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Why These 80's Video Games Were Awesome Metaphors For Real Life.

Jason is a child of the 80's and pumped far too many quarters into most of the games mentioned in this blog.

A number of 80s video games were awesome metaphors about life.

A number of 80s video games were awesome metaphors about life.

I was thinking about this earlier today. Many of the early 80’s video games were amazing metaphors for real life. Some of them were positive as well as a number of them being negative.

I thought of a number of games that seemed to parallel real-life situations and experiences that I recall about the 80s. It made me chuckle to myself and I decided to share my thoughts on these. Here’s a shortlist of those games that remind me of those real-life experiences.

Pac-Man. Chase, get chased. Consume, consume, consume.

Pac-Man. Chase, get chased. Consume, consume, consume.

1. Pac-Man

Pac-Man is the most famous 80s arcade game of all time. It’s the first arcade game that I truly remember dumping a lot of coins into. That’s not to say I didn’t pump more than a few quarters into Space Invaders, Asteroids, or a number of others. But Pac-Man was certainly the first video game that I remember obsessing over.

I think back to the original game now, as a middle-aged man and it’s quite metaphorical for real life. You’re running around, trying to consume as many dots as possible. Seem especially right for the materialistic 80s, the time it was released.

Besides the basic dots you chased, you had the power pills. The power pellets allowed you to turn the tables on the ghosts that were chasing you and allowed you to pursue them. The power pellets remind me of another staple of the 80s, cocaine. The Eagles' song, “Life in the Fast Lane” always reminds me of the decadent 80s and Pac-Man. Stay in your lane, accumulate as many dots (points), and take down all the enemies you can.


Frogger: Try not to get crushed, with each hop you take.

Frogger: Try not to get crushed, with each hop you take.

Frogger was a similar game to Pac-Man. Make your moves. Watch out for cars looking to run you over. Get across the street to the next goal. It’s really quite simple. I think of Frogger every time I’m trying to merge into traffic, or trying to quickly move through the grocery store with my cart.

Such is life. Two steps forward. One step back. We come together, because opposites, attract. Sorry. Paula Abdul moment. But it’s true. Life is tough. We make a move or two forward, then we’re suddenly smacked by the big dick of the universe. It happens. But it’s all about how we react, and punch that dick in the balls.

Q*Bert just may have introduced us to swearing. Excellent life-lesson.

Q*Bert just may have introduced us to swearing. Excellent life-lesson.

3. Q*bert

Q*bert was a really fun early 80’s gaming character. He had a big nose like I did. That was easy for me to identify with. He moved one square at a time, one up, one back, one lateral move sideways, anything to avoid enemies and dying.

God forbid you got smacked by that Coily mofo or fell off an edge. Q*bert would curse. Not an actual F-bomb or any other audible cuss word. But a funny, angry noise and a little thought balloon that looked like this: @!#?@!

Q*bert taught me that life doesn’t always go the way we plan it. And it’s ok to lose your shit and curse when things don’t go your way. I still do this, almost 40 years after first playing Q*bert. One step up, two steps back. @!#?@! it, if you fail temporarily.

Tapper was found in bars and restaurants all over the US, from the early to mid-80s.

Tapper was found in bars and restaurants all over the US, from the early to mid-80s.

Tapper was a fun little arcade game back in the day. It dropped in 1983, and two versions were available: The adult-themed version that was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and a second edited one that was more for family-oriented arcades.

The premise of the game was the player being a bartender. The goal was to keep the patrons happy by providing them with beers and collecting their tips while trying to avoid empty beer mugs crashing to the ground. The family-friendly version had you dishing out root beers instead of actual beers.

The adult version of the game reminds me of the hard-partying 80s. I’m sure more than a few inebriated folks enjoyed playing the role of a bartender on the classic game, at the place where everybody knows your name. Cheers.

Donkey Kong: Climb the ladder. Avoid enemies. Get the girl. Corporate 80’s America.

Donkey Kong: Climb the ladder. Avoid enemies. Get the girl. Corporate 80’s America.

5. Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong was the perfect game for anyone who’s ever had to overcome a bully. Plus it was the introduction to the biggest video game icon character, Mario.

You’re trying to move forward and move up, climbing ladders, avoiding enemies, and jumping over obstacles. If that isn’t the best metaphor for corporate America in the 80s, I don’t know what is.

Your enemy is the large gorilla antagonist, Donkey Kong. Kong is not only the creature standing between Mario and his true love, but he’s the stereotypical big bully boss. He’s the one tossing obstacles and problems toward Mario, his roadblock to happily ever after. We’ve all had to overcome those people in life, the ones that tried to keep us from our destiny.

BurgerTime: Make as many burgers as possible while avoiding enemy foods.

BurgerTime: Make as many burgers as possible while avoiding enemy foods.

6. BurgerTime

BurgerTime was a 1982 arcade game from Data East. The protagonist was Chef Peter Pepper, whose job was to build burgers while avoiding enemy foods.

Chef Peter could shake a pepper shaker to temporarily stun enemy foods such as Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Egg. Bonus foods of french fries, ice cream, and coffees can be found for extra points and a bonus pepper shaker.

BurgerTime reminds me of the fast-food explosion in the 80s. We saw a giant increase in the number of McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Wendy’s, and Jack in the Box locations in the US. Americans were all about the convenience and excesses of fast-food burger joints. Not a lot has changed in 40 years.

Dig Dug by Namco, released in 1982. We enjoyed the digging aspect of this.

Dig Dug by Namco, released in 1982. We enjoyed the digging aspect of this.

7. Dig Dug

Dig Dug was a really fun and unique game. The idea was tunneling around dirt while avoiding ghostly enemies traveling through the dirt. Once they hit the tunneled areas, they became either the comical-looking Pookas or the green fire-breathing dragons, Fygars.

You could mine your way around the board by making tunnels and dropping rocks on the heads of your unsuspecting enemies. If you approached them up close, you were armed with a pump to blow them up like a balloon, until they popped.

This game reminds me of the expanded drilling of oil in America, as well as natural gas and other resources. Oil drilling created many wealthy Americans and huge oil companies in the 80s.

Hell, we even had TV series’ that were created about the phenomenon, like Dallas and Dynasty. Once again, I see parallels between American greed and excess when I think about Dig Dug and the oil boom of the 80s.

Pole Position by Atari in 1982 set the standard for racing games.

Pole Position by Atari in 1982 set the standard for racing games.

The granddaddy of all racing games, Pole Position debuted in arcades in 1982 and became a worldwide phenomenon. It was the top-grossing arcade game in 1983 and 1984 and was still earning well into 1985.

It was the first arcade driving game to feature a steering wheel controller. With a low gear and high gear shift stick, as well as a gas pedal and brake pedal, Pole Position was simply the most complete driving experience you could have without an actual driver's license.

I see it as a metaphor for living life in the fast lane. It was a preview of the upcoming teen years and being able to drive. It taught us that you could go fast and live on the edge. It was a foreshadowing of racing games to come.

Check out some of all of these games, most are available for free download through various websites. If you’re my age or older, you’ll likely remember them all.

I feel all of these titles can be seen as metaphors for experiences in life. I’d love to know if you have any other examples of 80s arcade games that you see as metaphors for real life.

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