Whether you are an avid gamer or not, you are likely to have heard of the characters Mario and DonkeyKong in some capacity. Very few games have been able to diffuse out of the gaming world and permeate pop culture itself. This was the case with Pac-Man.
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Released nearly 40 years ago, Pac-Man took the gaming world by storm. It is interesting how it continues to be a relevant pop culture reference. The history of the game and its progression to becoming one of the most iconic arcade games is fascinating. Here is all you need to know about it.
The Genius of Pac-Man
Pac-Man hit the arcades in Tokyo in 1980 nearly 40 years ago. Its creator Toru Iwatani had the vision of creating a game different from what was the norm with video games. A common theme in video games at the time was a character shooting things. As a result of these regurgitated plots, video games had the reputation for being violent and catered to a predominantly male audience.
Pac-man was conceived as a cure to these games. Most games had majorly violent themes and brought a lot of criticism to gaming in general. Iwatani wanted to leave behind the prevalent theme of shooting that only attracted male players and focuses on a game that would be enjoyed by women, children, and families. He began the development of Pac-Man in the 1970s.
Iwatani wanted to incorporate eating as a theme in the game as it is universally appealing and non-violent. The idea was to create a non-intimidating game that could be relevant across genders and age groups. We do not know whether his theory is exactly correct and applicable across the board, but it did work in this case. The initial runs of the game revealed that women enjoyed playing the game.
The Characters and the Challenge
Funnily enough, Pac-Man is not the original title of the game. In Tokyo, the game was called PuckMan originating from the popular Japanese phrase for eating ‘Paku Paku Taberu’. When dissected, the words ‘Paku Paku’ in the phrase is the imitation of the sound of clicking or snapping the mouth whereas ‘Taberu’ means to eat. When adopted in the U.S, the game title was changed to Pac-Man.
The original title fits perfectly into the theme of the game the central idea of which is eating. Iwatani conceived the idea for the main character while eating a pizza. During an interview with GameInformer, he explained how he was eating a pizza and got the idea for the central character when he looked at a whole pizza with a slice taken from it. The character was one of a kind as it was brightly colored and didn’t seem to have a gender.
Staying on board with the approachable and sweet theme for this game, the antagonists or the ghosts were designed to be cute rather than scary. Iwatani revealed that the inspirations behind the antagonists of the game were Casper- the friendly ghost and Obake no Q-Taro. Furthermore, these ghosts were differently colored to attract a female or younger audience.
The Legacy of Pac-Man
Pac-Man was a pioneering force in gameplay design. It featured a few nuances that were first of its kind. The big pill feature, which weakened the ghosts, was the first power-up to be seen in video games. Furthermore, Pac-man was one of the first maze games and arguably the most popular in the genre.
The game was designed to bring in a female audience, which was an incredibly rare attempt at the time. The gameplay encouraged couples and families to enjoy Pac-Man by indulging in a non-violent gaming experience. The good use of landscape, simple controls, and characters, yet engaging gameplay has preserved the legacy of Pac-Man for years to come.
Over time, many have theorized the reason behind the massive appeal of the most iconic arcade game. It could be the simplicity of the game, the new approach to gaming, or the good intentions behind the development of Pac-Man. Looking at its origin and journey through the years gives the idea that it’s all those factors combined. Pac-Man continues to be a cult classic even 42 years after its debut.