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c. 1982

Enter the Pac-Man

A brief history of the highest grossing video game of all time.

Hello Puck-Man! Yes, that was the spherical video game star’s original name — because he looked like a hockey puck, right? He did, but the “Puck” was changed to a “Pac” for the game’s international roll-out. And the result was arguably the greatest video game of all time.

Part of Pac-Man’s inexorable rise to world domination was the fact that this was a game that was neither “sport” or “war” based. It was deliberately targeted to a unisex audience.

That had been the intention of its designer, Toru Iwatani, then 24. In 1979, Toru led a nine-person development team at his parent company (Namco, of Japan), for a year: Pac-Man was released at the start of the new decade. 

The game was not an instant hit in Japan, but broke through when brought across the Pacific to the States. The success took its distributors, and Namco, by surprise. Within a year, it had grossed over $1 billion in quarters, and surpassed what was then the highest-grossing film of all time — Star Wars.

Beating Pac-Man

Essentially a maze game, Pacman eats pellets while being chased by four ghosts (whose original names were Chaser, Ambusher, Fickle, and Feigned Ignorance). The game technically has no ending, but that’s not quite true. When you get to level 256 (which takes somewhere between four and six hours), the game just crashes. According to legend, only seven people have attained level 256 and witnessed the crash.

Such was its cultural impact in the early 1980s that Pac-Man was turned, inevitably, into an animated TV series. 

The plot was as follows: Pac-Man, his wife Pepper, their child Pac-Baby, their dog Chomp-Chomp and their cat, Sour Puss, live in Pac-Land. The Pac-family’s daily lives are spent in eternal battle with Ghosts called Blinky, Inky, Pinky, Clyde, and Sue. The Ghosts are in the employ of Mezmaron, an evil figure who… well, you’ll have to watch and find out.

(Trivia time: Sour Puss was played by voice actor Peter Cullen, who also played the animated voices of Eeyore, and Optimus Prime. He still does play Optimus Prime.)

In total, that little Puck generated more than $14 billion for Namco, and is indeed the highest grossing video game of all time.

Johnny Carson during a Pac-Man skit on The Tonight Show.
Gary NullNBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Johnny Carson during a Pac-Man skit on The Tonight Show.
Gary NullNBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
This man likes to spend the afternoon in his wife’s bar, the Artesia, playing his favorite game, Ms. Pac-Man, in Dinosaur County.
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A retail display featuring Pac-Man candy and chewing gum at the Paramus Park Mall, New Jersey.
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Masaya Nakamura of Namco takes a turn at Pac-Man. He’s happy about the global success of Namco’s creation, but a “little concerned about the way some young people play so much.
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“In Tokyo, the spirit of Christmas future is personified by Masaya Nakamura, founder of Namco Ltd. and father of Pac-Man (Puckman in Japan). He is widely credited with masterminding the video game craze. A home video version of Pac-Man is expected to be among this year’s hottest Christmas items.”
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Bernard Cohen, president of distributing company Consumers’ U.S. division and Consumers chairman Jack Stupp try out one of their new offerings — a miniature version of Pac-Man.
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This telephone designed to look like Pac-Man not only works but features one-button dialing.
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A young girl is photographed playing Pac-Man at a video arcade in Times Square, New York City.
Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images
Young girls playing Pac-Man.
Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

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