I knew the exact moment when I had made the right decision.
I watched my adult daughters Nikki and Brenna walk across our living room to our large kitchen bar island where I had placed the new Pac-Man 40th Anniversary countertop arcade game I had purchased.
As they walked, I saw my daughters transform from beautiful professional women in their mid-40s to beautiful pigtailed children sitting together at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor getting ready to play their favorite arcade game. They laughed, made fun of, and gently swore at the Pac-Man screen while they played it on our kitchen island.
The rest of their world and worries temporarily disappeared as they guided a chewing Pac-Man going “Waka, waka, waka” through a maze of dots and swirling ghosts. I had my little babies back again, even if just for few minutes. The smell of pizza, rambunctious children running everywhere and the chaos you can only find at a pizza parlor would soon be replicated in our home when their adult twin brothers, Sean and Aaron, and my grandchildren arrived at our home.
I thought at best, my grandchildren would be mildly amused and only temporarily interested in this electronic artifact from another time. The sophistication of current PlayStations, PS5s and other home video games with third-person brawlers and life-like graphics made mute the almost vanished culture of the 1980’s arcades.
I was pleasantly surprised at my grandchildren’s reaction to Pac-Man. The line immediately formed for their turn to play. It was a team effort with everyone cheering on each other. And it wasn’t just the grandchildren. The adults all signed up and waited for their chance at getting the highest score.
For the record, my 9-year-old grandson Ry Ry won the first prize, beating out all the adults and children in the first round. Aunt Bea won first prize in the second round. And on his first try, my son-in-law Carlos is the reigning champ with the highest score of 39,910 points. I list his score only as a reference point. The highest score ever in Pac-Man is 3,333,360 by William Mitchell Jr. in 1999. Mr. Mitchell, meet my grandson Ry Ry. He challenges you to a game.
The new Pac-Man 40th Anniversary countertop game came complete with the original bright yellow and orange artwork. The miniature console has real size arcade controls. It looks, sounds and feels exactly like the original full-sized Pac-Man game, except the countertop version is shrunk to a third of its original arcade size.
For those of you who are non-arcade aficionados or non-gamers, Pac-Man was developed in 1980 as an antidote to the overwhelming number of games with violent themes. Instead of a warrior fighting off attackers by firing ammunition at them, the Pac-Man character chews its way to victory. Pac-Man, shaped like a pizza with a slice missing, chomps away at pills in his path, and consumes bonus items in the cookie shape of fruits and power pellets while voiding four hunting ghosts. It's an easy game to play. At one point, some even considered Pac-Man a global addiction.
Twenty-four-year-old Toru Iwantani created the arcade game and originally called it Puck Man. According to The Guardian website, “He was partially inspired by the onomatopoeic phrase ‘paku paku’ meaning ‘chomp chomp,’ but the U.S. distributor was worried the word Puck could easily be modified by mischievous vandals into something ruder. Hence, Pac-Man.”
Back in the day, I, like many other parents, spent mucho dinero on game tokens for ourselves and our children at Shakey’s, King Leo’s, Peter Piper and other pizza parlors to play Pac-Man. I’ll need to research the California State Arcade Gaming Commission, but I think it was mandatory that all legitimate pizza parlors have a Pac-Man game installed in in their eatery. I bought the Atari cartridge Pac-Man home version of the game in the late 1980s and the global addiction infected my home.
Forty years later, I consider our new Pac-Man home console more of a time machine rather than a game. Each time it’s turned on, and I hear “Waka, waka, waka,” my children are young again, happy and having fun.
Thank you, Pac-Man. I know I made the right decision.
Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at email@example.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.