Everyone has their own acid test to identify ‘nice’ people. For folks of my generation, it was Calvin & Hobbes. Declaration of fandom invariably earned you brownies and a 10-year visa to the United States of friendship.
Back in the 80s, Pac-Man did the job of Calvin & Hobbes. A simple interest in the computer game earned you instant respect from fellow slackers. A quick discussion on high scores and levels of proficiency would ensue, followed by a mating call for a face-off. The concept of gobbling dots in a maze while outrunning silly ghosts may look juvenile today, but in the era of the 386 (Pentium’s grandpa), it was as addictive as weed for millions of bored gamers.
But not many know that Pac-Man was Japanese in origin. Designed by Toru Iwatani in 1980, he labelled it ‘Pakkuman’ after the onomatopoeic ‘pakku-pakku’ chomping sound made by the lead character. He tried to anglicise it as ‘Puckman’ for the overseas markets, but the possible confusion with a much censored four-letter word, veered the gaming company towards Pac-Man.Tetris was another fixation for those who swapped office time for private pleasure. Steven Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, was a champ at it. Derived from Tetraminoes (the four-square blocks) and tennis (founder Alexey Pajitnov’s favourite sport), the falling blocks puzzle is now the world’s most successful game, having sold 150 million copies over 30 years.
Mortal Kombat was a universal favourite with those who liked violence. Planned as a gaming version of Jean Claude Van Damme movie Blood Sport, MK became a bigger brand within a few years of its launch. Single-player shooter games Wolfenstein 3D (German for Wolfstone) and Doom (name borrowed from a Tom Cruise dialogue in The Color of Money) gave us wussies the jollies of playing a rampaging hero in the virtual world.
The goofballs who didn’t fit into any of the above slots sat in a lonesome corner plodding over Solitaire. But whether one played Prince of Persia or PC Pool, the fact remains that there’s nothing to beat the old charm of nostalgia.