Random access memories: Pac-Man (1980)

Waka waka waka waka

Pac-Man’s 40. You’d think his a-maze-ing antics wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance of snaring modern gamers – but you’d be wrong.

There are miniature replicas of the original arcade cab, modern multiplayer remakes and online endless editions. So we reckon this is a gaming birthday worth celebrating!

Despite the lead character literally being based on a pizza with a missing slice? Even for 1980, that’s rough…

Well, maybe. Pac-Man creator Tōru Iwatani’s anecdote about an inspirational fast-food lunch has become wrapped up in myth… but he’s also said that the character’s design was inspired by the Japanese word for mouth. This was down to the game being an attempt to create some family-friendly entertainment that would attract more women to arcades and thus make them less seedy. Also, he thought women really liked desserts, and so an eating game would appeal. Or something.

That sounds a bit sexist. You won’t catch modern games getting caught in that trap!

Raised eyebrow emoji… Still, whatever its origins, Pac-Man – dubbed Puck-Man until US distributors realised gamers in those seedy arcades might get ‘creative’ by scratching out part of the first word – got something right. After a slow start in Japan, where players preferred Galaxian, Pac-Man’s popularity soared. And now Pac-Man is the best-selling arcade game of all time; hundreds of thousands of machines gulped down billions of coins, helping the little muncher to become the AAA mega-hit of his day.

Hey, steady on. Retro games are fine, but *Pac-Man* is a long way from an AAA title.

Arguably, it went further than today’s AAA games, through innovating, being at the cutting-edge, and influencing countless other titles. It had advanced visuals (colour sprites rather than cellophane strips), cut scenes and AI enemies with individual personalities… and a bug that glitched out the game at level 256, creating a real challenge for hardcore nutters. But most of all, Pac-Man — unlike most of its contemporaries — remains distinct and objectively fun. How many of today’s AAA titles will we be saying that about in 2060?