Pacman, Ghosts and Japanese


Remember Pac-Man? I know most readers have heard of Pac-man, and most have probably played it too. Pac-Man is more than 30 years old, and is still a classic. I remember seeing Pac-man for the first time when I was about 8 years old. My dad, sisters and I went to a local store, and I saw an arcade machine there. It was really fascinating. I was too young to play it much, but I had “Pac-Fever”, and even watched the Saturday-morning cartoon.

Now, on my iPhone, which is much smaller (but much more powerful) than an arcade machine, I can still play the same game. The photo above is a screenshot from my phone. Namco (namuko ナムコ in Japanese) released a genuine version of Pac-man which you can play. I’ve been playing it for months trying to learn the patterns (more on that later).

But, I found one thing confusing: the names and personalities of the ghosts. In English they are:


I think something got lost in the translation. Blinky’s personality is “shadow”, but I don’t know what that meant. So, I looked up Pacman in Japanese. In Japanese, they were called “monsters” (モンスター monsutā) not “ghosts”. Also, the names and personality are:

  • BlinkyAkabei (赤ベイ, “Red guy”). His personality is oikake (追いかけ), which means he chases after Pac-man. That explains why he’s “shadow” in English. He shadows Pacman. 😉
  • Pinky – Same as in Japanese (pinkii ピンキー). His personality is machibuse (待ち伏せ), which means he likes to ambush Pacman. Instead of directly chasing Pacman like Blinky, he likes to attack Pacman from the corners. This is pretty different than the “speedy” personality in English. I’m not sure why it’s so different.
  • Inky – Aosuke (青助, “Blue guy”). His personality is kimagure (気まぐれ) which means he’s fickle. Sometimes he feels like chasing Pacman and sometimes he doesn’t. Again, this is pretty different than his “bashful” personality in English.
  • Clyde – Guzuta (愚図た, “Sluggish or tardy guy”). His personality is otoboke (おとぼけ) meaning that he’s pretending to be stupid so he can catch Pac-man. Indeed, Clyde does act pokey, and doesn’t usually doesn’t seem to chase Pac-man but will suddenly ambush when you least expect it.

So, something changed when Pac-man was translated into English. Sometimes the translation was just a poor word-choice, other times the word choice is something totally different. This is similar to what I noticed with Castlevania 2 in this post.

Oh yeah, and what about the patterns? Pac-man has 256 levels, and it turns out that if you can memorize three patterns, you can easily beat the game:1

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately practicing these patterns. The patterns take very careful timing. No mistakes. Will it work? Will I get to level 256? Time will tell. 🙂

1 If you think you can beat the game without patterns, forget it. By level 20, the game becomes very difficult because the power-pellets (pawaaesa パワーエサ) don’t even work anymore.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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