There was a time in this country where everyone, and I mean everyone, was obsessed with a single video game. It may seem hard to believe in today's ultra-segmented entertainment market, but in the early '80s Pac-man was a true national phenomenon at a scale unmatched by the likes of Grand Theft Auto or even The Sims. Richard Poplak at the CBC uses the games re-release on Xbox Live Arcade as an occasion to look back at that singular moment in gaming history and speculate on why we can't recapture that feeling in today's industry.
We're all for appreciation of the past, but there's something a little rose-tinted about this retrospective remonstration of today's industry. Pac-man did capture the national consciousness in a way that will likely never be equaled, but that's as much because of the medium's relative novelty and narrowness as it is the game's simplicity and accessibility.
Despite ballooning production costs, endless licensing fiascoes, an over-emphasis of realistic graphics and all the other ills of today's gaming industry, we still enjoy a gaming market that's much more varied and potentially rewarding than the one that existed in the early '80s. It may seem at times that every other game released is another first-person shooter or beat-em-'up rehash, but any industry that can support the success of games as varied as Grand Theft Auto, The Sims and Guitar Hero is far more mass-market than it's sometimes given credit for. While this segmentation means that any one game is less likely to capture an entire nation, but it also means that the entire nation is much more likely to find at least one game it likes.
We're living in a golden age of gaming ... we may just be too close to it to appreciate it. Not to worry, though -- 25 years from now we'll look back on the simple, 3D games of today and wonder why we can't recapture that feeling in our immersive, holosuite simulations of ... Pac-man.