We all love Pac-Man. It’s fun, it still holds up after all these years, and the game over music is iconic (not to mention the wakka-wakka.) But look at it objectively; it’s about a man/creature that is constantly consuming pills because he is haunted/seeing ghosts. You don’t know if he sees them because he takes the pills, or if he takes the pills because he sees them; either way the man is having some sort of psychotic break with reality.
Not to mention the fact that he never wins; no matter how many pills he takes, no matter how far he runs, they always find him. Even in the best case scenario; he reaches the kill-screen, and then still dies. It can’t be helped, that’s his destiny, that is his story.
It’s pretty dark…
Pac-Man’s addictive gameplay is based around the concept of “score-chasing.” The idea is that you are simply trying to consistently get a higher score on each run through of the game; competing asynchronously against the other players who have gone and played on the machine. It is the “chase” that drives the player; that pushes them to continue on for “one more run.”
What makes it all the more interesting is that in these old arcade style games, even at your best you only have a set amount of time. Just about every classic arcade game has a kill-screen of some sort; which creates a finite amount of time for the player to accrue points. In essence, the player himself is haunted by the “ghosts” of players who have come before, spurring him onward; driving him towards his inevitable fate.
That’s pretty unsettling too…
I love Pac-Man and those other classic arcade titles; but I don’t like what they bring out in me. I start losing myself in the game. I start to obsess on my faults in technique, and start planning out what I need to do to perfect my run. They were a type of game programmed to tap into some of our most basic instincts.
The drive to win; to be better; to go just one more time. Yet, despite the all the drive, all the ego that we throw into it; we all know what the endgame is. We all know that in the end, we still die. In a weird way, it is that knowledge of Pac-Man’s mortality that demands the perfection we seek in each individual run.
In some grand fashion; Pac-Man becomes a reflection of our lives. We know that we all end; we know that we all will fade away into nothing. That’s why we must take advantage of every single moment; every single chance that life gives us. Maybe that is why we are all looking for our own “perfect run.” Whatever that may mean.
Maybe we are all haunted by our pasts; and we are simply running away from the things that seek to bring us down. We each have demons that follow us, and we do whatever it takes to leave them behind us, or defeat them.
In the grander “Pac-Canon,” we know that Pac-Man turns out okay. He meets a Mrs. Pac-Man, has a Pac-Baby, and buys a house (because that’s important to him.) He is able to leave his troubles behind, overcome those dangers, and find his perfect run.
In the end, maybe that’s the lesson we all need to take away from this; to not be so busy chasing the score, that we miss out on what makes this brief life matter. Maybe that’s how you find your own perfect run; or maybe I am just a guy who put way too much thought into a yellow puck.
Here’s a video of a near-perfect run in Pac-Man Championship DX