What makes Pac-Man so addicting?
I have been playing Pac-Man for as long as I can remember. The original game was released in arcades in 1980 by Namco and has accumulated hundreds upon hundreds of sequels, ports and spinoffs over the years. Pac-Man is my earliest gaming memory and as such, has left an imprint on my life. There is not a single console or piece of technology that I don’t have Pac-Man on, and that’s just the original incarnation of the game. I could list off all of the crazy sequels Pac-Man which have been produced by Namco, but we can discuss those on a different day. Today we are just talking about the original Pac-Man in all of its arcade glory.
I have two very distinct memories of playing Pac-Man from my childhood. The first took place at a pizza place my dad frequented down the street from our small two bedroom apartment. It was always a little humid in there, even during the winter, as the scent of freshly cooked pizza wafted through the restaurant. It was small, maybe two tables at best with a counter. Tucked in the corner were a few machines – Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man — back when every store and restaurant had at least two arcade machines. My dad would give me a few quarters to entertain myself while we waited for pizza. A few quarters went a long way back then — most games were only 25 cents. I wasn’t very good at Pac-Man initially. I would lose the game before the pizza would be cooked, and then I would hound my dad for more quarters. Those ghosts got me every time, but I was a kid and I was working on those puzzle-solving skills.
The other memory was at a friend’s house. They had a large family room full of toys, board games and some arcade machines. The games I remember most were one of those basketball machines and Pac-Man. There were some other arcade cabinets there as well, but I always stuck to Pac-Man. It was here that would spend hours honing my Pac-Man skills. It was free for me to play, so that fear of losing quarters went away. It allowed me to learn every pattern, nook and cranny of the maze – And I got really good at avoiding those ghosts.
Since I had that experience as a kid, I am now well-trained in the art of Pac-Man. When I am out with friends and see a rare machine out in the wild, they always go “Ryan, there’s Pac-Man.” At first I thought they point this out to me because they know I loved playing the game, but I was quick to discover that they just wanted to watch me play the game. I consider myself rusty now — I die far more frequently than I used to when I was younger – But when I was kid, I could play video games all day without a worry in the world. Now I am lucky if I get a half hour of general gaming into my day.
Originally known as Puck-Man, development for Pac-Man started in 1979. It was a game created to appeal to both men and women, back when going to the arcade was a social hangout. Pac-Man himself was a yellow ball with what looked like a slice of pizza missing, which represented his mouth. His whole deal was to navigate a bunch of identical mazes while eating little dots. Eventually he was designed to have eyes, arms, and feet, but often retained the faceless and limbless design in-game. In 1982 Ms. Pac-Man was released as a sequel, which added a red bow onto the yellow balls body. Ms. Pac-Man was also a cleaner game with tighter controls and movement. It has often been cited as the better game.
Pac-Man is a simple game. You play as Pac-Man and navigate a maze to consume every dot on the screen while being chased by ghosts. Occasionally a fruit would pop up which would give Pac-Man additional points. The ghosts were indestructible unless Pac-Man ate one of the four power pellets in each corner of the maze. The mazes themselves were identical, with the only increasing difficulty coming from the ghosts picking up speed and becoming more relentless in their hunt for Pac-Man. There were also two warp points on each side of the maze which would allow Pac-Man to quickly evade ghosts and pop out on the opposite side of the screen.
The ghosts were programmed to have their own personalities. The red ghost always chased Pac-Man, the pink and cyan ghosts always positioned themselves in front of Pac-Man, and the orange ghost would either chase or run away from Pac-Man.
Pac-Man is coming up on its 40th anniversary this year in July, and this game is still a critical success. People are still playing this game. It’s beyond the gamer playing it for nostalgia, as new generations continue to play this game. It’s addicting and fun. It’s a reminder of how an incredibly simple game can go a long way. Gaming has gotten to be far too complicated with too many buttons in the past decade, and with far too many tutorials. Pac-Man is a solid reminder of what simplicity can do for a video game. It’s so mindless that it’s addicting.
Pac-Man will always hold a golden spot in my heart.
When was the first time you played Pac-Man?