On May 22, 1980–thirty-five years ago today–a new arcade game made its debut, just in time to doom my friend Charlie.
That fall, we enrolled in the University of Winnipeg, quickly overdoing it with our new-found post-high school autonomy: too many meals at McDonalds, hanging out in the cafeteria instead of going to class and most especially cutting out early to hit the arcades that dotted Portage Avenue east and west of the university. This is where we discovered Pac-Man.
I shudder at how many quarters we shoveled into that one console in the arcade next to the head shop. Hours were spent wrestling with that joystick–including many, many hours in which Charlie was supposed to be in his French classes, which is happened to be scheduled when I had a free period.
“C’mon! You’ll catch up. Let’s go play some Pac-Man!” So we did. Charlie’s mark on that year’s final exam was 27%.
Pac-Man was created by 25 year-old Toru Iwatani at Namco, a Japanese game developer. In the years since, Pac-Man has generated more than $2.5 billion US (much of that from me, Charlie and our friend Donald c.1980-83). Professor Iwatani (he now teaches game theory and game planning at Tokyo Polytechnic University) got exactly none of that. As a salaryman for Namco, he was just doing his job when he invented the game. (He also created a game called Libble Labble. No, I’ve never heard of it either.)
Although Pac-Man became a cultural touchstone, it spun off just a single cartoon series, Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures. But coming later this year, there will be a big-budget Hollywood film called Pixels, starring Adam Sandler. The plot goes like this: aliens who fear the Earth to be hostile, assume the identities of classic video game characters like Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and, yes, Pac-Man to attack us. Iwanti-san is played by Japanese-Canadian actor Denis Akiyama.
As for Professor Iwatani, he admits that he still sucks at his own game. He’s more interested in creating a new game system that involves a wearable gaming suit that turns the body into a display. Its original intent is for various forms of artistic expression, but he admits that the technology could lend itself to game play. Not good new for first year French students.