Military strategy and Pac-Man

Every time someone comes me to talking about the awfulness of violent video gamse — and how they’re turning tha kidz today into aggressive zombies — I always harken back to the early 80s. Back then, I point out, parents were just as freaked out about video games as they are now. And yet those games of the early 80s seem awful quaint now, don’t they? After all, it was all this goofy stuff like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong — little pixellated icons stumping around hallucinogenic playfields. This is what people thought would lead to vicious, violent tendencies? Pac-Man?? It is to laugh!

Except a few days ago, my girlfriend Emily opened up the Washington Post and discovered that military leaders were discussing their strategy around Bagdhad using the analogy of nothing other than … Pac-Man.

An Army general and others said that rather than slice through Republican Guard defenders and drive straight for Baghdad, the Army and Marines are likely to be forced to focus on wiping out most of the Guard divisions facing them south of Baghdad.

“I think you need to defeat them in detail,” said the general, using the military term for destroying a unit. “I think you should ‘Pac Man’ the ring around Baghdad,” he said, referring to the 1980s computer game in which a big dot gobbled up smaller ones.

Of course, the lovely thing here is that the game is now so old that the newspaper reporter here feels compelled to clarify just what the heck Pac-Man actually is.

I suppose this means that in wars twenty years from now, generals will be referring to the classic lingo of 90s first-person-shooters to describe their attacks. “We’ll be looking out for campers lurking in the quiet spots, and giving the 3rd division extra training in death-flower moves …”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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