In May 2020, the widely loved arcade classic, Pac-Man, will be turning an incredible 40 years old. While we’re still some months away from the 40th anniversary, there’s never a wrong time to celebrate the game that drove millions of us to try our hands at arcade gaming. To this day, Pac-Man remains one of the highest-grossing and most-played games around and continues to be a beloved addition to the game library of any gamer, regardless of their age or generation. As a society, we have celebrated this simple but addictive game, with a full franchise of game variations, casino spin-offs, physical board games, and so much more. It has well and truly earned it’s positioned high up in the hall of gaming fame.
In celebration of the prowess Pac-Man has shown, we’re taking a look at just how far this simple concept has come.
Where Did It All Begin?
All the way back in 1979, a Namco employee by the name of Toru Iwatani had an idea for a game – all because of a pizza. The story suggests that he’d been staring at a pizza that had two slices missing, thus resembling a mouth that has become synonymous with Pac-Man today. From this simple hit of inspiration, a game by the name of Pakkuman was born. The name was inspired by the phrase paku-paku taberu, a slang term used in Japan to describe the noise of opening and clothing a mouth again and again quickly – in other words, precisely what Pac-Man does.
From the name, the concept of the game was also born, which saw the character eating up delicious dots by opening and closing his mouth as he moves around the maze. Reportedly, Iwatani also drew inspiration from Popeye when it came to eating food for strength!
Despite receiving a mixed response in Japan, Iwatani and Pac-Man’s reception in the US was vastly different. In fact, the game exploded onto the market, surpassing some of the leading games at the time including Space Asteroids, when it came to revenue. By the early 1990s, the game had gone on to generate over 2.5 billion dollars in the U.S alone – a lot of money when you consider it just took a quarter to play.
Pop Culture Influence
There are over 30 sequels, re-releases, remakes that have come about as a result of Pac-Man’s popularity, and rightly so – that’s not even considering the sheer volume of Pac-Man inspired games.
From the very offset, Pac-Man completely changed the way that the gaming industry worked. We began to see more and more games featuring a core playable character, not least including Pengo, the more recent Nutjitsu, but that wasn’t its only influence. Casino games have been no exception, either. Slots in particular draw on popular games and pop culture franchises regularly to offer something retro, yet entertaining to their users and Pac-Man has certainly been seen amongst the bunch. Outside of the web, Pac-Man has its very own board game too, offering the analog method of collecting pellets and crunching on ghosts to power up.
Pac-Man has also completely changed the way we play games today. As the very first game to feature power-ups in the way we know them today, we can thank this tiny yellow character for everything from medical packs, to weapons upgrades, power-up candies and more. The cutscenes we all either love or hate have also come from this little game, after the first cutscene of the time seemed to come from this particular game, playing after level one.
Pac-Man easily became a pop culture icon, something that its creator had strived for in offering an open-to-all style of game. Iwatani had aimed to craft a game that was no longer just aimed at boys, as so many games before it had been – but to be open to the mass market regardless of gender or age – and oh, was he successful. The game went on to inspire more and more epics that targeted the entire market, as well as merchandise including books, stuffed toys, roller skates, and even inspired a pop song and a cartoon.
The 30th Anniversary
The last bit anniversary to be celebrated around Pac-Man was the 30th, and it was done in style. If you were on the internet in 2010, chances are you heard about the Google Doodle that swept across the globe and distracted working people and school kids everywhere. This free-to-play doodle ignited nostalgia in the masses and lit up a sense of wonder in the youngsters who might not have tried such a game before.
The creators of the doodle included the same ghosts we know and love, as well as all the same glitches players would have grown used to playing on the machines. In addition, an easter egg made it possible for gamers to play in pairs – by inserting another ‘coin’ and generating Ms. Pac-Man, who was controlled by the WASD keys.
Pac-Man might not have quite the fever it once did, but there’s no denying that this game is here to stay. Whether you’re an avid fan, or just like a little game from time to time, the upcoming 40th anniversary will give us all a chance to celebrate everything the game has brought us.