Pac-Man: Why the Best Joke in 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' Makes No Sense

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a mind-bending choose-your-own-adventure episode of the anthology series, is out now on Netflix (watch the trailer above). Will it usher in a new era of interactive television? That remains to be seen, but for now, there’s something else we need to talk about: the Pac-Man conspiracy.

Light spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch ahead.

It’s difficult to discuss Bandersnatch because each person will have a somewhat different experience based on the decisions they make, but considering how important the origins of Pac-Man’s name were to my own playthrough, I have to assume it’s a key plot point for many other viewers as well.

The moment comes up mid-way through the story after Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) hits a wall while developing his choose-your-own-adventure video game, also titled Bandersnatch. He meets up with his co-worker Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) and the two of them proceed to take LSD in an effort to free their minds and get Stefan into a better headspace.

During the hallucinogenic trip, Colin rambles about reality, comparing life to a video game where free choice is an illusion and death just means starting over. He also talks about Pac-Man a lot, arguing that the character’s name is evidence of a much larger conspiracy.

Here’s the quote (with some light paraphrasing):

“We are all living in Pac-Man’s World. You know what Pac stands for? P.A.C. Program and Control. He’s Program and Control Man. The whole thing’s a metaphor. All he can do is consume. He’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own mind.”

Moments later, while attempting to convince Stefan to jump off the balcony, Colin references the video-game character again.

“How many times have you watched Pac-man die?” he says. “It doesn’t bother him.”

As the story continues, Pac-Man and “Program and Control” continue to pop-up in various key moments, suggesting there might be some truth to Colin’s drug-induced ravings. The only problem? His acronym-based conspiracy theory makes no sense because Pac-Man wasn’t supposed to be called “Pac” at all.

Anyone who’s watched Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (also currently streaming on Netflix) knows that Pac-Man was originally called Puck-Man, itself a reference to the Japanese phrase “Paku-Paku.” Here’s Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) explaining the character’s origins in a scene from the movie:

Did you know that the original name for Pac-Man was Puck-Man? You’d think it was because he looks like a hockey puck but it actually comes from the Japanese phrase ‘Paku-Paku,’ which means to flap one’s mouth open and closed. They changed it because they thought Puck-Man would be too easy to vandalize, you know, like people could just scratch off the P and turn it into an F or whatever.”

Still not convinced? Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani confirmed the same story in a 2010 interview with Wired celebrating the 30th anniversary of the game. When asked about the original “Puck-Man” title, he replied:

“Yes, the U.S. subsidiary said that that would be bad. We wondered, what should we do? And decided to change it to ‘Pac.’ Then, after the American version came out with the ‘Pac’ spelling, we used that for the entire world.”

Before they could make that change however, a bunch of early arcade cabinets for the game were released with the original title.

But the point remains, Pac-Man’s name isn’t a conspiracy. It’s a second choice after the original title was rejected over vandalism concerns, which means Colin probably isn’t right when he calls the Japanese video game a massive conspiracy.

But don’t let that fact guide your decisions in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch of you might miss out on some pretty cool moments in the branching choose-your-own-adventure story.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is streaming now.


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Media via Netflix