The Madness of Mission 6: Making up Histories for Pixels

When game’s don’t have histories we make them up. Something as trivial as pac man can get us to do it. Just a little guy chased by ghosts in a quest to eat little white dots can prompt us to make up elaborate, and dark narratives that we wear on our shirts.

Below are a series of examples, I am interested to know why we think we make up these stories and why we love to put them on our shirts. I have a suspicion that it is a particular way to be  clever, but what is it about these games that makes them fodder for this kind of dark backstory and history development? And why do we want to wear those histories? Lastly, I find it interesting how these focus us on what really happened.

In the artists note for the Madness of Mission 6 explains the “true story” behind Pac Man.

In 1976, Cosmonaut Nikolai Peckmann was sent alone to an orbiting space station for what would be called Mission Six- to study the radiation levels and strange circumstances that killed all four crewmen of the last research mission. By the third day, Peckmann’s broken transmissions were coming back to ground control filled with increasing paranoia and delusion. He claimed that the spirits of the dead cosmonauts were coming to claim him, and that he had to keep moving to evade them. He shouted that if he could capture consume these spirits himself while he still had strength, he could move to the next level of consciousness…Truly the rantings of an insane man. Indeed, video recovered later would show Peckmann running around the confined but maze-like station, downing emergency sedatives like a madman….pausing in a corner momentarily, only to throw back vitamin pills and give chase to his invisible demons. He had exhausted the entire cargo of vitamins, pills, and fresh fruit well ahead of schedule…It was determined that another mission to recover any remains or gather any more research would be a waste of the people’s money, and the station was allowed to drift out of orbit and into space- a failure never to be mentioned again. It was ordered and assumed that all video and paper evidence had been destroyed.

The shirt is a major hit.

Further, it is not the only dark history of Pac Man that have been produced. For example, the shirt below explains how the ghosts died. For an even more detailed distrubing read take a look at the comic, Pac Man, how it really happened.

Demonstrating that this is not just for Pac Man,  The Sleep of Reason Produces Flying Turtles explains either the origin of or how Mario is haunted by, the world of creatures in the Mario universe.

So what do you think? What is this all about? Also, do you have any more examples you want to include?


  1. The Sleep of Reason/Mario piece is a mashup that blends the Mario content with Francisco Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, so I’m not quite sure it supports the case you’re making here. Still, cool post.

    1. Author

      Gfeat point. The Mario shirt isn’t a dark history. Although that was how I interpreted the shirt when a friend had it on and I didn’t know the title. However it does have that particular kind of cleverness. Much the same as the “this is not a pipe” Mario shirt.

  2. Hee, this is fun stuff, Trevor.

    When you ask “what is it about these games that makes them fodder for this kind of dark backstory and history development?” one thing that comes to mind is that these older games leave so much to the imagination. Nobody tells us what Pacman is, or why Donkey Kong is called “Donkey”. Just as their lo-res graphics demand we fill in the details, their lo-res backstories invite imaginative extrapolation and expansion.

    This is akin to the point I was making in my old “Action Figures” post about how leaving out details can sometimes be a spur to immersion and imagination.

  3. I’d have to agree with Rob…
    Now a days we are sold on ideas and they tell you the whole story before you even start to imagine the outcome. Movies, Music, Speeches, even eating has been condensed down into this neatly wrapped box. So entertainment and even your health can be sold to you in a 30 min story and they are just hoping that the colors and flashing lights will stimulate or distract you enough that you will take their word for it.

    The reason this shirt is so popular is because it’s a refreshing and artistic retelling of a familiar scene or nightmare that could justify a Thousand Levels all at once. Which says it caters to the same thing I mentioned above… While still saying “Hey, I’m Old School ‘cus I get It!”

    But truth be told… I showed the shirt to my friend last year and he brought up the Pac-man reference to me.. and I’m 30!, I should have picked up the reference quicker right!?

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