You’ve probably heard the legend that Pac-Man’s appearance was inspired by a sans-a-slice pizza. First thing you learn in Video Game Anecdote-ery 101, that is. What may be unclear is just how in the name of Satan’s baggy balls he made the transition from fat-tacular Hey, Ma! I can’t see my wang no more Italian foodstuff to gaming icon. So let’s take a look.
Pac-Man was developed by Namco, and first surfaced in arcades in 1980. These were, as we’ve seen in this series, the days of merry middle fingers being given to such trivial concerns as plotting that isn’t batshit crazy/entirely absent. As such, we’re presented with the simple tale of the eponymous bizarre yellow fellow, trapped in a labyrinth with homicidal ghosts for no goddamn reason at all. His only form of sustenance? Strange pills he found on the (possibly) piss-soaked floor.
Does this sound like a gleeful, happy funtimes premise worthy of its status as perhaps the most iconic and popular game ever devised? It doesn’t. It sounds a little like a deleted scene from Saw. Perhaps Saw XIII: This Time, There Are Even More Blood-Leaking Ass-Stabbings.
Which is not, I think we can all agree, what they were going for at all.
Nevertheless, in this bygone age we didn’t question such things. There was no need for extortionately expensive FMV sequences complete with -oftentimes- voice ‘acting’ as bad as a big barrel of beaver’s bollocks to justify whatever ludicrous situation our characters were in. Gameplay was the only important factor, and Pac-Man delivered brilliantly. It uber-delivered. It didn’t wait until you were on/in the shitter/shower to knock on your door, or heave the parcel straight through your kitchen window like that damn UPS guy we got fired. Hell no. It waited until you put your pants back on, before ‘delivering’ promptly and in style.
It shares that remarkable accessibility and... highscoreability that heralds the best arcade games of the era, an experience you can fully understand in your first attempt before seeking to best yourself with each subsequent round. How many quarters have Pac-Man machines across the country consumed? Enough to forge a full-scale model of the Chrysler Building, that’s how many (no it isn’t).
Deftly plotting a course through the remaining pills, eluding the death ghosts of death by the skin of the scrote which you don’t appear to have, cackling in short-lived schadenfreude as you eat their faces right off with the power pill, that infernal waka waka waka... Pac-Man is more than an iconic video game, it’s a playable testament to so many misspent youthful hours.
However odd the epiphany that created the character may have been (who looks at a pizza with a slice missing and concludes anything other than huzzah! That’s a shitload of delicious pizza still to eat, right there? WHO?) his influence on popular culture can’t be denied.