Chomping Through History: The Impact and Influence of Pac-Man in Gaming

Mega Cat Studios
6 min readMay 28, 2024

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It was 1979. In the middle of winter, sometime in February, a young designer was having trouble deciding on what kind of game to make. Games like Pong and Space Invaders were all the rage back then, but they never appealed to him the way they did to others.

Pondering on what to do, he sank back into his seat with a sigh. His eyes scanned his surroundings until they dropped on an open box of pizza someone had left behind. Someone had taken a slice, and the once perfect circle now looked like it had an open mouth.

“Paku-Paku,” he thought to himself. It was the sound of eating, the noise someone makes right before shoveling food down their mouth. Paku-man.

Pac-Man.

Pac-Man’s Runaway Success

This unlikely story is one that Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani has talked about in a few interviews. Iwatani had come into gaming with the express purpose of creating something everyone can enjoy. Little did he know the impact his creation would have.

A year and a half later, Pac-Man would chomp his way into the scene to marvelous applause. While its initial release in Japan was met with mild praise, it was in America where it caught nationwide success. Western audiences were delighted with the simplistic but engaging gameplay Pac-Man had to offer. While other more hardcore games existed, Pac-Man had managed to hit all the right spots at the right time.

People Playing Arcade Games | Courtesy of shecodes.io

Looking at it now, it makes perfect sense why audiences fell in love with it. It was engaging in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-pick-up way that even newcomers could appreciate. Just run around the maze and collect all the pellets without dying. Simple and easy to understand. But while the game did seem straightforward, it still required a lot of thought, planning, and quick reflexes. Iwatani had made sure that each ghost had its unique quirks and behavior, and the map layout meant that careful pathing was necessary to avoid getting trapped in a corner. It was the perfect game that could appeal to everyone, and it sold like hotcakes.

Pac-Man Arcade | Courtesy of gifs.com

What’s more, it wasn’t just the gameplay that was addictive. Audiences had to manage to resonate with the cute designs Iwatani had commissioned for his characters. While other games projected the image of something hardcore, bad-ass, and cool, Pac-Man’s cute little enemy ghosts and titular character were designs that both its male and female audiences could appreciate. Iwatani hadn’t just succeeded in making a brilliant game; he had also made an icon with whom people had fallen in love.

Pac-Man Sprite | Courtesy of Namco

Pac-Man: The Media Icon

Naturally, this spark of fame turned into something more. Sequels to the original arcade games like Super Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man were to be expected. With altered sprites and new gameplay twists to differentiate it from the original, it was the type of follow-up most people would expect from a game that did well. However, what wasn’t expected though, was that the spin-off games would be in different genres. A variety of new games came out, each in different genres, with puzzle games, quiz games, platformers, and board games coming out in short order. Pac-Man had become a media icon and one that the gaming public greedily consumed. To fit in with this newfound audience interest, the walking pizza himself had a make-over, receiving arms and legs and a big approachable smile that went with his new looks.

Pac-Man TV Series | Courtesy of Hanna-Barbera

It was only fair! He deserved it! He was up there with the greats now! A 2008 survey had identified him as a household name that over 94% of Americans knew and loved. Pac-Man was a celebrity and icon that both kids and adults loved, and his success proved his creator right. You didn’t need to follow trends or play into overplayed tropes and genres. You just needed to be good.

Celebrating Iwatani’s Legacy

Looking at it now, Pac-Man isn’t a celebration of Toru Iwatani’s development career. The man whose icon has made gaming history will make no more games, with his last game being Pac-Man Championship Edition back in 2007, almost two decades ago. What Pac-Man really is is an affirmation of his beliefs that gaming can be more than just the trends of the time. Iwatani had started his development career to make something different. It lasts today in how Pac-Man still survives.

Simply look at what Pac-Man games are still on offer. On Steam, Namco Bandai still lists a variety of Pac-Man games through the Pac-Man Collection. What’s more, independent game creators like Kenta Cho offer Pac-Man-inspired games like Paku Paku free to play ( playable here )

Paku Paku | Courtesy of Kenta Cho

Furthermore, Pac-Man inspired games like JESTER are still being released to this day. While modern game developers might be chasing the trends of the time, there are still people who love and celebrate the classic Pac-Man games enough to follow in its legacy and create something different.

JESTER

Released in the style of classic Pac-Man, JESTER embodies the simplicity of that bygone era and champions the ideals that Iwatani had been aiming for. It’s a celebration of his legacy and his belief in gaming as a hobby that everyone can join in on. It’s remembering the man who made the media icon.

To say that the world has forgotten Pac-Man would be a lie. Even today, with its more limited reach, Pac-Man is still a fondly remembered icon. It’s a series that’s made history multiple times, and while it might not be turning heads the way it once did, its legacy is more than just its games. If anything, Pac-Man embodies a time and a belief that gaming is a hobby that can unite an audience together. While some people may have forgotten this, at least those still cherish and remember Iwatani’s Legacy.

About the Author

Alexander Cuaycong is a writer with a passion for history and video game. When he’s not busy buried in dusty books, he’s out there trying to make his fantasy worlds come true. For him, gaming isn’t a hobby so much as a calling, and it’s one he’s been doing his best to follow. Whether it’s reviewing games, or writing about their history, he’s on a mission to spread that love with others.

Originally published at https://megacatstudios.com on May 28, 2024.

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Mega Cat Studios

Mega Cat Studios is a creative first company based out of Pittsburgh, PA. We love creating games. From retro cartridges to PC & VR, come play with us.