Pac-Man: Behind the Maze
“They were the ghosts in the highest grossing video game of all time,” the voice-over artist boomed through the sound system.
A young woman named Audrey sat alone in her digital studio reviewing interview footage of Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. On the screen of her iMac, the legendary Pac-Man ghosts hovered over a cobalt-blue leather sofa waiting to field interview questions. Behind them, a simple grid of blue LED lights created the illusion of a maze against flat black walls. Audrey paused the video and cued up the audio from the narrator.
“Their relentless pursuit of Pac-Man rocketed these four ghosts to superstardom,” the voice said.
Audrey’s left hand glided over her trackpad as she dropped more footage into her project—a panning shot of the four ghosts from left to right.
First in line, the red ghost named Blinky floated above the sofa. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead as he clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth. Hyper-alert, he jumped at every sound—every movement—while casting a jittery shadow of anger and aggression over the others. To his right, Pinky fidgeted over her seat. The only girl in the group seemed lost in thought as she trembled and picked at herself nervously. Next in line, the bashful cyan ghost called Inky stared at something off camera. He seemed like he was spacing out. Last in line was Clyde, the orange ghost with bloodshot eyes fixated on the craft services table.
All together, the four ghosts looked like quite the motley crew.
Audrey clicked to add audio, and the voice said, “For decades, each Pac-Man ghost struggled with drug addiction and money troubles. And in the end, they had to face the tragic death of one of their own. This is the story of a glorious rise to fame that ends in heart breaking loss… This is Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde: Behind the Maze.”
Audrey leaned back, pulled her long brown hair into a ponytail, and then, just to be safe, took a deep breath and saved the entire project again. Finally satisfied, she pushed away from her desk and spun a celebratory three-sixty in her swivel chair. Then she picked up her iPhone and sent a single text to the producer. It’s done.
A second later she got a text, Upload it to my dropbox.
A Ghosts’ Life
“Their lives ranged from unremarkable to tragic,” the voice said.
Blinky lowered his eyes and shook his head solemnly. “Pop was a bastard. Real fucking cruel. Somehow, my mother escaped his abuse, but it was hard for her—being a single mom. We went to bed hungry almost every night. Sometimes, Mom brought home old fruit from the grocery store where she worked. Bananas and peaches were my favorite. I still love the smell of overripe fruit.”
Pinky fought back tears. “I never knew my father, but my mother was perfect in every way. Momma always said, ‘make love a priority.’ Luckily, I married a doctor so that I never had to work. Feminists? I never understood career women. All I ever wanted was a family, but Bill and I were never blessed… I still get all teary-eyed around children, especially little babies.”
The smug cyan ghost named Inky reminisced, “Both my parents were lawyers, and I’m an only child, so we were loaded. It sure cheesed them off when I didn’t follow in their footsteps and go to Harvard, but I had to follow my muse, you know? I had an apartment in SoHo and some gallery shows. Great parties. Never made much money, but I never needed money. Art is about so much more than making a buck.”
Clyde, the orange ghost, slouched and mumbled, “I don’t know, dude. I went to high school then got this dumb job.”
A Ghosts’ Afterlife
“Each one died the way they lived,” the voice said.
“I died… Violently,” Blinky said. “It was a bloody mess, and that’s all you need to know. I never believed in any of that spiritual shit. I thought death would be the end of suffering. But there I was, still hanging around as a red ghost with nowhere to go and not a damn thing to do.”
“My marriage ended when I found my husband cheating on me with some nurse slut at work,” Pinky said. “I cried and cried for months. Then, when I couldn’t take the pain any more, I drowned my sorrows with a pint of vodka and a bottle of sleeping pills. When I woke up dead, I felt…” Pinky looked upward, “so much lighter. I loved being a pink ghost. The possibilities were endless.”
“I rolled my Porsche and died from severe head trauma before the ambulance even arrived,” Inky said. “Yeah, I was drunk. So what? Took some pills at a club, then went to another club and took some more. Was huffing too I think. I used to party hard.”
“I just died, I don’t know how—” Clyde stopped himself. “Naturally.”
Then Along Came Pac-Man
“All four of their afterlives changed forever when Japanese developer Toru Iwantani digitized them. The gaming genius resurrected these four lost souls into 8-bit icons,” the voice said.
“This young Japanese kid offered me a job on a message board.” Blinky said, “I was the only damned ghost online back then. Honestly, I never thought it would go anywhere, but I had nothing to lose so… I agreed to digitization. Turns out, it wasn’t much different from existing on the ARPANET in the early 80’s.”
“I really enjoyed haunting. It suited me.” Pinky said, “But when Toru showed me his concept sketch of Pac-Man, my heart fluttered like a butterfly. It was love at first site, at least for me, anyway. I knew I had to be wherever Pac was. And so, I left my house for the digital game. Sometimes, I wonder what ever happened to that terrified family I used to haunt. They had such adorable twin girls. Anyway, I pixelized nicely, don’t you think?”
“I tried a lot of different gigs after I died,” Inky said. “I loved the freedom of freelancing and kept looking for projects that spoke to me. When I saw the audition notice from Namco, I went for it. Iwantani and I hit it off right away. I loved his innovative spirit. Being digitized into 8-bit felt AMAZING… Nothing else comes close. I only wish I could do it again and again and again.”
“Pretzel-what?” Clyde asked. “I don’t know, dude. I stumbled into this whole Pac-Man thing by accident. Everyone makes a big deal over it, but it’s just a stupid video game.”
Ghost’s on Tour
“In Japan, they got a lukewarm reception, but then something special happened in America. And before long, Pac-Man Fever swept the globe,” the voice said.
“It practically happened overnight, so I KNEW this was my destiny,” Blinky proclaimed with a confident smile.
“We weren’t supposed to be a hit. No one expected we’d become an international sensation,” Pinky added.
“By 1982, we had collected seven billion quarters. In just two years—seven billion—that’s billion with a capital B.” Inky fell back into the blue leather sofa. “Now THAT was something!”
“We became the Most Successful Coin Game in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Clyde yawned. “If that sort of thing matters to you.”
“As the quarters kept rolling in, so did the fans,” the voice said.
“Sure, everybody loved Pac-Man,” Blinky said. “But there was a special kind of fan… The chicks that worshipped the ghost house. We called them ghosties, and they were HOT! HELLO! They treated us like rockstars.” Blinky grinned while recalling an inappropriate memory. “Mmmmm… Life was GOOD.”
“Ghosties?” Pinky rolled her eyes. “Just a bunch of floozies if you ask me. Toru made us colorful so that the game would appeal to women. Yet, for the longest time, no one realized that I was female. You’d think the color pink would have tipped them off. But sure, I had some ladies hit on me back then. I had to tell them ‘sorry, I don’t go that way, sweetie.’”
“Ghosties sure knew how to party,” Inky chuckled.
“Ghosties?” Clyde replied, “Dude!”
Even More Money
“Along with sudden fame, came more money—tons of money—and not just quarters anymore,” the voice said.
“Cold, HARD cash, not that fake bitcoin shit. I could buy anything I wanted,” Blinky boasted, “and I wanted a LOT!”
“Shopping became a competitive sport for me.” Pinky mumbled. “But I felt lonely working so much.”
“I threw some crazy raves,” Inky added. “They were off the hook.”
“Yeah,” Clyde said dismissively, “I got paid.”
A New Ghost
“Although they seemed to be at the top of their game, the ghosts got lost in a maze of spin-offs and cartoon deals. In Ms. Pac-Man, Inky got replaced by a purple ghost named Sue. Then later, Clyde refused to appear in Pac-Man Junior. And to make matters worse, players were learning the ghosts’ choreography making it harder and harder to catch the yellow icon,” the voice said.
“I was all like, ‘Who the fuck is this Sue bitch?’” Blinky chuckled. “But seriously, there was a change in the game. Players had been studying us, studying our moves. Then this guy Ken Uston published Mastering Pac-Man, a pattern book that shared all kinds of ways to evade our moves. Well, that—that was the motherfucking beginning of the end.”
“Merchandising, awards, Saturday morning television shows. I was just—WOW!” Pinky said, “Then came Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man Junior. Suddenly, we were all over the world, and that was before social media. But when they brought in Sue, it was just too much.”
Inky shook his head and sighed, “The players kept getting better and better. They came up with this technique called head-faking, where they’d shake the joystick back and forth real fast, so we couldn’t tell which direction they were heading. That always got me and Pinky all tripped up.”
“After awhile, I lost interest in chasing the yellow dude,” Clyde said. “I still needed the money though, so I kept showing up in the maze to do my job. But when they tried to sign me for Pac-Man Junior, I just quit. Ghosted them real good.”
Flipping the Game
“With the pressure mounting, the ghost house began to crumble,” the voice said.
“I remember the day the game flipped,” Blinky groaned. “No one thought it possible. A player scored 999,999 then rolled the game back over to one. That’s when I knew we were in REAL fucking trouble.” The red ghost shook his head and sighed, “The game got so damn FAST. Players outpaced me by double cornering and ditching me in tunnels.” Blinky’s eye twitched. “I needed MORE cocaine. I couldn’t do my job without it.”
“That was just the beginning of addiction problems for the ghosts. When the tables turned on Pinky, she turned to a new drug sweeping through southern California in the late 80’s to cope,” the voice said.
“They used Pac-Man to play chicken with me. Chicken!” Pinky squinted her eyes. “What was I supposed to do when players came at me in the maze all kamikaze-like?” She lowered her head in shame. “It freaked me out every time.” Pinky started trembling, “There I was, working three games at once, starring in a Saturday morning cartoon series, and touring around the world… I was just so tired. Crystal got me through it all.”
“And Inky never met a drug he didn’t like,” the voice said.
“I was never addicted to anything,” Inky objected. “I was a pioneer. Sure, I sampled all the world had to offer. No regrets. It expanded my perception and heightened my abilities. There wasn’t one drug I preferred over any others. I worked hard and partied harder. Nothing wrong with that.”
“And Clyde, well somethings never change,” the voice said.
“They should just legalized it, dude.” Clyde whipped out a NORML bumpersticker and held it up for the camera.
Blinky Goes to Far
“Pac-Man mushroomed into a mega-franchise. By 1990, 400,000 arcade units had been sold, generating $3.5 billion in revenue. Adjusting for inflation, that would be over $8 billion today—just from cabinent game sales. Today, Pac-Man is still the highest grossing video game of all time. Ninety-Six percent of all people recognize the characters. But what should have been a boom for the ghosts, turned out to be a bust when Blinky got arrested on assault charges,” the voice said.
“It was PURE RAGE… What can I say? Something about that motherfucker rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t always hate Pac-Man. But you gotta understand, it was my job to chase that yellow gobbler day after day. Sometimes, it’s hard to leave work at work, you know?”
“Blinky went too far when he attacked Pac at home,” Pinky said. “Blinky and I had always worked as a team, but after that, I lost all respect for the red guy. He was out of control and needed to get arrested. Back then I wished they’d lock Blinky up and throw away the key.”
“Yeah, things were never the same between Pinky and me after that.” Blinky blushed over his already red face.
“I tried to stay out of the ghost infighting, but Blinky had a serious coke problem. It sucks when guys can’t keep their shit together,” Inky grumbled as he glazed into the camera with giant, dilated pupils. “We were all getting older and tired of the grind, so I decided to walk away and let Sue have it all. I wanted to do something new anyway.”
A Ghost’s Death
“On May 21, 2010, as an homage to Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary, Google graced its search page with a classic Pac-Man doodle. The sudden, renewed attention, sent the ghosts into a whirl-spin. Inky threw a wild party, complete with a live performance by Skrillex… And tragedy struck the next day,” the voice said.
“Everyone who was anyone was there.” Blinky stammered, “of c-c-course I partied with Inky…” The red ghost got choked up and had to take a moment to compose himself before continuing. “I was the one who found him the next morning. Well, more like afternoon. I just couldn’t believe he was—dead. Again. Circuits fried. Done. Game-fucking-over!”
“I cried for three days straight afterward. It was all I could do,” Pinky said. “His overdose was a real wake up call for me. Too much partying and not enough celebrating, if you know what I mean.”
“Clyde never showed up for Inky’s party and also declined our interviews afterward. But as the only two of the original gang left, Blinky and Pinky mended their broken relationship and agreed to let our cameras follow them to the memorial service,” the voice said.
“I wrote a eulogy for him,” the red ghost sighed. “Pinky would’ve been better at that shit, but she wanted me to do it. If you’ll give me a moment?” He shut his bedroom door.
“Blinky needs this,” Pinky said as she checked her dress in the bathroom mirror. “Inky and I were always, tight, you know? But Blinky… Well, this is the red guy’s last chance for redemption.” Satisfied with her appearance, Pinky headed out for the ceremony. “Inky was a digital image, so there were no remains after his overdose. He wasn’t a church kind of guy either, so we’re having his memorial on the beach. I think he would have liked that.”
Microphones picked up two long snorting sounds, then wide-eyed and alert, the red ghost charged through the bedroom door. “Let’s do this! Ready, Player One!?!”
A Ghost’s Funeral
At the beach, a clear acrylic ghost house sat on the soft sand surrounded by a maze of blue folding chairs. Closer to the shore, a small podium and a draped easel sat on a small stage. Adding to the ambiance, an orchestral version of the Pac-Man theme song played on a slow loop. Pinky cried on Blinky’s shoulder in the front row. When she glanced back to watch the newcomers arrive—
Sue walked in.
Pinky sneered, “What the hell is SHE doing here?”
Sue glided through the maze, sat directly behind Blinky, smoothed out the wrinkles in her lavender dress, and smiled. “Hello, Pinky dear.”
“You purple bitch!”
“Such unladylike behavior,” Sue scoffed, “and on such a solemn occasion.”
“You have some fucking nerve coming here,” Blinky seethed at Sue.
“Whatever do you mean? I am a BIG follower of Inky’s work.”
Suddenly, Pinky lunged at Sue. Blinky held her back.
“Don’t make this about her,” he said to his friend.
“You’re right…” Pinky settled back down into her seat. “That’s what she wants.”
“Exactly,” Blinky whispered as the Pac-Man theme song faded out.
Pinky gave her nervous friend an encouraging nudge, and the red ghost took a deep breath, then stood. Blinky reluctantly approached the stage and took his place behind the podium. When he looked out at the mourners, he felt crippling performance anxiety for the first time ever. But he cleared his throat and unfolded the paper where he’d scrawled Inky’s eulogy. “We’re gathered here today—”
Suddenly, the waca-waca-waca-waca sound of Pac-Man eating pellets interrupted the service.
Blinky nearly fell off the stage.
Everyone turned their attention to the entrance of the maze, then released a collective gasp.
There, in all his yellow glory, stood Pac-Man.
Acting on instinct, Blinky chased after him.
“Not today, pal,” Pac-Man said. “I’m the star here.”
A giant energizer pellet rose from under the sand between Pac-Man and the red ghost. Then suddenly, the yellow intruder gobbled the big pill, and all the ghosts turned blue. Pinky and Sue scattered, while Pac-Man chased down Blinky and ate him right there in the center isle. Nothing remained of Blinky except his digital eyes. Then a magical force pulled him through the maze and dumped him in the ghost house.
Pac-Man ran down Pinky next. Then her floating eyes zipped down the front row and into the ghost house too. Trapped inside, the two pairs of digital eyeballs bounced around against the clear walls trying to escape. Meanwhile, Pac-Man wove through the rows of chairs, and ate Sue just as she started flashing gray and blue.
The crowd stood and applauded their yellow hero.
“Thank you. Thank you.” Pac-Man took the podium. “Inky made a good enemy. I never knew what he was going to do next.”
One-by-one, the ghosts reappeared inside their crystal prison.
And just as Blinky made a move for the exit, Pac-Man spoke, “Not so fast. Give Inky a chance to join you one more time, at least in memory.”
With great flare, Pac-Man removed the black drape from the easel to reveal two 8-bit eyes laser-printed on foam core. He lifted the image of Inky’s eyes and dramatically held them high for the audience to see. Then, in a most ceremonial manner, Pac-Man set Inky’s eyes on another empty easel inside the ghost house. Mourners sobbed. Tears flowed.
Someone started chanting “Inky, Inky, Inky…”
Pac-man joined in, and before long, he whipped the entire crowd into a frenzy. “INKY, INKY, INKY!”
“I was supposed to do that shit,” Blinky scowled next to the easel, “motherfucking Pac-Man upstaged me again.”
“Yeah,” Pinky sighed, “he’s still a rockstar after all these years.”
The Pac-Man in Charge
Shortly after uploading the final edit of the video, a text message from the producer popped up on Audrey’s iPhone. I LOVE IT!
Audrey replied immediately. I’m so happy you’re pleased, sir.
Great job! I deposited the balance into your bitcoin account. And don’t be so formal. Please, call me Pac-Man.