I decided to enter a Pac-Man tournament for kicks.
It was organized by popular wapanese culture blog New York - Tokyo, which I've decided to link on my blog, because I think they're pretty cool on a structural level. I've never actually been to an event that they've sponsored up until now, and it was mostly because I'm a frequent shopper at the store where it was all going down: Uniqlo. We're talking about a video game tournament at a high-fashion Japanese store, nestled snugly in the heart of Soho. During the summer months, Uniqlo often sets up their nerdy clothing line, this year with designs from unpopular games by Taito, Namco, Sega, Sony, Capcom, et al, as well as a whole line of shirts with designs from 70's anime supergiant Tatsunoko.
Uniqlo had situated two Pac-Man 25th Anniversary machines on their video game floor, set to free play. They had been there all summer, assumingly donated by Namco Amusements, because they were spotless and missing the signature grime of used arcade machines.
To possibly commemorate the end of this clothing line for the year, Uniqlo approached New York - Tokyo to organize a Pac-Man tournament where popular blogs and magazines competed for prizes, mostly a handful of Pac-Man t-shirts and plushes. I stood and watched with my friend Dave, folding my arms and scoffing at the ameteurish mistakes the competitors were making, blown up on a big projected screen. The top blog managed to pull of high score of around 15,000; mind you, the competition was to see who could get the highest score in three minutes, so 15,000 and change is middling if not respectable. Clearly achievable by someone who understands that the basic premise is that you're a goddamn dot and you gotta eat all of the other goddamn dots.
After the blogs had their fun, it was time for the walk-ins to play. This is how connected the organizers were to their audience: the sign-up girl told us to use our fake internet handles instead of our real names. I decided to tactfully go with the name PAC-BEAST, which triggered a number of other contestants to frown audibly. I also convinced my friend to join in, because he realized after seeing the sloppy plays by the magazines that it wouldn't hurt to join, even though he wasn't really too acquainted with the original Pac-Man, but instead somewhat intimately with the vastly different XBOX Live remake.
The tournament was set up in heats - 2 players at a time for 3 minutes each - and there were about twenty contestants. My friend and I actually went head-to-head, and as I played, people behind me gasped, which made me feel a little sorry for myself. After our heat, my friend and I were in second and first place, respectively. Then the dude who had been on the machine all day practicing goes up.
Well this dude decimates my score. I pulled high 19,000, he hit mid 22,000 (my friend, for the record, pulled mid 17,000, which was impressive). Twenty-two thousand is a very difficult score to get in three minutes on two stages of Pac-Man and I thought that my run was over for sure. As it turns out, after all the heats were done, no one had even come close to the third place score now held by my friend.
In the finals, it was Dave versus the fourth-place player, and Dave walloped her with 18,000 something. Then it was me versus the first-place dude. I'd never had a crowd of people form behind me as I played an arcade game, so if it were possible for me to feel excitement then I can guarantee you I would have. I ran around the board with relative ease, making only minor mistakes, but managed to get low 19,000. I thought, damn, he beat me.
Well, he did beat me, but that doesn't really matter because first, second, and third place all got the same prize. Here are some shoddy quality pictures of two of the prizes:
A large plushie and a mousepad. Also, a Uniqlo tote bag and a $50 gift card which I thought was pretty nice.
Then the marketing dude is all like, hey bros, write your names and addresses down here so you can get your real prize. Turns out, the top 5 places all win Pac-Man t-shirts signed by Toru Iwatani, the guy who invented Pac-Man. What a thoughtful prize, I thought. I mean, here I now have the signature of a man who created one of the most iconic pop culture things in the history of things. It's not even that my Grandma can recognize a game of Pac-Man (she can, despite not knowing Mario or Sonic). It's more like, when people see any natural, circular shape with a slice cut out of its side, they make the astute connection: "Oh, that looks like Pac-Man!".
I think, when it comes in, I may frame it and put it on my wall, as it is pretty much the ultimate Pac-Man thing I could ever hope to own.
Scratch that. It is the ultimate thing I could ever hope to own. So ultimate.
Edit: NY-T write-up with scores here.
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