Though there appears to be a bit of debate on the actual birthday of the classic video game, Pac-Man (Google says May 21, Wikipedia says May 22), we here at the library will be celebrating it on May 21, mostly because it is my mom’s birthday, as well, and she is the reigning champion of Pac-Man, at least in our family. (Happy Birthday, Momma!)
Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade games of the 1980’s, having amassed some $2.5 billion in quarters alone by the late 1990’s. It remains one of the most well-recognized brands in the world, and has a place both in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Not bad for a game inspired by a pizza dinner. Developer Toru Iwatani stated in interviews that he designed the classic little yellow hero of Pac-Man after being inspired by a pizza that was missing a slice. The name of the game is actually a riff on a Japanese slang phrase, ‘paku-paku’, which is meant to imitate the sound of lips smacking.
The fuzzy little monsters (or ‘ghosts’, to purists) who wander the mazes of the game were each designed with their own unique personalities and habits, which was intended to make game-play a little more entertaining. Though US arcade machines give their names as ‘Blinky’, ‘Pinky, ‘Inky’, and ‘Clyde’, (for the Red, Pink, Blue, and Orange fuzzies respectively), Iwatani’s original names for them were (as translated from Japanese) ‘Chaser’, ‘Ambusher’, ‘Fickle’, and ‘Stupid’….Poor little Orange Guy…..
And, just to make sure you got your full dose of random trivia facts for the day, the first person to achieve the maximum possible score on Pac-Man was Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, Florida, on July 3, 1990, after a play time of approximately six hours.
Though it received something of a lukewarm reception in Japan, the game was a smash-hit in the United States, and retains its popularity in to this day. In fact, in the trailer for the upcoming film Pixel, you’ll see a big, lovely little paku-paku making his way through the city. Additionally, following this link will take you to the Google Doodle honoring Pac-Man‘s 30th birthday, where you can actually play the game (which is where my Mom hones her formidable skills).
So, without further ado….If you like Pac-Man (or video games in general), Then be sure to check out:
Ready Player One: Though set in a bleak not-too-distant future, Ernest Clive’s smash-hit novel is a sweet, nostalgic love song to the 80’s, particularly its video games. Hero Wade Watts escapes his impoverished, despondent world by disappearing inside OASIS, a virtual reality universe where people meet, learn, earn money, and remain constantly on the hunt for the elusive fortune supposedly hidden within the game by James Halliday for those clever enough to find the keys. An exciting, romantic, and utterly original book, even though who aren’t old enough to remember the legwarmers and teased hair of the 80’s will still have heaps of fun reading this book. Fans also might be interested to know that Steven Spielberg (who is mentioned in the book) is planning to bring Ready Player One to the big screen soon.
Reamde: Neil Stephenson’s first book after an eight year hiatus was well worth the worth for fans of his edgy, genre-bending stories. In this story, aging, reclusive billionaire Richard Forthrast has apparently created a virtual paradise inside the world of his cyberworld, known as T’Rain. But when a fortune hunter accidentally triggers a war inside the system, the lines between reality fantasy blur–with frighteningly real consequences. The beauty of Stephenson’s work is that it is accessible even to those among us who aren’t as familiar with computers or with role-playing games. Instead, he deals with issues of identity and power that take this book from a cyber-thriller into something much grander and complex.
Only You Can Save Mankind: Because no book list should be complete without a little Terry Pratchett thrown in. This debut of his Johnny Maxwell trilogy is a sensational adventure story for kids, but Pratchett’s arch humor and wonderful insight make this a fun read for adults, as well. When young Johnny Maxwell receives a pirate copy of a strange computer game from his friend Warbler, he thinks it’s only a bit of fun–until the games characters surrender to Johnny, making him the ruler of their cyber realm. It might seem like a mere flight of fancy, until Johnny realizes that every other copy of the game is changing based on his own actions. Pratchett contrasts the fantastic world of “Only You Can Save Mankind” with the coverage of the First Gulf War on Johnny’s TV, adding a fascinating comparison to the battles on the computer screen.
Tron: Another in our line-up of 1980’s tributes. Tron was first inspired by director Steven Lisberger’s love of the game Pong, and was originally intended to be an animated film. Eventually, however, it turned into a ground-breaking live-action/computer-animation blend film about a computer programmer who is transported into his computer’s mainframe and must not only find his way out, but destroy his nemesis back in the real world at the same time. Though it received only moderate box office success, the original Tron became a classic for its innovative production values, and also because all the youngin’s who learned about it through the Disney sequel seem to think the 80’s were delightful and quaint. Those of us who harbor an ongoing horror of blue-eyeshadow and Aqua-net hairspray may beg to differ…
Death Match: This is a bit of a long-shot, but since computers feature so prominently in this book, and because it’s received pretty high reviews from the library staff, we’re including this one here. Though perhaps better known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is quite an author in his own right, and this thriller in particular is an excellent example. The tech-saavy match-making company knwon as Eden has built its reputation on bringing finding each person’s perfect match–and, in rare occasions, their computer programs locate two people who are 100% compatible. But when these ‘supercouples’ begin dying in what looks to be double suicides, Eden’s founder realizes that more than his company’s reputation is at risk. Though its pace is lightning-quick and the twists and turns are plentiful, Child also manages to weave in some pretty interesting ideas about the nature of human intellect and emotions, and the power we give to the machines we create.
We hope you enjoy this week’s IF/THEN selection. Please let us know if there are other books you would recommend, too!