Video games are part of the mythology and zeitgeist of our generation. They are a part of the shared experience. But are video games somehow connected to ancient myth? This problem has bothered me for quite some time. Why is it that when Mario dies he is suddenly smaller and weaker, but also temporally displaced? Where does the body go when Pac- Man dies? What sort of effect does Phoenix Down have on the economies of Final Fantasy? Why the hell did they not use one on Aeris? What sort of regenerative abilities do the ninjas, and other competitors for that matter, in the Mortal Kombat tournaments possess that enables them to return from horrific maiming? What elaborate and magical technology allows for space ships and their pilots to be resurrected nearly instantaneously where they were shot down and why does the enemy not possess similar technology? Why is it that Gary Numan and Blue Oyster Cult are the only musicians that understand the beauty and depth of the cowbell? I have answers forthcoming for all these questions, even the cowbell one, in the coming weeks. First we tackle….
Is Pac-Man A Prometheus or Sisyphus figure?
In his life and death, toil and transcendence, exuberant anarchism and stonefaced acceptance of fate, Pac- Man is at once the everyman, a working class hero for our digital era, but also a sort of existential hero of the absurd. To write off the metaphysical and spiritual meanings of Pac- Man as merely a game is to ignore an artful parable for mankind’s existence. In the world of Pac- Man, and, by extrapolation, Ms. Pac- Man and Baby Pac- Man, good and evil are non- existent, replaced by the amorality of Social Darwinism. Pac- Man and his ilk exist purely to eat pellets and stymie the ghosts that torment them. The ghosts doggedly pursue the pie- shaped protagonist, following his every step in order to end his gluttony. The question I have to ask is: Is Pac- Man seeking enlightenment, Prometheus’s fire, or is he simply toiling, ala Sisyphus? First, a look at the two myths.
Prometheus, a demi- god if my mythology is correctly remembered, stole fire from the gods on Mount Olympus. By sharing the exclusive dominion of the god’s with man, he empowered early man and helped cement our further existence. For his crime, Prometheus was tide to a rock and had his liver pecked at by a large crow. Though he was eventually freed, Prometheus can easily be viewed as a messianic figure, just ask Harlan Ellison, and his struggles against the gods of Greek myth for the good of man are quite heroic. Thus, viewing Pac- Man in the Promethian model, Pac- Man endeavors for the good of his, or maybe our, species by taking the pellets from the ghosts, who may be viewed as the servants of a sort of god. Pac- Man’s nimble trek through the Kafkaesque circular labyrinth is a sort of journey, one fraught with difficulty and doomed, some would say damned, to failure. As some may know, there is no true ending to Pac- Man, instead, there is only a reset. All of this can be interpreted to mean that Pac- Man may toil all he wants, but he can never achieve his goal, no matter how many Power Pellets he imbibes, and he must be of some sort of divine birth or lineage to continue living, even after two decades of pre- destined death and rebirth.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.– Albert Camus
The Sisyphus myth, largely popularized by an advert for Red Bull Energy Drink, is one of a man who has nothing but contempt for the concepts of god and death. As punishment, Sisyphus is doomed to roll a large boulder to the top of a hill and have it roll back down each and every time, for eternity. Sisyphus finds meaning in struggle, not resolution. Sisyphus is the Hero of the Absurd. Pac- Man can also be viewed as a Sisyphusian hero, one who must struggle endlessly, not in shame or agony, but in the joy of work. Pac- Man is always going to have more mazes to navigate, more ghosts to escape, more pellets to devour. The world in which he lives is a world onto itself with no external contact, no outside stimulus. Pac- Man’s enemies, although they are not enemies, but elements of his struggle personified, are immortal, much like Pac- Man, if you have enough quarters, and will not end their equally futile quest to kill him. Sure, he may die eventually, but he will be born again and the pellets will be eaten again. Forward progress is not the goal of Pac- Man. The attempt is all he needs.
Next week, I hope to shed more light on this. Keep thinking, playing, and being nice to one another. Listen to the new Outkast album. Live.