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It was released way back at the start of the 80s. So surely anything worth saying about Pac-Man has been said already? Actually, we don't think so. You may have heard how Pac-Man is gaming's premiere pop culture icon and how he single-handedly pushed electronic entertainment into the big time. But what you haven't heard until now is why Pac-Man is the original Resident Evil. Or why Pac-Man is more like Grand Theft Auto than you could ever imagine. Make no mistake, Pac-Man was light years ahead of its time.
Never mind its fizzy-pop fun and huggable attitude. Pac-Man has a dark, sinister core. At the epicentre of that dark, sinister core is a game that plunges the player naked and alone into a desperate, against-all-odds battle for survival in an inescapable maze occupied by pastel-coloured phantoms possessed by a hell-bent supernatural urge to kill you. It's the stuff of cold-sweat nightmares. The back of the box could easily look like this:
And if you're still not convinced, consider this. Locked doors are a staple feature of any survival horror. Guess what? Pac-Man has a locked door. Locked doors simply weren't a convention in 1980. It's no accident. Pac-Man is quite clearly the bedrock of the entire survival horror genre. You can't ignore the evidence.
Pac-Man ticks all the casual game boxes as they are defined today. It's simple to understand. It's simple to play. It can be engaged in short bursts. It's even perfect for mobile phones. And mobile phones were huge, screenless machines in 1980. It also broke with convention by not being about space, driving, sport or shooting, which made it infinitely more attractive to females.
The cute little ghosties were given names making them more relatable, which further appealed to the delicate sensibilities of 80s women. Better still, one of the ghosts - Pinky- was actually pink. Ladies like pink. And, despite being Pac-Man, Pac-Man was neither a masculine or macho character. He was naked, but had no discernible physical or behavioural characteristics that made him a man. Like a penis or beard or an irrational animalistic urge to punch other Pac-Men in the face after drinking 10 cans of cheap fizzy alcohol. Conversely, Pac-Man was also a brutally hardcore game and only the manliest of men could ever boast of reaching level 256.
A side mission or side quest is a voluntary objective contained within the wider parameters of a game. Completion of a side quest is entirely dependant on the player's prerogative. However, if a player does successfully complete a side quest it usually bestows their endeavour with a favourable reward of some kind.
In Pac-Man, a player could choose to divert from the main objective of munching dots and collect the fruit that intermittently appeared for a brief period of time in the maze. The player was not obliged to collect the fruit, but were awarded additional points if they successfully completed this optional task. It's definitely a bloody side quest.
Games like Fallout 3 have side quests coming out of its radioactive ears. The image below shows what Pac-Man's side quest might look like if it appeared in Fallout 3.
Next: Hard evidence proving that Pac-Man is kind of like the blueprint for GTA