This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.