If you ever wondered what inspired the little yellow guy known as Pac-Man to run across the screen eating everything in his way, it was a ploy to get women into video arcades. The creator of the game said in a recent interview that he thought because “women like to eat” they would want to play a video game based entirely around eating things.
While some might balk at the notion that centering a video game around eating comes across as sexist and stereotypical, this idea was born from a time when only a handful of women were even working in video games industry, let alone playing games. Add to that the fact Pac-Man was created by a Japanese game studio, in a country that is heavily dominated by men in the business and technology industry even by today’s standards.
For his time, creator Toru Iwatani was revolutionary. He wanted to bring more lady gamers to the arcade. He saw just as much value in them as their male counterparts, but thought that women might not be as attracted to shooting up baddies like men were. So his idea of a little pizza-shaped guy running around eating pellets and fruit and “little monsters rather than a savage video game where you kill your enemies” would be what sold video games to women en mass.
And it worked. By 1982 there was a noticeable uptick in women at the arcade. So much that Electronic Game Magazine released an article on it. They did a study on gamer demographics n 1982, and how much Pac-Man influenced the rise of the female gamer. Namco’s Pac-Man, and Midway’s release of it in North America, was the first big commercial hit that brought in the lady gamers. Midway’s spokesman at the time, Stanley Jarocki even credited women for making Pac-Man a success.
Outside of Pac-Man though, the top games women liked to play at the arcade? Bezerk and Space Invaders. The very games that Iwatani feared were keeping women out of the arcade. It may have taken Pac-Man to get the ladies inside the doors, but it just goes to show that video games are universal for everyone.
If you like weird statistics, the article breaks down the median age of the female gamer in 1982 (26), and how 8% are over the age of 40. Men and women would spend the same amount of time at the arcade (2 to 5 hours per week), with students spending far more time in front of the machines. EGM also talks about two competitive gamers from 1982: Jody Abramson and her circuit on Mattel’s Baseball and Ok-Soo Han’s win at Chicago’s Artari’s Centipede tournament.
As for what Iwatani has been up to since he left Midway, he has found a job as an educator at Tokyo Polytechnic University, where he teaches video game development and is working on new ways to use video games to enrich and educate society.
[Photo via Flickr – Rob DiCaterino]