After his tell-tale wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka had burned white-hot on the totally awesome trend meter, remember what it sounded like when Pac-Man died--that melting bleat as the trendy chomper disappeared into nowhere?
Pac-Man once was so ubiquitous that then-President Ronald Reagan could pretend not to know what it was. But after being told it was "a round thing that gobbles up money," he could get reporters to guffaw just by quipping, "I thought that was Tip O'Neill." This was a craze composed of more than mere blips on a video screen: It was Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia taking their song "Pac-Man Fever" to the Top Five. It was Chef Boy-ar-Dee adding Pac-Man characters to a ready-to-eat pasta meal. It was breakfast cereal, T-shirts, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon show and children's chewable vitamins.
It was a platoon of opinion writers employing the vision of Pac-Man to describe their views on domestic spending, on Wall Street warfare, on the mysteries of sexuality.
It was a seemingly universal whine: \o7 Mommy, please just one more quarter\f7 .
Then, suddenly, it was silent. Dead. Gone.
Can it really be roughly a decade since the little yellow blob and his bow-headed companion, the even more-popular Ms. Pac-Man, reigned as the nation's omnipresent pop fad?
So where do trends go to die, anyway?
If Americans get good and sick of a fad--whether it's a dusty Darth Vader belt buckle in a thrift store, an old music video or even a clunky blue Ms. Pac-Man machine at a Los Angeles taco stand--what happens then?
Well, these days, call it Instant Retro.
The 1960s live again now, or at least they did last year; the 1970s are redux now. Brace yourself, trend-watchers: In Instant Retro, experts and observers agree, time folds over on itself and we no longer grapple with the idea of living century to century or even decade to decade.
No, in Instant Retro, ideas and items once ubiquitous vanish, then--zap!--they're back, instantly reminiscent, quirkily ironic and bittersweet clever.
Rise, fall, \o7 retro.\f7
Are we now really living trend to re-treaded trend? Can it be that something can be \o7 in \f7 again as soon as it is \o7 out\f7 , that everything just \o7 is\f7 ?
Listen, is that \o7 wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka\f7 part of a deeper lesson from the persistent little yellow guy?
Game developers at Atari Games Corp. say they are encouraged about the success they've had with new versions of Pac-Man, introduced for different home video game systems, including Nintendo.
They hope players will buy Pac-Man not just because they love it, prefer it or are darn good at playing it, but because they miss it. Remember it. Cherish it. "When we reintroduced Pac Man, it was an immediate hit," says Atari vice president Dennis Wood. "Internally, we didn't know whether or not it would be good as it was. It turned out to be . . . popular beyond our expectations. To date, it's still our most popular selling game.
"It was a type of game that had universal appeal to male and female," he adds. "Easy to play. Very few games are like that. It's like Monopoly. Fifteen or 20 years from now, you'll see that game out there. It's a classic."
It's Instant Retro.
And not just for the new devices, either. It's for the old machines too, because trends hardly die. That Darth Vader belt buckle is oddly perfect for a night of dancing in one of the many clubs that specialize in remixed '70s disco hits, and, of course, there are Pac-Man machines left to satisfy those who, well, never let go.
Fans play the old machines in their homes or in between rinse cycles at the self-service laundry and, now, on home video game systems.
Estimating how many of the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machines still exist and operate nationwide would be "an impossibility," said Sandy Bettelman of C. A. Robinson Co. distributors in Los Angeles.
The company, which sold thousands of the video games in the Los Angeles area in the early 1980s, now gets a few back and redistributes them--some to people who want them in their homes for sentimental reasons and for entertainment.
A Pac-Man video game in its original cabinet would go for about $200 today, he said, adding a "combination of fondness and cheapness" led him to put Ms. Pac-Man in his home game room, where he has a dozen "classic" arcade games.
Classic? "It was such a big, unusual phenomenon," Bettelman says of Pac-Man. "When people visit us, that's always the first game they run to."
Bally Manufacturing Corp., which sold about 250,000 Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machines in the first part of the decade, reported peak revenues of $600 million in 1982 from its amusement game business. But by 1987, revenue from the games had fallen to $24.3 million. And by 1988, Bally had sold the games division--a founding tradition dating to the company's first pinball game in 1931--to its chief competitor, WMS Industries, for $8 million.