…and the Kong who was King
October 10, 2017
It was in October of 1980 when the United States was truly invaded by the Japanese. We are not talking about military here. No, this invasion featured four ghosts named Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde and a round yellow fellow with a huge pie shaped mouth dubbed Pac-Man. (There are articles which place the release date on October 10 but that date is disputed)
The game, which had been released in Japan a little over four months earlier, was an instant hit. Young people flocked to arcades and taverns where Pac-Man eagerly gobbled up their quarters.
Soon, Pac-Man merchandise flooded America as did other Japanese companies looking to capitalize on Pac-Man fever.
From the infallible Wikipedia:
“When Pac-Man was released, the most popular arcade video games were space shooters—in particular, Space Invaders and Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivatives of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre. Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history and is among the most famous arcade games of all time. It is also one of the highest-grossing video games of all time, having generated more than $2.5 billion in quarters by the 1990s.
The character has appeared in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs, as well as in numerous unauthorized clones and bootlegs. According to the Davie-Brown Index, Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character among American consumers, recognized by 94 percent of them. Pac-Man is one of the longest running video game franchises from the golden age of video arcade games. It is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.”
My hubby was hired by a CPA firm in Burien who had a client that needed an auditor. So they sent him out to do the job and thus began a seven year run with a different Japanese invader: Donkey Kong. While many think of Nintendo as a behemoth company, when Donkey Kong was first being sold into the US market they had six employees: two Seattle based salesmen, the company president, a couple of Japanese developer/engineers, and one American to make the build’s happen.
It was in 1982, after Donkey Kong’s popularity skyrocketed (and made the two US salesmen millionaires) that Gene was hired as the company’s US controller. Those were crazy days with incredible long hours but also a real sense of family within the fledgling company.
We hosted an April Fool’s day party several years the theme of which was bad jokes and to play video games. We even brought in full size arcade games (borrowed from Nintendo) for the attendees to enjoy.
When he left the company in the late 1980’s we had acquired a variety of Donkey Kong themed items: mugs, cups, socks, both electronic and board games, shirts, a bulletin board, an aped shaped ‘bank’ and, the most prized possession of all: an electronic cocktail tabletop game.
Yes, we still have all those things including the game table. But, unlike the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong fever, quarters are no longer needed. All you have to do is plug the thing in, press a button to load the game, and escape back to the 1980’s when arcade games were king and the Japanese took the country by storm.
To read more about these two arcade phenomenon click here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donkey_Kong_(video_game) (there are some errors in this article. Specifically, Nintendo’s first headquarters were in Tukwila, not Redmond, Washington)