Pactober

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When Pac-Man 2 came out, there were already several Pac-Man sequels, spinoffs and remixes. There was Ms Pac-Man, Pac-Man Jr, Pac Land, a really complicated looking Pac-Man boardgame, Pac-Man conversions to every platform available, and more. But none of them was an “official” sequel. Suddenly in 1994 we finally get a NUMBERED sequel to the original game. Apparently the first direct follow up to the original arcade hit. But instead of an arcade maze game, Pac-Man 2 is a completely different genre. It is a weird combination of simulation and point-and-click adventure. How weird? Well for one thing, you don’t actually play as Pac-Man. You play as yourself.

I don’t mean you create an avatar that explores Pac-Man’s world or anything like that. I mean you literally remain you, outside the TV, when you enter the world of this game. You don’t take on any role, and you can’t directly control the protagonist. Instead, you can fire slings from outside the game into the game, and hope that the things you hit affect Pac-Man’s mood in the correct way. Sometimes its obvious, shooting an apple out of the tree into Pac-Man’s path means he’ll eat it and get happy. Others are less obvious, like shooting a hot dog vendor who gets angry and dumps condiments on Pac-Man’s head as he passes, making Pac-Man depressed. Pac-Man has four basic emotions; happy, angry, scared and depressed. Each emotion also has different levels of intensity, so while a happy Pac-Man will be more likely to respond to your suggestions, an OVERLY happy Pac-Man will be so self satisfied he may ignore you completely and even pull dickish stunts.

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Very few games acknowledge you existing outside the game. There is a somewhat obscure RPG for the Nintendo DS called Contact where you simultaneously control a young man and yourself outside the game, while a cartoon professor from a world in between both yours and the young hero’s acts as an intermediary. The classic game Earthbound features an ending that asks the player to enter into the game in order to change the narrative in the heroes’ favor. But really, that is about it. Almost every video game involves the player interacting with a digital world, but few actually make a point of making that the purpose of the game. When you use a character to explore a digital world, you are usually asked to control and identify with them, using them almost like a digital limb, not to cooperate with them.

With you and Pac-Man being separate, and with Pac-Man having a (very simple) mind of his own, the game can sometimes take on a weird existential quality. This is exacerbated by the idiosyncratic missions and solutions. The game has its own internal logic that feels very removed from our own, and things don’t behave exactly like you would think they should. But the more you play and observe, the more it feels like the game’s logic is alien even to Pac-Man’s world. To Pac-Man and the other beings of his dimension, you are this bizarre creature of indescribable geometry who acts almost at random. Your actions are just as inscrutable and bizarre to them as theirs are to you. No wonder Pac-Man has to jump through such bizarre hoops to do something as simple as buy some milk or pick a flower, the barrier between his world and another dimension has collapsed and nothing makes sense anymore.

Looking at Pac-Man 2 not as a weird adventure game, but as a tale of existential horror, I wrote a short Twine game placing you in the role of a character caught between their own limited free will and the all-powerful being from beyond comprehension who isn’t quite omnipotent enough to effectively control events.

So enjoy Pac-Man: The New Adventure

 

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