As a kid, I thought the video arcades of the late '70s were a
waste of time. Long lines of people waiting to play a game not much better than
for maybe two or three minutes, and with the only quarter you had that week. No
way. There were much better ways for me to waste my time. Baseball, for instance.
Then in the summer of 1980, I wandered into a video arcade and was shocked at what
I found. The place was packed from wall to wall with virtually the same video game.
From one end of the place to the other nothing but these big yellow boxes with a
picture on the side
of large blue marshmellow chasing down some big yellow blob as it gobbled up bb's or
something. What's worse, each game had its own little audience of people clamoring to play.
All this for some waste-of-time video game???
What was happening to everyone? Had the world gone nuts?
In a sense, yes. The world had been bitten by Pac-Man.
And with the first sound of that intro jingle, the sound of that little siren, and the
WAKKA-WAKKA sound his munching made, I knew I had too.
Pac-Man first put itself on the map in Japan. Manufactured by
Namco--a Japanese video
game manufacturer now well known for such games as Tekken--the game was
so popular in Japan that for a time there was a shortage of Yen.
Originally titled "Puc-Man" from the Japanese word for "munch", the wonderful people
at Namco decided "Munch-Man" wouldn't be too big a hit in the states, so they changed
the name to "Pac-Man" and unleashed it on the unsuspecting youth of America.
The inspiration behind Pac-Man was to provide an alternative to all space invader games
that dominated the market. With only a joystick to worry about, it was simple to play, and
the rules were so basic that anyone could pick it up right away.
Based on an ancient Japanese folktale, the game was specifically designed to appear like
a cartoon, complete with little vignettes between certain rounds that told the tale of our
fateful yellow friend. Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde were the villains who tried to
thwart Pac-Man's pursuit to gobble everything in site. Your job was to keep him safe.
Simple as that.
Soon the talk around my 5th grade class was centered around how many points one got, how
many keys one had gotten to--five or six?--or whether anyone had any new patterns to share.
Weekends were spent at the arcade, quarters disappeared like candy on Halloween, and parents
everywhere began to worry about video-addiction.
It got worse when Pac-Man released his own hit album, Pac-Man Fever.
He appeared on the cover of Time. He spunoff into a
Saturday morning cartoon.
And new versions of the game came out for Ms. Pac-Man
and Jr. Pac-Man. He
did everything but run for President.
But like any fad, Pac-Man had his fifteen minutes and his games slowly disappeared from
the arcades of America. Oh somber day.
But don't shed a tear for our little yellow friend,
for he has not disappeared completely. You can now find Pac-Man in any one of a series of
versions throughout the web. So keep a look out
and never surrender the pursuit for energy pellets!!! WAKKA-WAKKA-WAKKA!!!