Pac-Man: An Accurate Simulation of Your Meaningless Life

      Thus far, the 21st century has been sort of an odd time for video games. We have seen drastic increases in graphical presentation, and it is becoming increasingly probable that video games will offer up environments that are visually indistinguishable from the real world within my lifetime. Games are becoming more realistic in other areas, too. Games like Wii Sports and Guitar Hero utilize special controls that let you pretend you actually know how to play tennis, bowl, or rock out. And then there's Maxis' smash hit The Sims 2, a game which allows you complete control over a family of digital people. Under your watchful eye, they will do such exciting things as watch TV, take out the trash, and socialize with other people. The only real goal in the game is to improve your Sims' personalities and make them learn valuable skills so that they'll get good jobs and earn lots of money for you to spend on digital accessories for their digital house. To be really good at The Sims, you have to spend hundreds of hours playing it. That, or you could spend hundreds of hours improving YOUR personality and teaching YOURSELF valuable skills so that YOU can get a good job in THE REAL FUCKING WORLD and buy ACTUAL STUFF for your ACTUAL HOME. And if you did that, you wouldn't have to deal with any of that annoying fucking Simlish. That is, unless you choose to work with autistic children.

      But despite the highly detailed graphics, the use of motion-based controls, and the incorporation of mundane tasks in today's video games, none of them truly offer anything even remotely close to an authentic simulation of the real world. In fact, only one game has ever managed to fully and starkly realize the complete futility of human existence in the Western world, and that game is damn near thirty years old. That game is Pac-Man.



      Pac-Man runs through a maze mindlessly chomping on pellets. If he eats them all, he is given another dot-filled maze to clear. Then another, and another after that. There is no real meaning, there is no higher purpose. Pac-Man's entire existence is defined by a constant state of consumption that only ends with death. YOUR LIFE IS EXACTLY THE SAME. You are hopelessly trapped in a labyrinthian capitalist system, forever enslaved by insurance payments, student loans, cell phone bills, rent, magazine subscriptions, and X-rated internet paysites. No matter how hard you work, you will almost always be in debt. If you somehow manage to climb out of debt, some unforeseen expense will come out of nowhere and thrust you back into debt. Maybe your computer will stop working. Maybe your car will get hit by a train. Maybe an exciting new fall fashion line will debut that you just *have* to own. You will spend your entire life earning money to pay for things that you will eventually replace with with newer things, things that you've purchased at excitingly high inflation-adjusted prices due to the rapidly falling international standing of the American dollar. Then you'll die, tired and barely solvent. Unless, of course, you're a member of the wealthiest 1% of society. If you belong to the modern aristocracy, you'll spend your days feigning a social conscious, playing golf, oppressing the proletariat, and producing dimwitted, arrogant offspring.



      Wherever Pac-Man goes, he is chased relentlessly by the ghosts of his past. No matter how many bonus items he collects, no matter how many mazes he clears, no matter how high his score gets, the ghosts remain in hot pursuit. In fact, as Pac-Man becomes more successful, the ghosts become more aggressive. They become faster, smarter, meaner. And so it goes in life. You will never ever escape your personal demons, try as you might. At the end of the day, they will be waiting patiently for you in your bedroom: the friend you betrayed, the classes you failed, the kindly old neighbor you stole from, that DUI you got, and that abortion you wish you hadn't, they'll all be there staring back at you from the mirror. You can change jobs, change cities, even change your name, but it makes no difference; your sins will find you and devour you whole.



      As Pac-Man makes his way through life, he will sometimes find magical drug capsules that have the ability to elevate him to a near-masturbatory state of euphoria. When he ingests these so-called Power Pellets, Pac-Man receives a brief respite from his personal demons. Bolstered by a sense of false confidence, Pac-Man is able to drive back the horrible spectres that haunt him and the implacable misery they bring with them. However, if you've ever seen public service announcements featuring lovable characters such as the Ninja Turtles, McGruff the Crime Dog, Pee-wee Herman, and Nancy Reagan, then you've probably been told drugs are bad. Well, they were right. As Pac-Man pops an increasing number of giant flashing pills to relieve his suffering, he begins to build up a tolerance to their effects. By the fifth board, the drugs don't work as well as they used to. By the nineteenth board, the drugs don't work at all anymore. But by this point, Pac-Man is physically addicted to the Power Pellets and he has to keep taking them just to keep himself from going through horrible withdrawal symptoms such as the PTs, the Pac-Tremors. Since Pac-Man has limited access to these self-medicated pharmaceuticals, he is unable to do any serious damage to himself; he simply stops receiving the false and fleeting happiness the drugs provide. He is lucky. You, on the other hand, will not be so lucky. If you choose to start down the drug route, you will probably end up like Heath Ledger and Elvis Presley. You'll start taking more and more drugs, desperately hoping to get as high as you did before you built up a tolerance to the heroin or the Vicodin or the cocaine or whatever the fuck you were taking. You'll try and quit, but quitting is hard, so you'll give up. Sooner or later you'll overdose and someone will find your pale lifeless body in a bedroom or a bathroom. No one who knew you will be surprised and since you're not Heath Ledger, no one will really care.



      Starting in Round 13, Pac-Man can pick up the most valuable bonus item in the game: the key. Each key is worth an impressive 5000 points, which is 2000 points more than you get for eating all four ghosts in succession during a Power Pellet run. Since the Power Pellets stop functioning in Round 19, the two keys that appear on each of the later boards are your main source of points for the majority of the game. And since your score is the only real measuring stick in Pac-Man, your success is gauged by how many keys you are able to accumulate. This model holds true in real life as well. For example, if the only keys you have are the key to your car and the key to your parents' house, you're doing a little below average. But if you have a set of keys that includes the key to a luxury sedan, the key to a studio apartment, the key to your girlfriend and/or boyfriend's apartment, and the key to a rather crappy summer place in New Hampshire, you're doing pretty good. Here's the full scoring chart:

Keys: A Scoring Guide For Real Life

Crappy Car 1 point
Good Car 2 points
Luxury Car 4 points
SUV 0 points
Parents' House 1 point
Dorm 2 points
Apartment 4 points
Nice Apartment 8 points
Your Own House 16 points
Nice House 32 points
Mansion 128 points
Boat 16 points
Yacht 32 points
Safety Deposit Box 64 points
Boyfriend/Girlfriend's Apartment 8 points
Fiancé/Fiancée's Apartment 200 points
The Apartment of the College Student You're Banging on the Side 1000 points
The House Where The High School Student You're Banging on the Side Lives 500,000 points
The Shackles of Your Slaves 1,000,000 points

IMPORTANT NOTE: Slavery is quite illegal under U.S. federal law and it is generally frowned upon in 42 of the 48 continental states, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Furthermore, attempting slavery is a good way to get yourself shot in the face. Repeatedly. As a result, the international scoreboard maintained by Twin Galaxies does not recognize high scores obtained via slavery. Famed gamer Billy Mitchell has heavily criticized this decision.



      There is no viable win condition in Pac-Man. There is no end boss, no congratulatory message, no definitive conclusion. Instead, the game goes on and on in a predictable, repetitive fashion for what seems like an eternity, and Pac-Man's journey only ends when he gives up or dies. And when he does finally call it a day, he leaves behind no worthwhile legacy. The arcade cabinet only retains the highest score, and it doesn't bother to let the title holder input his or her initials. Even if it did, the gesture would be meaningless. The game's scoring system only has six decimal places, so the game's high score maxes out at 999,990 points. When you reach one million points, the score counter resets to zero. Since it is possible to earn well over THREE million points over the course of a game of Pac-Man, the score display is completely irrelevant. You simply cannot win at Pac-Man. You can't win at life either. There are hundreds of different skills that you can potentially acquire in this life, and you'll never acquire all of them; this isn't Dungeons & Dragons. If you're lucky, you'll find maybe ten things that you're really good at. But no matter how good you, there will always be someone better than you. Hell, there will probably be *thousands* of people better than you. Any illusions you have of being different and special are just that - illusions.



      Even if you are the best Pac-Man player in the world, you will lose. Due to a glitch in the game's programming, the 256th level of the game is unbeatable. Normally, the game displays the current round's bonus item and the last six rounds' bonus items at the bottom of the screen from left to right. Unfortunately, the data for the item display is stored in a single byte. Since a byte is comprised of eight binary digits, it can only express 256 (2^8) distinct numbers, 0-255; this is why your Rupees max out at 255 in The Legend of Zelda. The bonus item display in Pac-Man is drawn using an algorithm that starts off by checking the current level number and adding one to it. When you enter the 256th level, the bonus item algorithm takes the current level number (255) and adds one (1) to it, thus resetting that value to zero. This causes problems because the display algorithm was not designed to anticipate a starting value of zero. Consequently, the recursion rule using for displaying the bonus items in levels where less than seven bonus items exist are triggered. The game begins drawing bonus items while counting backward from zero, not stopping until zero is reached once again. This results in 256 bonus items (1 cherry, 1 strawberry, 2 peaches, 2 apples, 2 melons, 2 Galaxians, 2 bells, 244 keys) being drawn, as well as seven blank item placeholders, resulting in the complete corruption of the right side of screen. A board can only be cleared if Pac-Man eats 240 dots and four Power Pellets, and since half the board has been overwritten, this feat is impossible. Pac-Man will die in this level, the game will end, and there's nothing you can fucking do about it. You're gonna die someday too, and there's nothing you can do about that either. You'll be buried, cremated, or dissected by premeds, and some people will mourn your passing. But then those people will start to die off too. Pretty soon, everyone whoever met you will be dead too and you'll be nothing but a face in a dusty old photo album in your grandson's attic. Then one day your grandson will die and *his* grandchildren will descend upon his house in search of furniture for their dorm rooms. They'll find his photo album, say "What the fuck is this shit? Ewww, it fucking smells like fucking old people!", and throw out the last real evidence that you ever existed. Your life on this planet was but one among billions, and you didn't even come close to making the high score list.



      So let's recap: your individual life on this planet is completely insignificant and it is largely characterized by the grim capitalist system that you were born into. You are doomed to a miserable existence which will be spent endlessly collecting brightly colored consumer-oriented products. You can attempt to alleviate your sorrow with needles or pills, but such efforts will inevitably fail. Furthermore, you are predestined to die and you will probably not accomplish anything of merit before this occurs. So now that you know your life is pointless, you might as well do what Pac-Man does: GO CRY IN THE FUCKING CORNER. When Pac-Man needs a break from his endless cycle of hunger and pain, there is a simple trick he can use. When a new level starts, move Pac-Man one space to the right and three spaces up, then stop; the ghosts will leave him alone for about fifteen minutes or so. So when you're feeling like life is completely hopeless (and it is), find yourself a cozy little corner to cry in. I can't guarantee that your demons will leave you alone for at least fifteen minutes, but you'll feel a lot better regardless.


Posted by: Syd Lexia