Five Things Pacman Can Teach You About Life

I used to hate Pacman. The first time I played it was on a plane when my parents and I were traveling to visit my grandparents, and it seemed like the dumbest game in the world. I’ve never played many video games (except for Zelda and Age of Empires,) but Pacman just seemed ridiculous. Four days ago, I downloaded the Pacman app for iPhone. I think I’m addicted.

Beyond being a lot of fun and not nearly as tedious as I remember, Pacman can teach us a lot about life. Life? Pacman? Yes, that’s right: Pacman can teach you about life. So that being said, here are five things you can learn about life from playing Pacman.

1. It’s all about getting the dots

It’s 5am, you’re at work picking up dots, and some idiot in a red cloak starts chasing you down the street. It’s been like this for as long as you can remember. He’s faster than you are, but you’re smarter, and as you duck down the alleys and swerve around corners trying to eat as many dots as you can, you realize: all I have to do is pick up the dots. It’s not about staying in play as long as possible, it’s about eating all the dots as quickly as possible. The faster you eat all the dots, the faster you can move on to something you really want to do (like, say, the next stage.) Spending more time than necessary on blank spaces doesn’t help you, it just wastes time. And when that guy in the red cloak is getting you down, just keep eating those dots.

2. The bad guys get faster and smarter as you go along

Three weeks after you started working at corporate, you realized that you wanted to get to the next floor as fast as possible. You’re a nice guy though, you don’t step on people to get where you want to go, you just walk around the cubicles eating dots. Some guy in a red suit chases you around trying to make you stop, because he really wants that promotion too, and he’s willing to do anything he and his ugly-suited buddies can do to stop you. So you eat all the dots, you get your promotion, and the next day you get in the elevator and press the button for stage 2. It feels pretty good to leave all those suckers behind on stage 1. The elevator door opens, and who do you see? Yet another guy in a red suit, ordering people around, being a jerk, spilling coffee on people’s computers, and generally making trouble for everyone. After a few more months you manage to work your way around suit number 2, but he’s faster and smarter. This happens over and over, and the higher you climb, the more it seems like this unending supply of guys in brightly colored suits are in your head, forcing you to be more clever and cunning; to react faster in the face of a challenge.

3. One melon is worth a hundred dots

When in doubt, go for the melon. Sure, dots are great, but the melon is where the magic happens. Eating just one melon is like eating an entire third of the dots on the board in one gulp. You want to make your score higher, don’t you kid? Well then eat the melons when you find them. And sometimes, when you know you’re about to buy it, and you have a choice between a few dots or scoring a melon, go for the melon.

4. The controls don’t always do what you tell them to

So maybe the original games didn’t do this, but the touch screen joystick on the iPhone game sometimes goes left or right when you want to go up, which has caused several Pac deaths, and more than a few expletive utterances on my part. Sometimes, on the great gameboard of life, manipulating the controls a certain way doesn’t take you where you expect. And even though you really had your eye on that untouched field of dots in the upper right corner of the screen, it might not be in the stars for you right now. But even if you can’t eat all those dots right now, and even if you might get caught by a ghost, at least you still have a chance. And who knows, maybe you’ll get the chance to eat a melon while you’re evading those ghosts.

5. If you’re clever, you can make the bad guys turn blue and run away

It’s not always easy, being a yellow ball with a mouth and no eyes. Running away from those ghosts can be tough, and it’s easy to get disheartened and think that there’s no escape. But sometimes, if you know where to look, you can make those guys in their fancy colored robes turn blue and run away in shame. In SHAME. It’s a power that you shouldn’t abuse, because you might not be able to do it as often as you like, but if you keep your wits about you and you stay strong, you can scare those ghosts away by just doing what you were going to do anyway: eating dots. And if you time it right, you might even be able to show that ghost who’s boss and turn him into a little pair of eyes that run away back to his house.

While some of these lessons are more or less helpful than others, I think they’re valid and relatively important lessons to learn. And the fact that they reference a video game made in the 80’s is just awesome. So the next time you’re playing Pacman, think about what you can learn about life from that little yellow guy with no eyes and a mouth. You might be surprised.


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