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How Pacman Gave Me the Flu…err.. “Flow”

The are moments in our lives that we feel that we do not exist at all, that we are in another dimension looking in but not a part of it. It is an unexplainable feeling of happiness, contentment, bliss and achievement. Well, Pacman gave me that. Oh no, it’s not Manny Pacquiao or the “kamao ng bayan” who gave me the“flow”.  It’s Pac-Man. Before I introduce him, let us first understand flow.

What is the concept of flow?


That state of consciousness when your self is somewhat detached from your task because of deep concentration, immersion or absorption is referred to as flow by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi as cited by Tom Butler-Bowdown (2003). Csikszentmihalyi further suggested that when the activities are of the highest value and if undertaken, worry and thoughts of other things suddenly banished then optimal experience or flow is happening. He described this state of being as what athletes called “being in the zone”, in “ecstacy” for mystics and “rupture” for artists.

Who is Pac-Man and how did he gave me this “key to happiness?”


Pac-Man is a very popular game in the 1980s and the first interactive and non-violent arcade game developed by Toru Iwatani of Namco in 1977. The mechanics of the game is very simple – the player or Pac-Man needs to consume all the glowing dots inside a maze to advance to the next level. He does this with the navigation keys (up, down, left and right) in a computer’s keyboard. The task becomes difficult with the introduction of four ghosts who are chasing Pac-Man. The player loses a life when any of the ghosts touches Pac-Man. The four larger yellow dots or “energizers” at the corners of the maze when eaten by Pac-Man make the ghosts invisible, retreated to the “ghost house” and they can also be eaten. The scores of the player increases when he consumes fruits appearing randomly in the maze.

While playing this game on a PC during those days made me unaware of anything and anybody around me as if they did not exist at all. Advancing from level to level, eating dots, chasing and avoiding ghosts gave me an invigorating energy and happiness. I was so absorbed in my pursuit of eating those dots and fruits that I forgot the passing of time, the hurting of my fingers keying those controls, the sweating of my right palm and growling of my stomach. In the end, I was relieved of my worry as if I conquered all those ghosts who were trying to destroy my being.

Although I did not come close to the score of Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida with 3,333,360 points without losing a life, I felt that Pac-Man gave me the feeling of flow that I will cherish and pursue for the rest of my life.

Images from




Birch, C. (2010). Understanding Pac-Man Ghost Behavior. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://gameinternals.com/post/2072558330/understanding-pac-man-ghost-behavior

Bowdown, T.B. (2003). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Book To Transform Your Life (London & Boston: Nicolas Brealey). Retrieved from http://www.butler-bowdon.com/flow

Pittman, J. (2011). The Pac-Man Dossier. Retrieved fromhttp://home.comcast.net/~jpittman2/pacman/pacmandossier.html#Introduction


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