Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Pac-Man Ruled the World

There was a time long ago when video game characters didn't have much character at all. For example in 1972's Pong, your "player" was simply a vertical white line on the edge of the screen while Atari's 1979 home console RPG hit, Adventure, boasted a nameless square as its protagonist. Designers who attempted to push beyond the limits of those early 2K programs did manage to create somewhat more recognizable objects such as blocky race cars or simple aliens, but nothing you would really call a "character." Well that all changed with the release of Namco's Pac-Man in 1980. For the first time, players could identify with a personality on their video game screen, including 4 unique ghosts/monsters that each had their own agenda and personal eccentricities. People everywhere immediately embraced Pac-Man, not just for its easy-to-learn/difficult-to-master gameplay but because they were endeared by the game's cast of characters. Other game designers quickly caught onto this new cartoony angle and steered it into a trend, introducing games with higher resolution graphics and more recognizable characters such as Q*Bert, Donkey Kong and of course, our beloved little Frogger. This jump from the abstract to the well-defined is also what helped launch Pac-Man into the world of mass-merchandising. Before his introduction, few kids would have been interested in a breakfast cereal based on Breakout but slap a picture of that little yellow dude and his colorful ghosty friends on a box and watch them fly off of the shelves. Soon enough, Pac-Man merchandise was everywhere: t-shirts, pajamas, watches, board games, drinking glasses, coin banks, stickers, hit songs, multi-vitamins, scratch-and-win games, TV get the idea. The world had literally changed overnight with the advent of Pac-Man at which point video games began their slow journey toward mainstream acceptance, which would eventually lead to iconic game characters like Mario, Chun-Li and even Master Chief making their particular marks on gaming history. Still not convinced? Then check out the videos to get some idea of just how Pac-Man-crazy the world was back in the stone-age. Save me a cherry.


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