Pac-Man has been one of the most beloved and recognizable video games since it was released over forty years ago. It is often considered to be the most influential video game ever. It’s a charming and approachable game that has the player control a yellow circle that eats dots while traveling through a maze and dodging brightly colored ghosts. It’s a delightful experience for gamers of all ages that has spawned sequels, spin-offs, and even a couple of animated series. However, it may not seem like it, but Pac-Man is actually a horror game.
This may seem like an outrageous claim, but it’s true. Pac-Man isn’t just some circular guy eating pellets when he’s hungry; he’s a victim. He spends the whole game being stalked by murderous ghosts. Ghosts are one of the spookiest entities to meet in horror, up there with monsters and slashers. On top of that, there are four ghosts and just one Pac-Man.
The player isn’t just tasked with surviving being outnumbered by ghosts, but they’re also trapped in a mind-bending maze with no way out. Even if you leave the maze, you just pop up on the other side of it. If the ghosts don’t kill Pac-Man, then the madness that sets in traveling through the same corridors again and again eventually will. Plus, there’s never even a reason given as to why poor Pac-Man is in this maze to begin with. The pitch black background probably doesn’t exactly comfort those who enter this mysterious maze either.
Getting chased by those ghosts is extraordinarily suspenseful. Anyone who says their heart rate doesn’t rise when coming close to being caught by one of those spooky specters is lying. Those scenarios when the ghosts surround you and there’s no possibility for escape are some of the most terrifying things to experience in gaming. Take away that fun starting melody and those “wakka wakka” sounds, and it’s even creepier.
Pac-Man presents itself as a silly video game about collecting dots. However, if you really think about the situation the classic character is stuck in, or if the game was in first person, you would soon realize how horrifying it truly is. If you hadn’t already been aware of what Pac-Man was, the description of “being trapped in a dark maze while being chased by killer ghosts” would make you assume it’s a horror game. Later games in the series, like Pac-Man World, give off a more light-hearted tone, but they never make up for the terrifying atmosphere of the original.