch in the game? The game was designed to never end but it can’t be played beyond the 255th level because of a glitch that results in the kill screen.

The only way to get the perfect score in Pac-Man is to eat every dot, every cherry, every power pellet every ghost that goes blue and still not loses a single life through all 255 levels.

While it sounds impossible, it isn’t. In 1999 a gamer named Billy Mitchell finished Pac-Man with the perfect score (a grand total of 3333360). His ability to reach the end of the game surprised even the creators and designers of Pacman who named him “the video game player of the century”.

Pac-Man Lives On

Pac-Man is one of those immortal classics that every gamer is aware of. It reformed the field of game designing and contributed significantly to the pop culture. Though simple and old, Pac-Man remains one of the most addictive and challenging games.

The game has many variations and sequels. The most recent version of Pac-Man was released on its 40th anniversary this year. It allows users to play the game with other streamers and create their maze.

Introducing Your Little One to Pac-Man  

If your little one was born in the 2000’s or the late ’90s, introducing them to Pac-Man is a fun idea. Children these days are more used to flashy and hyper-real graphics but if you want your young gamer to truly appreciate the retro graphics and challenging gameplay, starting with Pac-Man might be a great idea.

Pac-Man has not escaped the notice of researchers either. In a researchgate study, children aged 6 to 11 years were requested to play Pacman and answer a set of questions. The study found that children who played Pacman had higher concentration spans and improved decision-making skills.

Ready to Enjoy Your Game of Pacman?

Whether you’re playing alone or with your little gaming partner, it’s important to be comfortable before you settle in for a gaming session. You may want to use a PC gaming chair  or a kids gaming chair  for longer gaming sessions. A PC gaming chair is an ergonomic chair that supports the body and provides ample support to the body. Punctuate your gaming binges with 5-minute exercise breaks (we thought it prudent to remind you because Pac-Man is kind of addictive) – and don’t forget to stay hydrated!

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