Are Game Controls Too Complex?

Are Game Controls Too Complex?

Pac-Man predates Mario, but the hungry little gobbler is still one of the most recognizable video game mascots of all time. The franchise’s formula of maze-running and binge-eating has held up well too, thanks in part to stylish modern upgrades in the way of Pac-Man Championship Edition and the more recent Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.

Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, recently shared some welcome recollection on the conception of Pac-Man, and he threw in some of his opinions on the modern industry to boot.

From the get-go, Iwatani aimed to make Pac-Man a game that would appeal to females. “Back then there were no home games and people had to go to arcades to play games,” he said. “That was a playground for boys. It was dirty and smelly. So we wanted to include girls or female players so that it would become cleaner and brighter.”

A commendable decision! So how did Iwatani plan to get girls to give Pac-Man a second glance?

“I thought about something that may attract girls – maybe stories about boys or something to do with fashion? However, girls love to eat desserts – my wife often eats desserts. The verb eat, that gave me a hint to create this game.”

Ha ha ha, oh dear.

Leaving the delicious past behind for a second, Iwatani talked a bit about the problems facing games today. Said games are, for starters, too complex.

“Today’s games, you don’t see what the game is all about, what the goal is, and the controls are too complicated perhaps, and you’re being sort of needled and persecuted sometimes.”

Iwatani isn’t completely off the mark. Controller simplification is a goal Nintendo worked towards with the GameCube’s giant “A” button, but it was the Wii’s motion controller that convinced the world that gaming can be a non-threatening pastime. Moreover, some of history’s best games are the simplest ones to play: We still celebrate many of the games that were built in the golden age of the arcade, including Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Defender, and Centipede.

It’s true that a more complex game doesn’t necessarily equal a better game, and developers should aim to simplify whenever possible (simplification is always preferable to two-hour tutorials, which might be what Iwatani is referring to when he talks about games “needling” a player). On the other hand, some of us enjoy getting lost in a game sometimes. Even when controls take a while to master, there’s a certain satisfaction in getting it right and looking back at the tangled mess you made out of your fingers the first time you tried to play. Where the Wild Things Are and War and Peace are both classic books, but both require very different mindsets to fully enjoy. Same goes for games. Sometimes you feel like a Pac-Man, and sometimes you don’t.

As for Iwatani, he dropped a strange hint about a potential career path forPac-Man that would be complex indeed: Singing.

“I’m thinking of a Pac-Man that’s singing. I don’t want to make it a musical, really, [like] Chicago the movie. The Blues Brothers maybe.”

Iwatani might be interested in knowing that a fan has already put Pac-Man through the paces as far as exterior-cabinet drama is concerned.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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