When you say the name "Pac-Man" to most people aged 25 and up, you're probably going to get a positive response. "Oh, that's that maze dot eating game! That was soooo fun!" or "I love Pac-Man!" I've come to tell you that Pac-Man has a darker side, a side I fell for hook, line and power pill. Inside that yellow pixelated exterior is a heart of black pumping an insidious sludge to a brain bent on domination. He wants your children, he wants to control. How do I know this? As a child I was part of the Pac-Man Army and his influence put me into elementary school detention.
At first it was all innocent. I don't remember when or exactly where I first played Pac-Man but at the time I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was probably seven or eight years old at the time when I played his game. However I wasn't very good at it, which at the time probably saved me from immediate electronic brain washing. That didn't stop the Man. His hands, er, tongue, eeww no, influence spread beyond the particle board cabinet into many different facets. Gift stores had specific Pac-Man merchandise from cards to air deodorizers. Television stations broadcasted his subliminal propaganda, disguised as a cutesy cartoon. When my parents took me to Circus Circus I easily won a Pac-Man puppet at one of those water-target carnival games. Pure positive reinforcement, with the casino getting some sort of cut I'm sure. I even think that monster got control of General Mills and put something into Cheerios back then because to this day I swear those little "O's" looked like dots in the morning desert sunlight. Little did I know that I was being programmed, waiting to be unleashed onto the world.
At school one day I was eating lunch with some of my class mates. We talked about the usual boy stuff: cartoons, which was better: Transformers or Go-Bots and other important what-nots. One of the kids asked if I had ever played Pac-Man. I said of course I did-who hasn't played Pac-Man at an arcade or corner 7-Eleven?
"No, no. I mean, have you every played Pac-Man. For real?"
The kid explained it to me, which now I think he was one of the lieutenants in the Pac-Man Army, saying key words to activate whatever programming was buried deep in my brain. It was simple: One person was Pac-Man while the other were ghosts. Pac-Man (not the "kid who was Pac-Man"-again more key words) would chase after you and if he catches you, he'd "chomp" you, which was a somatic motion of both arms opening and closing ("Like an alligator?" I asked, holding my arms out to imitate and alligator mouth. "No, you idiot, like Pac-Man!!" I was told, with the kid holding his arms out like I did, only with arms reversed). That person then becomes Pac-Man and the chase is on again. Food was also involved but the span of years and perhaps meditation had wiped thoses memories away. So the "game" was tried in the school yard. It was great fun chasing and being chased. Little did I know it was in training.
Another day rolled around and it was another lunch time. I was sitting with my friends again and we were discussing the usual. As I finished my baggie of Cheetos I looked over to the person next to me and a smirk started to form on my face.
"You know the game we played yesterday," I asked, followed by finishing my milk.
"Mmm hmmm," he replied, swallowing whatever was in his mouth.
"I'm still Pac-Man."
My friends eyes got wide and with cat like reflexes, no doubt from intense Pac-Man Army training, was able to quickly lean backwards and dodge my "chomp". He slid from his chair and began to run alongside the long lunch table. I began my pursuit, arms in their appropriate positions. My vision shifted and the room changed: everything became dark and the only light came from the white tables with multi-colored swivel chairs that had become neon-glowing maze pieces. The tens of kids who whipped around to view the action became disembodied glowing eyes that just hung there as I passed. Unfortunately for me the kid ran faster than I so I had to improvise. As he came around the other side of the table I quickly hopped up onto an empty section and slid to the other side, right in his path. The boy's eyes grew huge and he tried to back pedal, his worn velcro-fastened shoes attempted to find traction on the linoleum floor to no avail. He stumbled toward my awaiting maw and just before I was able to make my chomp, I felt a cold grip pull me back into a different reality.
As I shook my head, seeing the darkness and neon fade to off to white partitions and grinning faces I heard a voice above me. "Just what do you think you two are doing?" asked the lunch room monitor as she plunked both of us onto swivel seats. I didn't know how to respond, my mind was still slowly returning from the odd euphoria of the chase.
I looked at my friend who gave me a stern look which was then pointed at the lunch monitor, his answer being silence and a furrowed brow. Must have been from his advance training. The monitor looked at me, her eyes projecting forth a mighty power teachers were trained to use. I started to sweat and I think I started to shake. I wasn't sure if it was from my nerves or her power causing my very molecules to shiver. Her voice changed as she spoke again, the octaves lowering and the words slowing down.
"What....did....you...think...you....were......doi ng...." she asked again, the sheer bass in her voice rattling the table we were by.
"We..we.." my voice trembled as my brain was scrambling to recall the English language. My "friend" gazed at me with a look of sheer hatred, knowing I was going to crack. "We were playing Pac-Man."
The lunch monitor looked confused. "Playing Pac-Man? How do you do that?" So, with a lot of stuttering, I relayed the rules to the monitor, even using my unwilling "friend" as part of the presentation. With steely eyes, the lunch monitor gave us both slips for detention with the offense of "Playing Pac-Man during lunch hour" written in Hades Flame Red.
To be honest I can't recall what happened during detention. Perhaps it was a deprogramming session-either through light induced hypnosis or perhaps I was gassed and had the offensive instructions removed. As the school was a "year round" school my group (called a "quad") had the next two or three weeks off from school. I also can't recall what my punishment from my parents was but it probably wasn't good. By the time I got back to school there was no longer talk of "playing Pac-Man". The rest of the school year went normally and the game never cropped up again.
Who knows, maybe my cracking under pressure stopped the Pac-Man Army from taking over. Maybe the lunch monitor took my information back to whatever dark temple teachers go to gain their powers and knowledge, spreading word of the "game" throughout their massive network. Or maybe it was all timing as video games at the time were being seen as a "fad" and everyone switched to something else, causing the Pac-Man Army to disband into possible smaller sleeper-cells. Now with "retro" games becoming more and more popular and with new iterations of them being available on people friendly systems like the DS and Nintendo Wii I felt it necessary to tell my story to make sure that this tragedy doesn't happen to anyone else.