Pac-Man Principle, The

Pac-Man Principle, The

A User's Guide to Capitalism

A blast from the past; direction to the future? Pac-Man is our guide through the maze of contemporary capitalism.


In spite of being well into middle-age, Pac-Man's popularity shows no sign of decline and the character has appeared in over sixty games on virtually every games platform ever released. According to the David Brown celebrity index, in 2008, nearly three decades after initial release, 94% of Americans were able to recognise Pac-Man, which gave the character greater brand awareness than Super Mario. Pac-Man, with its avowed commitment to non-violence was a videogame of many firsts, including being designed to appeal to children and females and providing the first narrative interlude in a videogame. Although iconic, Pac-Man has not been subject to sustained critical analysis. This book helps to fill that gap, providing an extensive, sophisticated, but accessible analysis of the influence of Pac-Man on the way that we live in contemporary western societies.


Wade expertly pulls apart one of video gaming's most iconic titles to discover layer upon layer of meaning, drawing comparisons between Namco's globally-recognised pill-gobbler and the often shadowy worlds of capitalism, politics and much more besides, making it abundantly clear that there's much more to these pixellated classics of yesteryear than meets the eye. ~ Damien McFerran, Editor, Nintendo Life & Videogame and Tech Journalist

Alex Wade has written a rattling good book, as ravenous and riveting as his main character, Pac-Man, whose adventures take us from the frictionless glide through the shopping centre to the dank corners of the postmodern neo-liberal world and our many forms of resistance against it, whether in a Balkan minefield or a cannabis factory. On the way Alex Wade weaves a tantalizing guide through the labyrinths of contemporary capitalism. Read it and be shocked into seeing both the real and the hyperreal in unexpected ways. Better still, read it twice; it’s short and lively. Like playing Pac-Man, it’s addictive. ~ Dennis Smith, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Loughborough University

Pac-Man can be regarded as the convenient poster child of video game culture. It came from a desire to explore non-violence in game design when the popularity of space shooters was reaching its apex, and years before Mike Edwards’ Realms of Impossibilities or Richard Garriott’s Ultima IV adopted a similar design motto. It was built around the universally desirable theme of eating and is still lauded as an attempt to attract a wider demographic, including women. That story has already been told. Alex Wade doesn’t simply revisit this landmark moment in game history. Moving away from a cute-ified glorification of an important figure, his account explores the darker half of this poster child. It dives into the open mouth to explore the underbelly of the yellow munching beast: capitalism. From the smooth consumption occurring in its labyrinths to the constant surveillance of algorithms lurking beneath the googly eyes of ghosts, and the sad inevitability of terror attacks – or a kill screen – in these homogenised worlds made for a consumer-tourist always on the move, Pac-Man resonates with the current neoliberal condition. In a constantly accelerated conflict, power pellets provide some welfare and a momentary reversal of fortune. This powerful formula has grown into one of the most essential forms of reinforcement, forging our consumption of video games, our technological and even social habitus. Pac-Man as a symbol of the world? Wade allows us to connect the dots. ~ Carl Therrien, Adjunct Professor, University of Montreal

Alex Wade’s The Pac-Man Principle offers a suitably wide-ranging account of one of the most influential videogames of all time. The simplicity and elegance of design in Iwatani’s masterpiece proves immensely productive in a critique that addresses a range of contemporary issues, from the welfare state to consumer culture, from drones to political referenda. ~ Paul Martin, Assistant Professor in Digital Media and Communications, , University of Nottingham Ningbo, China

Alex Wade
Alex Wade Alex Wade is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education at Birmingham City University, UK. He has published widely on French social...
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