How Pac-Man Is The Most Influential Game Of All Time

4. Gameplay Loops

pac man
Namco

From a pure gameplay perspective, Pac-Man is deceptively simple. As easy to pick up and play as any release similarly designed to part you with as many quarters as possible, nabbing a high score while avoiding ghosts (Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde) - and then hunting them in turn for brief periods - created a compelling gameplay loop long before anybody really knew what a gameplay loop even was.

Writing back in the 1980s, author Chris Crawford argued it ushered in a design philosophy that developers still use to this day, saying:

"An important trait of any game is the illusion of winnability. If a game is to provide a continuing challenge to players, beginners and experts, it must also never truly be winnable or it will lose its appeal."

The same is true for Pac-Man which, unlike other releases from the time that were punishing tests of might which required you to practice and practice, endowed players with colourful buffs and power-ups, constantly making each playthrough feel winnable.

Pac Man
Atari

The use of power-ups in particular was a huge addition at the time, and the game was actually the first title to ever include the feature as we know it today. The "power pellet" awarded players a window where they could finally go on the attack, not only transforming the gameplay style but also adding effects that altered the presentation from both a visual and musical perspective. Even if it's rudimentary now, the pellet was revolutionary at the time, imbuing players with a sense of agency that kept them coming back to the game over and over again.

Not only was the power-up a great way to give players some positive feedback, it also functioned to create a proper three-dimensional gameplay loop that similar arcade titles lacked. The shift between defensive and offensive play added a whole new dynamic to the game, bolstering the tactical options and ensuring every round would be different in some way.

It resulted in a gameplay loop which created the illusion of winnability through rewards and positive reinforcement, which isn't all that different from popular loot shooters of today. A game like Destiny isn't "winnable" in the conventional sense, but it keeps players coming back with the promise that it could be, based on a compelling gameplay loop that strengthens the player character with new weapons, upgrades and colourful positive feedback.

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