Aug. 9, 2006 — -- In 1980, the video game gods delivered to the masses of pimply-faced, arcade-addicted teens across the country what could arguably be called the most important game of all time: Pac-Man.
Since then, the hungry little fella has gobbled up billions of pellets, ghosts, fruits, time and quarters in arcades, on TV and computer screens, and on cell phones and handhelds, turning him and his lady -- Ms. Pac-Man -- into household names.
"It's one of those great evergreen titles that people love to embrace," said Stuart Snyder, senior vice president and general manager of Gametap. "It's easy. It's simple. It's fun, and it's being discovered by an entirely new audience."
At 26 years old and with a swagger in his step, Pac-Man now makes his way onto the Xbox 360, adding another notch to his very round belt and turning another generation of gamers into strung-out Pac addicts.
As the story goes, the game's designer, Toru Iwatani, was having dinner with some friends at a Tokyo pizza place.
When Iwatani saw the pizza after a slice had been removed, he was inspired by the shape. About 15 months later, Namco released Pac-Man.
The rest is history.
From its humble beginnings in a Japanese pizza shop, Pac-Man went on to become the best-selling coin-operated arcade game of all time, selling more than 100,000 machines in the first year.
By 1982, Pac-mania had become an epidemic.
With millions of fans spending hundreds of hours and dropping millions of dollars in quarters into the machine's coin slots, it wasn't long before the rest of the entertainment world caught on.
ABC devised the Saturday morning cartoon "Pac-Man" that followed Pac-Man, wife Mrs. Pepper Pac-Man, and their child, Pac-Baby, as he protected Pac-Land from the sinister Mezmeron and his ghost minions: Pinky, Inky, Blinky, Clyde and Sue.
The year also saw the Pac-Man franchise continue to dominate video arcades with the release of Pac-Man Plus, Baby Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, and the lovely lady herself, Ms. Pac-Man.
A hit song even climbed the charts, with Buckner & Garcia crooning "Pac-Man Fever."
Since then, Pac-Man has faded and resurfaced numerous times in numerous forms but has always been a gamer favorite.
"To this day, Pac-Man seems to be the one game that just about everyone, no matter their age, has played," wrote Brian Crecente video game writer for the Rocky Mountain News and editor of Kotaku.com. "Recently, someone managed to train a monkey to play Pac-Man. So I mean anyone literally."
Crecente points out that Pac-Man may be the only video game character to ever grace the cover of Time magazine, a distinguished honor that he offers as evidence that Pac-Man captured the hearts and imaginations of an entire generation.
Even at Snyder's Gametap -- a service that allows gamers access to a library of hundreds of classic and current hits including Pac-Man -- he says the game is still one of the most popular.
"It's about history, and it's about great game play," he said. "I think that as games get tougher, people enjoy the simplicity of the game. Whenever you want to chill out and just relax, Pac-Man is a great game to play."
And play, and play.
In 1999, at the ripe old age of 19 -- elderly for a video game -- Pac-Man saw his first perfect score made by Floridian Billy Mitchell.
Mitchell scored 3,333,360 points after playing for six hours, beating the game's 256 mazes, gobbling up every piece of fruit and every ghost with each "power up," and never losing a life.
"My ability as a player, I'd like to say, is unmatched by anyone else," said Mitchell in an interview with "Good Morning America" last year.
"I'm absolutely the best. It meant everything to be the best on Pac-Man. It was the Holy Grail of video games, racing to see who would get the perfect Pac-Man game."
Good enough for us, Mitchell.