The Tyranny of Pacman

It wasn’t until I took my AP Art History exam in my junior year of high school that a thought occurred to me about a game that I’ve taken for granted for so long: Pacman.

It’s a fairly simple game: a yellow man eats white dots and cherries while being chased around by ghosts. And then there’s a twist – if he eats a special dot, he can eat the ghosts.

There’s no backstory, no context, just some fun sounds in the beginning and then you’re ready to munch! As with most video games, it’s easy to assume that you’re the hero in the story and the ghosts (who are trying to eat you) are clearly the villains.

But wait. Why do we assume Pacman is the hero?

If you do a double take, you realize that there’s nothing really heroic about Pacman at all. In fact, he’s a guy who’s encroaching on the ghosts’ lands and eating all their crops. If I were the ghosts, I’d also be chasing after the guy who’s on my land, eating all my cherries!

Back when I first realized this in high school, I was adamant that this was some form of capitalist propaganda, instilling the ideals of imperialism and “take, take, take” culture into our youth. I felt angered by these subtle signs in our games, feeling like they play a huge role in influencing the American psyche and defining our future.

However, now, over four years later, I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit. When I look back at this thought I had about Pacman, I’m less angered and more amused at the little things we take for granted without even realizing. It always helps to shake things up and check our assumptions.

If anything, it reminds me that as much as we love being the hero, we may not be saving the day in every game that we play.

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