In his PC World report on Google celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man by posting a working version of the game as their homepage doodle, Ian Paul noted the flood of jokes on Twitter "about how Google had killed U.S. productivity on Friday by putting the game (including all 256 levels) across the screens of millions of office workers." However, neither PC World nor the "Twitter-sphere" tends to see beyond the boundaries of office productivity. Google has secured itself as an essential in just about every academic setting; and, in classrooms fortunate enough to have computer support, it plays a major role, once assumed by the encyclopedia, the dictionary, and the atlas, in day-to-day pupil activities. Since my wife teaches at the middle school level, she fully appreciates the value of Google, which is why she also fully appreciated just how disruptive that doodle could be.
Pac-Man was designed to be the ultimate distracting shiny thing. That was why it was an overnight success in video arcades and why it continues to demonstrate how simplicity can still trump all of the sophisticated imagery of today's game technology. Resisting the spell of this game is about as easy as walking from one end of a Vegas casino to another without placing a bet. Now, according to Paul, Pac-Man will be a permanent fixture on Google's site, although no longer as a home page doodle.
The bottom line is that gaming is probably one of the most addictive elements of the Internet (the other most addictive element being shopping). Every now and then a story surfaces about the consequences of that addiction, and the stories are no less depressing than those about alcoholism and drug addiction. Does Google want to be part of those stories just because it thought it would be cute to celebrate a 30-year-old icon? This goes beyond those many instances of Eric Schmidt's foolishness that inspire so many of my posts. This is a matter of the corporate culture of a corporation that sometimes forgets just how important it has made itself in the world. Such cultural amnesia is often the first step towards hubris, a road down which many of the powerful have traveled and few have returned.