Happy 30th Birthday, Pac-Man

Thirty years ago today, Pac-Man was released in Japan. I would have been about 7 years old, I guess, and it would take a few years for the game to reach North America, but when it did, it caught on like no game before it had.

Pac-Man was a departure from the “shoot-your-way-out” games that existed at the time, and its cross-over appeal (for men and women, video game geeks and people who had sex) forever changed video games and by extension, our present digital world and how we interact with technology.

In my hometown, Ms Pac-Man was the preferred choice, and I lost many hours at the Mac’s or 7-11, drinking Dr. Pepper slurpies and playing Ms Pac to avoid the blistering, Dune-like levels of punishing, arid heat that my hometown is known for. In these conditions, Ms Pac was like a digital beacon to an air-conditioned refuge that shielded me from walking on the surface of the sun. Thanks, Ms Pac!

Weirdly, I found myself walking around yesterday with a little 8-bit MIDI tune in my head, knowing it was from a video game, but not remembering which one (I actually thought it was the opening theme to Donkey Kong). This morning, in honour of Pac-Man and his lovely bride-to-be, I downloaded Ms Pac to my iPod and was delighted to find out the tune was actually for Pac-Man. I guess I was musically channeling the little yellow dudes in advance of their anniversary.

The cultural impact of Pac-Man cannot be overstated.

Without the game’s ability to reach across cultures, ages and genders, or its skill at humanizing a digital experience, we would not be as comfortable with cell phones and iPods, game systems in our adult lives, or movie / game crossovers like Avatar.

Could we have Massively Multiplayer Online Games, or deeply immersive pseudo-lives (such as World of Warcraft, Secondlife, et al), without the head-to-head tabletop editions of Pac-Man, Ms Pac and others? I don’t think so.

To show the overall impact of Pac, Google has done something interesting to mark the anniversary. Rather than have the ever-changing Google logo a simple graphic that leads to info about the game, they’ve embedded the game into the logo.

Visit Google’s homepage, click “insert coin” and play the game in-banner. Also advised, drinking a Dr. Pepper slurpie while playing.

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