- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

Why didn’t somebody see this one coming? In a culture that is obsessively, endlessly recycling and reliving its own past (A “new” Beatles album, “The Brady Bunch” on DVD, Jim Carrey is the Grinch), it was inevitable that we’d find a way to resurrect Pac-Man sooner or later.

Pac-Man, the beeping, blinking little yellow dot eater that was as much an icon of the ‘80s as Duran Duran and J.R. Ewing, is back, and he’s not alone.

The video-game industry, tapping into a reservoir of nostalgia and maybe some latent frustration on the part of parents fed up with such hyper-violent games as Grand Theft Auto and Doom, is repackaging hits such as Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga for modern audiences.

The $7 billion industry expects to do about $250 million this year on what are being called “retro” games.

The games can be loaded onto computers or into newer consoles such as the Nintendo Gamecube, or, even better, purchased preloaded into a joystick-type setup that just plugs right into your television set.

It’s called plug and play, and the systems, from different manufacturers, sell for about $20. Which is, if I remember correctly, about what envelop my buddies and I would drop into the arcade machine in one afternoon way back when.

Toy executives such as Eric Levin, vice president of Techno Source, a Hong Kong-based company with offices in New York, think the appeal may have something to do with September 11.

Since that day, he says, there’s been a “craving for innocence.”

“The world has become such a complex place,” he says, that families “yearn for that simplicity. There’s a theory out there that the best games take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.”

The old games often had cleaner, simpler graphics that also lend themselves to the small screens of cellular phones, he points out.

After watching my three children get hooked on Dig Dug and Pac-Man this summer, I’m convinced he’s onto something.

It’s a relief to see them playing games that are relatively nonviolent (though, obviously, Pac-Man is seriously taking out some aggression on his food, and the little guy in Dig Dug is pretty lethal with a bicycle pump).

But there’s more. The games are short and stunningly simple. So many of the other games children play, from the popular Legend of Zelda games to the sports franchises to Nintendo’s flagship Mario games combine epic, unfolding storylines and complicated controls.

Pac-Man? Just push the joystick. Eat the dots. That’s it.

Donkey Kong? Jump the barrels. Run. Jump some more.

Most of the retro classics, remember, are controlled with just a joystick and one or two buttons.

My youngest, who in years past was often stuck on the sidelines, watching her older brother learning the intricacies of flying an X-Wing in and around the Death Star, is now giving me tips on getting to the next level in Galaga. (“Just keep shooting, Dad.”)

Mr. Levin compares classic video games such as Asteroids, Centipede and Ms. Pac-Man to a card game.

“It’s just as much as fun today as it was a hundred years ago,” he said.

Scott Galupo contributed to this column.


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