Pac-Man Is 30, And I Still Can’t Play It

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

The video game Pac-Man celebrated its 30th anniversary today. Do you remember the game? It’s the one where you move your character (the Pac-Man) through a maze of dots, trying to accumulate points by “eating” them all without getting caught by one of four ghosts chasing you (named Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde). You could turn the tables on the ghosts by eating one of four “power pills” placed at each corner of the maze, which allowed you to chase down and catch each ghost for extra points. If you cleared the maze of dots you would move on to the next level, where the ghosts were faster and it was harder to keep away from them. This continued until you lost all three of your “lives” and the game ended.

Pac-Man may seem too simple in this age of the PlayStation, Wii, Xbox, and MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, but back in 1980 it was a state-of-the-art game. People of all ages would line up for a chance to play it, crowding around the screen to watch as someone else played. It was really big news when someone learned the best way to move around the maze to clear it and accumulate the most points. I tried it a few times, but only enough to determine I was not very good at playing video games, and from then on I usually stayed to one side and watched others as they played.

Over the ensuing years, video games evolved into more sophisticated packages with higher resolution graphics, orchestrated soundtracks, and elaborate storylines. I would periodically give them a try, just to see if I could handle the new games any better than the previous generation. In some cases I was able to do fairly well at the beginner levels, but most of the time I was usually dispatched fairly quickly, sparing onlookers from having to watch me die a slow and lingering “death” at the hands of the game console. My curiosity thusly satisfied, I would then hand the controls to someone else to play for several hours while I watched or moved on to something else.

(Google honored this anniversary by changing the logo on their website into a working Pac-Man game anyone could play for free. I tried it a couple of times, and I still died off quickly. Some things never change…)

I know that with practice I would likely get better at playing video games, but it’s never been something I’ve had a strong desire to do. I’ve sometimes wondered why that is. I may never really know the answer to that, but my guess is that it had a little to do with being somewhat clumsy back in elementary school, which isn’t a good thing when you’re trying to play a game such as softball. After enough times of being picked last for a team, of never getting a hit, and of missing enough balls hit my way, discouragement set in. Eventually I learned it was easier to simply do something else rather than go through the ordeal. The desire to play was gradually driven out of me, through no fault of anyone else, and by the time I reached college the word “play” was not part of my regular vocabulary.

To this day, I have difficulty in playing any sort of game. I actually had to teach myself how to play all over again when my children were younger so that I could be more active in their lives; but, video games is an area where they have always outstripped my abilities, and I’ve had to stand to the side once again as they make a modern first-person-shooter look all too easy.

Is this something I regret? Sometimes.

I wonder how different my life would have been if I had played more while growing up, or if I had been able to play with my children more. I usually don’t dwell on it for very long; nowadays, I’m usually called upon to fix a problem with a game when it stops playing, rather than being invited to play. I’m okay with that; there’s less of a chance of suffering a slow and lingering “death” that way.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 21st, 2010 at 11:30 pm and is filed under Yesterday's Memories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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