postSunday, 13 May 2007

Return of the Pac

It's an article that psychoanalyses Pac-Man... that can't be good… but then again what can? Oh, and you can also play it.

Pac-Man was originally released in Japan in 1979 with mixed reception. In 1980 it was released in America and became an instant social phenomena. This surprised everyone in the industry. In fact the game was completely overlooked at a trade show prior to its release. So what exactly was it about this game that made 1980’s culture latch onto it. Here’s a summary of Arthur Asa Bergers’s analysis:

It’s a Maze:

Space Invaders was set against the infinite background of outer space, whereas Pac-Man is set in an isolated maze. At the time the American economy was in recession and this suggests that people felt trapped with few possibilities.

Childish Violence:

Before the Pac, game violence was dominated by masculine shooting style violence (Space Invaders, Asteroids). But the Pac chose to bite his opponents, clearly real men don’t bite – that’s something kids do – hence, Pac-Man utilized a feminine/childish form of violence.

Berger suggests that this reflected a fear of growing up and mature interpersonal sexuality. And guess what the 80’s are known as the most hedonistic period of recent history.


Berger sees Pac-Man, which he calls “a game in which a dot eats dots”, as a metaphor for capitalist society. The world has become very small and there are no new frontiers to discover. Society is captive in a maze; in this situation we can either work towards the collective good or try to maximize things for ourselves.

Berger believes that Pac-Man reflects a change in the American psyche to a dog-eat-dog mentality. People are focusing upon themselves and “how many dots they can gobble”.

So in conclusion the popularity of Pac-Man came at a time when economic recession was causing many people to feel trapped due to a lack of opportunities, and fortunately Pac-Man was a game that offered a metaphorical escape for two of the most prominent solutions to this problem: 1) Remain a child 2) Go out into the world and crush your opposition.

Note: Arthur Asa Berger is a Professor at San Francisco State University. Clearly not a moron, the preceding summary, however, was written by one. So before complaining to Berger check his argument out for yourself in Making Sense of Media.

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