40 Years Later, ‘Pac-Man’ Is Still Capturing Our Hearts

Pac-Man eating a pellet.Atari

40 years ago, Pac-Man first swallowed the Japanese arcades and captivated our hearts with its simple but difficult gameplay. Even after all this time, Pac-Man still reigns as a cultural icon. Let’s explore what makes this game such a popular and enduring phenomenon.

The game

In the original arcade version of Pac-Man from 1980, you play as a disc-shaped yellow hero and make your way through a labyrinth. Your goal is to eat all the dots, while avoiding four ghosts of different colors chasing you. If you pick up one of the four power pads on the stage, the tables turn. Pac-Man briefly acquires the ability to eat ghosts, and they run away from you.


At the time of its release, Pac-Man was also known to be a relatively non-violent game. It is free from the shots, killings and explosions that were common in other arcade games at the time. Indeed, the creator of the game, Toru Iwatani, specifically avoided violence at Pac-Man for make the game more attractive to women. This cross appeal largely contributed to the unusual success of the game at the time.

It is likely that Pac-Man has proven to be eternally popular, as it is so easy for anyone to take and learn. There is only one interface: a four-way joystick and no buttons required. The concept of gameplay is obvious, but difficult enough to keep you coming back for more.

The ports

When Pac-Man came home in the early 1980s, the game was just as popular on consoles and personal computers as it was in arcades. Over the past 40 years, the original Pac-Man arcade game has appeared on at least 37 computer and video game platforms. You can play an officially licensed version of the game on anything from an Xbox 360 to a iPod with click wheel. If you count unlicensed games and clones, Pac-Man is basically on everything.

The most popular home ports at the time were the Atari 800 and 5200 versions of the game. Later versions, such as Namco Museum series in the mid-90s, however, had the power available to emulate the code of the original arcade game for a more authentic experience.

Regarding the less important ports, who can forget the history of Pac-Man controversial version of Atari 2600? Atari rushed the port through the door despite its poor quality. The company made more copies of the game than the existing Atari 2600 consoles, then had to bury unsold inventory in the New Mexico desert. It still sold 7 million copies, but it left a bad taste in the mouths of many Atari customers and contributed to the Video game accident in North America in 1983.


Shortly after its release in 1980, players discovered that Pac-Man is a deterministic game. That means it plays exactly the same way if you give it exactly the same inputs. A fairly fast player who memorizes a set of five models can play Pac-Man indefinitely on a single quarter (or until he or she hits the kill screen).

The arcade tent Ms. Pac-Man.Bally-Midway

the creators of Mme Pac-Man (1981) improved these gaps in their suite by adding more labyrinths and improved ghost AI. Ms. Pac-Man has had lasting success in arcades. It has even surpassed Pac-Man in sales of autonomous machines in the United States.

Other early follow-ups, such as dull Pac-Man Plus and underestimated Super Pac-Man, has not had much impact on the market. These are still niche games.


However, Pac-Man has become more than just a game, it’s a franchise. Online video games database, Mobygames, currently lists 92 spin-off companies licensed under Pac-Man. Some notable examples include Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness, Pac-Man World, Pac-Man Arrangement and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.

The Merch

Milton Bradley Pac-Man Game Box LidMilton Bradley

After presenting such an iconic character set, it’s no surprise that Pac-Man has inspired a huge wave of licensed products. In the 80s, elements of the game made their way hundreds of products, including trash cans, bedspreads, roller skates, batteries, lunch boxes, puzzles, board games, clothes, cereal and much more.

And don’t forget the Pac-Man Plus multi-vitamin chewable for children, which has enabled children to imitate their hero who nibbles on granules in the pursuit of good health.

An advertisement for Pac-Man children's multi-vitamin chewable iron.Rexall

Pac-Man merchandise is still common today. You can order Pac-Man socks, Bottles of water, fleece blankets or even a 1/4 functional replica of the original arcade furniture. And there is no end in sight.

The phenomenon

Pac-Man may have been the first video game in America to become a dominant cultural phenomenon. It was covered frequently by the press, and even demonized sometimes.

The game also inspired an American hit single called “Pac-Man FeverBy Buckner & Garcia. He reached 9th place on the Billboard Hot 100 list in March 1982.

Pac-Man is still a cultural pillar. In 2015, the character had a leading role like a traffic monster in the movie Pixels. Even though the film received largely negative reviews, it was still a reminder of the evergreen and iconic nature of Pac-Man.

Recently, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the game, author Tim Lapetino was tweeting daily on Pac-Man. His goal is to do something related to Pac-Man every day this year. It’s fun to follow the interesting songs he shares.

How to play the original Pac-Man today

Unlike many 40-year-old video games, Pac-Man is still available on modern hardware. You can of course play it independently. But it is also found in collections on most modern gaming platforms, including the Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Pac-Man could also still be hiding in your local arcade. About Namco The biggest Pac-Man in the world machine, you can read the iconic original on a screen almost nine feet high.

You can even play an interpretation of Pac-Man as Google Doodle in your web browser. It’s just one more reminder that Pac-Man is everywhere and will likely continue to be for decades. Happy birthday, Pac-Man!


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