Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Flashback! – My Term Paper Presentation

Posted by iamchipcore on May 5, 2013



Video games have always been a part of my life. As a child I found myself running through colorful worlds in Sonic, gobbling up dots in Pac-Man, and jumping on goombas in Mario. Only would it make sense that I would take this semester to truly analyze video games and identify two significantly influential figures in video game culture.


My term paper aims to compare and contrast the impact of both Pac-Man and Sonic The Hedgehog. I will explore how both icons broke media barriers, set standards for future generations of gaming, and provoked a multitude of different imitators. I will also look into how both icons reflect the attitude and culture of the 1980s and 1990s respectively.


Pac-Man was introduced at the beginning of the 1980s, it would only make sense that a character that did nothing but “consume” would ultimately become the most recognizable video game icon in 80s pop culture. Culture in the 1980s proved to be fairly driven by consumption. The advent of home computers, Cabbage Patch Kids, MTV, and Rubik’s Cubes provoked the “you need it, go buy it” mentality much similar to the 1950s. Only would it make sense that a president who campaigned on a platform of bringing America back to the “good old days” would be elected to promote this mentality and aim to develop this consumption attitude into being part of every day culture. Pac-Man may have only had a minor impact upon this cultural shift in the 80s, but clearly the game defines what could be considered a summary of 1980s culture.


While in terms of chronology, the 1990 marked the beginning of the 90s decade, many consider the 90s to begin in 1991 due to the major shifts in culture beginning in that year. This year marked the beginnings of the World Wide Web, the advent of Grunge in the charts, and the introduction of Sonic The Hedgehog. Sonic came into the homes of thousands of Americans during the spring of 1991 and like Pac-Man reflected the unique culture of it’s decade. While Pac-Man reflected a culture driven by consuming, Sonic reflected a culture driven by liberating. Video game enthusiasts and fans alike assure that Dr. Robotnik, Sonic’s nemesis represents industry and captialism. This is evidenced by Robotnik’s goal throughout the series to take over the world and transform it into an industrial utopia ruled by him. Sonic however aims to liberate the forces of Robotnik and restore his world to the peaceful, natural state it once was. The culture in the 1990s reflected many of the same ideas: break away from the consumption culture of the 80s and focus more on caring for each other.


I will also be looking into how both franchises were marketed similarly and how both franchises came with numerous sequels, TV cartoons, comics, and merchandise. I will also explore the similarities in Hanna-Barbera’s Pac-Man cartoon and DiC’s Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog and how both shows had nearly the same writing team.


Both icons also set a standard for video games that followed. Pac-Man marked the advent of the video game mascot, a character that was recognized by the public. Sonic marked the beginning of the wide release game and an expansion of this icon idea.


Imitators were also apparent throughout both character’s life spans with games like Rally X in the days of Pac-Man and games like Bubsy, Rocket Knight Adventures, and Awesome Possum in the days of Sonic.




What do you all think?

What questions do you have?

Do you think I should explore general culture more closely or video game culture?



2 Responses to “Flashback! – My Term Paper Presentation”

  1. Sam Ford said

    My personal thought is that you might balance your focus on video game culture with general culture. Here’s what especially interests me…As you frame it, Sonic the Hedgehog was in many ways the opposite of Pac-Man, in terms of what they represent and what they try to do. In Pac-Man, the villain tries to keep us from consuming. In Sonic, we are awakened to the capitalist empire the villain has concocted and are trying to liberate. So this raises three natural questions for me…Do you have any thoughts about cultural shifts from the 1980s to the 1990s that might be behind this almost reversed narrative? Also, what are your thoughts about the role we as video game player are put into when we “play” Pac-Man in that consumerist narrative versus playing Sonic in that liberation narrative? And, finally, what does it say that Sonic has such a different narrative than Pac-Man but that it also is a consumerist product that helped usher in a whole new era in video game consumption, etc.? The fact that you see their narratives as so different yet so many similarities in their marketing plan, etc., is especially fascinating to me…

  2. I know this isn’t your central focus, but I like the idea of exploring the focus on cultural movements in the real world that translated into Pac Man and Sonic in the eighties and nineties. That would be super cool to include a few examples of historic things. I hope that last bit was articulate enough to understand. 🙂

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