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Pac-Man

A Short History of the Pac-Man Video Game

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Actress Eva Longoria playing Pac-Man at the afterparty.

Actress Eva Longoria playing Pac-Man at the afterparty on February 7, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

On May 22, 1980, the Pac-Man video game was released in Japan and by October of the same year it was released in the United States. The yellow, pie-shaped Pac-Man character, who travels around a maze trying to eat dots and avoid four mean ghosts, quickly became an icon of the 1980s. To this day, Pac-Man remains one of the most popular video games in history.

Inventing Pac-Man

If you ever thought that the Pac-Man character looked like some kind of food, then you and Japanese game designer Toru Iwatani think alike. Iwatani was eating pizza when he came up with the idea for the Pac-Man character.

While a pizza with a slice out of it turned into the main character of Pac-Man, cookies became the power pellets. (The pellets lost their cookie-look when the game came to the U.S.)

Apparently Namco, the company that made Pac-Man, was hoping to create a video game that would entice girls to play as well as boys. And everyone knows that girls like food, right? Hmmm. Anyway, a food-based video game with cute little ghosts and a bit of humor did appeal to both genders, which quickly made Pac-Man an unquestionable success.

Naming Pac-Man

The name "Pac-Man" continues the eating theme of the game. Apparently in Japanese, "puck-puck" (sometimes said "paku-paku") is a word used for munching. So, in Japan, Namco named the video game Puck-Man. After all, it was a video game about a pizza eating super-powered cookies.

However, when it was time for the video game to be sold in the U.S., many were worried about the name "Puck-Man." Mostly because the name sounded a bit too similar to a particularly foul four-letter word in English. Thus, Puck-Man underwent a name change and became Pac-Man when the game came to the U.S.

How Do You Play Pac-Man?

It's probably a very rare person who has never played Pac-Man. Even for those who may have missed it in the 1980s, Pac-Man has been re-made on nearly every video game platform since then. Pac-Man even appeared on the front page of Google (as a playable game) on Pac-Man's 30th anniversary.

However, for those few who are unfamiliar with the game, here are the basics. You, the player, control the yellow, circular Pac-Man using either keyboard arrows or a joystick. The goal is to move Pac-Man around the maze-like screen gobbling up all 240 dots before the four ghosts (sometimes called monsters) get you.

The four ghosts are all different colors: Blinky (red), Inky (light blue), Pinky (pink), and Clyde (orange). However, they all turn dark blue when Pac-Man eats one of the four power pellets available on each level; the pellets enable Pac-Man to eat the ghosts.

Occasionally, fruit will appear on the screen. If Pac-Man gobbles those up then he earns a point bonus, with different fruit worth different values.

While all this is happening, Pac-Man makes a wocka-wocka sound that is nearly as memorable as the yellow character himself.

What Happens When You Win?

Many people are impressed with themselves if they get to level five or six on Pac-Man. However, there are always those die-hards out there who are determined to finish the game.

Despite how popular Pac-Man was in the 1980s, it actually took 19 years for the first person to ever finish Pac-Man. That amazing feat was accomplished by 33-year-old Billy Mitchell, who finished Pac-Man with a perfect game on July 3, 1999.

Mitchell completed all 255 levels of Pac-Man and then when he reached level 256, half the screen became jumbled. This is an impossible level to complete and thus the end of the game.

It took Mitchell about six hours to win the game and he did so with the highest possible score -- 3,333,360 points.

Ms. Pac-Man and More

The Pac-Man video game was so immensely popular that within a year there were spin-offs being created and released, some of them being unauthorized. The most popular of these was Ms. Pac-Man, which first appeared in 1981 as an unauthorized version of the game.

Ms. Pac-Man was created by Midway, the same company who was authorized to sell the original Pac-Man in the U.S. Ms. Pac-Man became so popular that Namco eventually made it an official game.

A few of the notable spin-offs were Pac-Man Plus, Professor Pac-Man, Junior Pac-Man, Pac-Land, Pac-Man World, and Pac-Pix.

Pac-Man Lunch Boxes and Other Collectibles

As with anything super popular, merchandising went wild with the Pac-Man image. You could purchase Pac-Man t-shirts, mugs, stickers, a board game, plush dolls, belt buckles, puzzles, a card game, wind-up toys, wrapping paper, pajamas, lunch boxes, sheets, bumper stickers, plus so much more.

In addition to buying Pac-Man merchandise, kids could satisfy their Pac-Man cravings by watching a 30-minute Pac-Man cartoon that started airing in 1982. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, the cartoon lasted for two seasons.

In case you really wanted that wocka-wocka sound to stay in your head, listen again to the 1982 song by Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia called "Pac-Man Fever," which made it all the way up to number nine on Billboard's Top 100 chart. (You can now listen to "Pac-Man Fever" on YouTube.)

Although the decade of "Pac-Man Fever" might be over, Pac-Man continues to be loved and played year after year.

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