Iwatani: Pac-Man was made for women

Creator opens up on game's 30th birthday.

Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani has said that he originally designed the lovable character to appeal to women.

Iwatani was speaking to author Tristan Donovan for the book Replay - The History of Video Games, which goes on sale later this month.

Donovan had asked about the origins of the Pac-Man character - 30 years old on Saturday - and the decision to use the "kawaii" or cute character style.

"By creating a character saga and kawaii characters we thought we could appeal to women as well," Iwatani explained.

"Most arcade videogames of the time were violent and focused on the male player, so the game-centres became places frequented mainly by men.

"We decided to change that demographic by designing games that can appeal to women and thus to couples, therefore making game-centres desirable places to go on a date."

You can read more from Donovan's discussion with Iwatani below. The designer left Namco in 2007 and now lectures at the Tokyo Polytechnic University.

Tristan Donovan: When you applied to Namco did you do so wanting to make videogames?

Toru Iwatani: When I joined, in 1977, Namco did not make videogames. They only manufactured electric and mechanical games like flipper pinball. I joined Namco because I wanted to make pinball machines.

Namco was not making any pinball games. They're very cool, so I had the idea to create a videogame with pinball features. That's why Gee Bee became Namco's very first original videogame.

Tristan Donovan: What was the thinking behind using the kawaii (cute) art style for Cutie Q and Pac-Man?

Toru Iwatani: The hardware spec at the time, compared to the present time, was very limited, so we could only have artwork in a very simplistic style. It was very difficult to create a sense of empathy for the player in this limited way, but we wanted as many people as possible to enjoy the game. By creating a character saga and kawaii characters we thought we could appeal to women as well.

pizza

Iwatani's "eureka moment".

Tristan Donovan: In interviews you said you made Pac-Man to appeal to women. Why did you feel the need to create a game to attract a female audience and what steps did you do to find out what kind of game would appeal to women?

Toru Iwatani: This was before the Famicom [NES] home consoles so the only place to play videogames was at arcades. Most arcade videogames of the time were violent and focused on the male player, so the game-centres became places frequented mainly by men. We decided to change that demographic by designing games that can appeal to women and thus to couples, therefore making game-centres desirable places to go on a date.

Tristan Donovan: Is that the only reason you decided against a violent game?

Toru Iwatani: I grew up watching Disney cartoons as well as Japanese animation and manga so I was influenced by the philosophy of those creators and designers. Also, I wanted children to play my games, so it never even crossed my mind to use violence in my designs. I can't imagine thinking like that, to express anything in a violent manner.

Tristan Donovan: I've heard two explanations about what inspired Pac-Man. The first claims you ordered a pizza, took a slice and saw Pac-Man. The other claims you based the character on the Japanese symbol kuchi, meaning mouth. What really happened?

Toru Iwatani: I was trying to come up with something to appeal to women and couples. When I imagined what women enjoy, the image of them eating cakes and desserts came to mind, so I used "eating" as a keyword. When I did research with this keyword I came across the image of a pizza with a slice taken out of it and had that eureka moment. So I based the Pac-Man character design on that shape.

Tristan Donovan: Are reports that Namco and the games industry doubted the credentials of Pac-Man correct? How did you feel at the time?

Toru Iwatani: Unlike the other exciting games that were around at the time, Pac-Man was designed for people to play easily and when relaxed, without excitement. So, when it was launched, we didn't get the kind of review other games did. I guess Pac-Man didn't have the sensational image. I myself could not imagine that it would be loved by so many people and such an international hit.

The above excerpt is copyright of Tristan Donovan and Yellow Ant.

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