Man’s been popping pills since 1980, and it ain’t never done him no harm

Pac-Man (1980)

I hate to say it, but the day is rapidly coming for me when nightclubs will no longer be an acceptable place for me to show my face at. That said, I’m not writing off the possibility that I might win an explosion of money in my fifties, and take my suitcase of money down to the local club to shant it up with the local dollies.

Or better still, instead of spending my retirement measuring out what little money I finish up with, I could get my whole pension and go out in a drug-fuelled blaze of glory. For one night only, that might be acceptable. But until then, I can probably count my remaining nightclub appearances on two hands.

And anyway, what am I missing, really? Whenever we get a group together, much debate is had about where we’ll end up, as if it really matters. The only differentiating factor really is that the cost of entry must be nil. This is crucial, because some places charge you a ten-spot before you’ve even crossed the threshold, before you’ve even had a drink.

You might think I’m being awfully tight, but eat this – the drinks won’t come much cheaper, plus it’ll be an extra two quid if you want to fling your coat in the cloakroom. And God help you if you lose the raffle ticket they give you in return.

You’ll have had to negotiate with an unrelenting doorman as well, just to get in the place. And you probably had to resist the urge, if you got refused, to pull a wad of cash out of your wallet and wave it under his fat nose. If he hasn’t flattened you already, you could follow up by telling him that that’s the sort of bread he could be earning if he had a proper job.

Just getting past the bouncer doesn’t mean you’re immune to taking punches though, you might very well become embroiled in a scrap on the dancefloor when you go inside. Nothing like a few double vodka and Red Bulls to get the old fighting spirit going. And there’s no winners here anyway, because even if you flatten the other guy, you’ll get thrown out and possibly up on an assault charge for the pint glass you’ve smashed in their face. Not very fair, is it?

No, what you want to bag yourself nightclub-wise is a place that’s free, but also chilled. Ideally, it’d be a dark room where everyone’s wide-eyed, mashed on pills, the sounds are excellent and the clientele are colourful. What you’re looking for is one of the mazes where Pac-Man takes place.

I would have said Pac-Man needs absolutely no introduction, because it’s a video game that even your Dad knows. But then kids know nothing these days, do they? They don’t even go to nightclubs anymore – drinking’s no good for how their bodies will look on Instagram, apparently. Can you believe that?

Pac-Man is far better known as an arcade game, killscreens and all, but it was ported to just about every console and wristwatch in the 1980s, including a notably dire rendition on Atari 2600 that, along with ET, threatened to plunge us into a Dark Age of no video games. I suppose that’s a bit like every nightclub in the city being essentially carbon copies of each other, but some are still more depressing than others.

Your job in Pac-Man is to lash as many pills down your throat as possible, and to hell with the consequences. Pac-Man never suffers a comedown, and he doesn’t know how lucky he is. But what he may know is that he won’t even be able to have a few minutes to himself in the bathroom, or out in the smoking area – he can scarcely stop moving, and no sooner has he run a tour of one nightclub then he’s in the next, also awash with pills and gurning fools coming after him.

He’s got four bogeys after him, but he might even cop off with one of the earliest female characters in gaming, and I don’t mean Pac-Man’s wife (that would come after his nightclub days were all over). I mean Pinky, who’s joined by her brother or cousin or simp ghosts Blinky, Inky and Clyde

Sometimes when a bouncer isn’t bothered telling you to eff off outright, they’ll tell you to go and get a coffee – doorman speak for “go off and shite”, haunt some other place because you’re obviously off your head, or too weird or too ugly. If coffee goes right through you, you could instead try and score some fruit off a forlorn street vendor to get some, I don’t know, potassium into you.

Pac-Man loves a bit of fruit as well, since it gives him plenty of points from a time when points meant something, although it’s a shame it’s not free pints. What he really wants is the larger power pills – these are the cocaine equivalent, something with enough kick to send you back from the bogs just dying for a straightener with someone.

Once Pac-Man’s popped one of these badboys, everyone else loses their colour and runs scared of him, rather like that awkward mood everyone else gets when someone loses their head on a night out and starts screaming blue murder at anything they see.

This is the only time Pac-Man has a bit of muscle behind him, although as you proceed through the levels the enemy ghosts take less and less fright at you, until the only thing your gram will do for you is flip them around in the opposite direction.

Pac-Man is a long-standing winner because it has an appealing design, with its cute little ghosts, but it’s also a simple affair to pick up and play – anybody can be watching and have a go. I know all games of that era were simple by default, but even now, Pac-Man is something anybody can recognise and pick up.

It’s little wonder that it grabbed so much attention in the arcades of that time, and Pac-Man machines worldwide took more than two billion dollars – the Pacster’s GDP was probably higher than most African countries, and this was around forty years ago.

Because there were around seven hundred home consoles back then, including one made by a Connecticut leather company, video game companies all scrambled to create home ports of Pac-Man. As I mentioned, The Atari 2600 version was particularly notable – it looked and sounded awful, a poor imitation on arcade Pac-Man. It still managed to move seven million copies. It’s no wonder video games eventually became regarded as an overpriced scam.

Even if the NES version came a bit later than the Famicom version, which in turn was obviously a while later than the Arcade machine and its earliest ports, Pac-Man NES still garnered plenty of popularity and sales, and it’s a pretty good conversion. It must be said though, and this kind of came back to the fore once the little yellow geezer got the shout for Super Smash Bros: Pac-Man himself is a bit of a one-trick pony.

There was Ms. Pac-Man, which I believe came out to a good level of success, and then Namco tried their hand at turning Pac-Man into a sidescrolling platformer. But none of those games were much good, and they never again regained that level of popularity and profit that the original Pac-Man game achieved.

Bit of a one-hit wonder, then, but that’s OK – you’ll be bopping along to plenty of one-hit wonders in that same club. I’m trying to think what one-hit wonder applies to Pac-Man most. Turning Japanese? How Bizarre? What about Nothing Compares 2 U?

15 June 2021

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