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Pac-Man vs. Pachamama

By Paul Viau | Feb 15, 2017
Photo by: Donated photo A TOAST TO THE INCA'S EARTH MOTHER — The Incas of ancient Peru believed that Pachamama personified the Earth.

I’ve never been a big fan of video games, but watching the television commercials during Super Bowl LI, really shocked me. Gaming sure has changed since I first hunched over a Pac-Man console in the 1980s. I know this really dates me, but I’m at that age the everything I say or do makes me seem old — really old.

All that being said, I recently learned that the Japanese man widely considered ‘The father of Pac-Man’ — Masaya Nakamura — died a few weeks ago at the age of 91. Nakamura was the founder of the video game company, Namco, and is widely credited for favoring creativity over education in his hiring practices.

In an interview with the New York Times in 1983, Nakamura said, “For game designers, the knowledge acquired in school is not so helpful. I want people who think in unusual ways, whose curiosity runs away with them, fun-loving renegades.”

Nakamura’s insight proved most rewarding, when one of his engineers — Toru Iwatani — created the game Pac-Man in 1980.

Did you know? — Pac-Man holds the Guinness World Record as the most successful coin-operated arcade game. It is estimated that Pac-Man has been played more than 10 billion times in the 36 years since its release.

Pac-Man was originally called Pakkuman in Japan, after the Japanese slang — paku-paku — describing the sound of a mouth of ‘Mr. Pac-Man’ flapping open and closed. The American version of the game was originally slated to be called ‘Puckman,’ due to the main character’s resemblance to a hockey puck. Nakamura realized that the ‘P’ might be replaced with an ‘F’ in American slang. Pac-Man was a much ‘safer’ name.

This week, as I pondered the success of Pac-Man, (No thanks to me — I only played a handful of times) and the violent, addiction video gaming has become, I became troubled.

It turns out, the ‘Father of Pac-Man’ was also concerned about the future of gaming. Two years after Pac-Man was launched, Nakamura said, “I am a little concerned about the way some people play it so much. It’s not a very happy thing to see people spending so much time on it. Once it goes above a certain level, it’s not good for young people.”

If Nakamura saw the violent military games portrayed on Super Bowl Sunday, he would be aghast.

If only we could summon a powerful force to provide an alternative to gaming. Well, maybe we can.

In a recent Google search on Pac-Man, I discovered a similarly named goddess from South American mythology, who urges us turn away from our screens and look to the serenity of mother nature. Her name is Pachamama — the much-beloved earth mother goddess, who presides over Earth and time for the native people of the Andes.

In their culture, Pachamama is ever-present in the mountains and has the power to sustain life everywhere on the earth — all life – including both plants and animals.

Images of Pachamama portray an adult female, bearing a harvest of potatoes and coca leaves or similarly ‘grounded,’ as if one with the mountain landscape.

The Incas and their descendants look to Pachamama, devoting time to the Earth, and Pachamama rewards the people with a beautiful countryside and bountiful harvest.

The spirit of Pachamama might be looking over the mountains of Western North Carolina, urging us to spend more time outdoors and be more attentive to nature.

In the Andes, when the people spend too much time away from nature, Pachamama occasionally reminds them of their lost focus — with an earthquake. We should remind gamers, whose only joy is a joystick, with a similar reminder.

So let’s work together to get our children and grandchildren to look away from their screens, put down their video games and get to know Pachamama. She’s all around us, and can show us back to a more natural way of life.

BTW, if you want to lift a glass to this idea, I suggest the Pachamama Porter — a seasonal collaboration between Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Connecticut, and Evil Twin Brewing, from Brooklyn, New York.