The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 4, 1982 · Page 91
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The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · Page 91

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 4, 1982
Page 91
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t Nation ound'foolish over Pac-Man Philadelphia Inquirer GERALD S. WILLIAMS For fanatics, rhapsody in yellow By Steve Stecklow inquirer Stall Writer In case you didn't notice, yesterday was National Pac-Man Day a P.T. Barnum-style promotional blitz by Atari for its new. home version of the popular video game. In 27 cities, including Philadelphia, human Pac-Men in bright yellow costumes visited shopping malls, where they conducted contests, gave away prizes of T-shirts and game cartridges and shamelessly capitalized on one of the greatest American fads in recent years. For no matter what you think of video games if you think about them at all there is no question that Pac-Man is in. Consider this: At a pizzeria in Doylestown, Bucks County, local assistant district attorneys and public defenders often spend their lunch breaks guiding a little Pac-Man around a televised maze with as much determination as they show in any courtroom. A bakery on South 12th Street in Center City has been selling Pac-Man cookies baked in the circular shape of the voracious yellow creature. Local bookstores report brisk sales of three paperback books, one a best seller, that purport to reveal the secrets of achieving high Pac-M'an scores. And a pop song called "Pac-Man Fever," performed by a pair of musical unknowns, has become the hottest novelty record in years. Last year, coin-operated Pac-Man machines earned nearly S200 million in the nation's arcades. Last month, for the game's home debut, Atari shipped to stores more than one million Pac-Man cartridges (adaptable only to the company's home video game system), retailing at $37.95 each. Thousands of video-game fanatics paid in advance to reserve their cartridge. The question, of course, arises why all the fuss? The truth is, for its loyal legion of fans, young and old, Pac-Man is nothing short of addictive. It is variously challenging, amusing, frustrating, mentally and even physically exhausting, arguably sexually suggestive and though it is hard to say exactly why strangely rewarding. In short, it is a complete waste of time in which millions of people love to indulge. What you do For the uninitiated, this is how the game works: Using a control stick, a player steers a small, round yellow face the Pac-Man around a fairly complicated screen maze whose paths are lined with white dots. The object is to clear all the dots the Pac-Man gobbles them up as he moves along without being swallowed by a succession of four colored goblins, blessed with names like Inky and Blinky, who continually give chase to the Pac-Man. The Pac-Man has but one means of defense against the goblins. In each corner of the rectangular maze is a flashing "power pill." When the Pac-Man swallows a pill, he temporarily becomes energized and can turn the tables on the goblins, who for a brief moment turn blue and retreat. Extra points are awarded for swallowing the goblins before they change back to their original colors, and for devouring pieces of fruit and other tempting objects that appear at various intervals on the maze. For the weak of hand, there are even intermissions, at which players may rest their sweaty palms while the Pac-Man and goblins put on little shows lasting about 20 seconds. As in all video games, there is, by design, no way to beat a Pac-Man machine. Hence, the question "Did you win?" is inappropriate. As soon as one maze of dots is cleared, another appears. As the new mazes keep appearing, the speed of the game progresses to a feverish pitch, until all the player's Pac-Men a player gets several, depending on what score he reaches are devoured by the goblins. Bigger total The challenge of the game the incentive that drives players to drop quarter after quarter into the arcade machines is to improve upon previous scores. So alluring is this challenge that there is probably no serious Pac-Man player alive who cannot instantly recall his lifetime high score as well as what machine ("at the Seven-11 on 13th and Spruce") on which he achieved it. Since Pac-Man appeared in this country nearly two years ago from Japan, innumerable theories have evolved to explain its extraordinary success. It is frequently said by players, for example, that women are attracted to Pac-Man more than its video rivals such as Space Invaders or Missile Command because it is nonmilitaristic. (To capitalize on its female audience, a new game, Ms. Pac-Man, with a Pac-Womanish figure wearing a bonnet who devours a maze filled with hearts, recently hit the arcades.) Those with a Freudian bent will be quick to note that the game is extremely oral for what is Pac-Man but just an insatiable mouth who gobbles his way through life? Armchair analyses aside, only a true pessimist might argue that the game of Pac-Man mirrors life, since all players eventually lose. If anything, the intense concentration the game requires affords an often-relieving escape from the daily grind. Pac-Man also possesses an uncanny ability to highlight hu-. man frailties. A greedy player quickly reveals himself by his propensity to pursue that one last flashing blue goblin he needs to consume for 1,600 extra points. The impulsive player is the one who changes his maze pattern at the sudden sight of a tempting fruit, another dangerous habit. As is well-known among serious Pac-Man devotees, the most successful player is the methodical one who can exert some control over the goblins' movements. That, in essence, is the deep dark secret of Pac-Man revealed in the paperback exposes of the game control. The player who can memorize a successful, and admittedly complicated, pattern for his Pac-Man to follow through the maze can, as long as the player is able to sustain it, outwit the machine. With such a pattern, the Pac-Man will continually be able to outfox the goblins, for they will be trapped in their own machine-programmed patterns, which allow the expert player to understand which situations to avoid. Unfortunately, as in life, the chase is never easy. Just the briefest deviation from a player's pattern the slightest wrong turn, for example and the player will be on his own almost instantly. Forced to rely on human reflexes against the machine's unrelenting onslaught, all too often the game is quickly over. Finally, one must accept that patterns just like Pac-Men and the human being who holds the control stick are not immortal. In recent months Bally Manufacturing Corp. of Chicago, which licenses the arcade game, has changed the programs in many of the nation's 100,000 coin-operated machines, rendering all established patterns useless. Such is life in a changing world. Sunday, April 4, 1982 Philadelphia Inquirer 3-G Impact of welfare cutoffs is spurring a debate over Thornburgh's victory By Frederick Cusick Inquirer Hurnsburg Hureau IIARRISBURG After three years of bitter debate, the battle on Gov. Thornburgh's plan to purge tens of thousands of "able-bodied" recipients, between the ages of 18 and 45, from the Pennsylvania general-assistance welfare rolls ended last week. And although everyone here claims to know what a wholesale cutoff of recipients will mean to both the state budget and the welfare program, there is little agreement on numbers, possible impact or even the reason the governor wants the bill. The 26-24 Senate vote favoring the plan, coming after a 116-71 vote for the bill in the House, was a major Victory for Thornburgh and a major defeat for the loose coalition of welfare-rights organizations, liberals and Democrats who had delayed passage of the bill and sought to weaken it. When the governor signs the bill into law, as he is expected to do, the "able-bodied" people cited will immediately be ineligible for general-assistance cash grants. On Dec. 31, people currently on the rolls in that category will be removed. The law also sets up programs designed to find private-sector work or to provide "workfare" for people on the rolls. Workfare is a program the state plans to initiate whereby people on the rolls will have to work at minimum wage at public-service jobs for the number of hours required each month to earn their welfare checks. One of the key questions that remains is whether the new welfare law will result in genuine reform by providing substantial help to the "truly needy" who remain on welfare, or whether it is a vehicle for the governor to balance the budget with the money saved by removing welfare recipients from the rolls. The Thornburgh administration and its opponents have been working with different figures and assumptions in the debate on the effect of the welfare law. Depending on who is stating the figures, Pennsylvania will get a windfall from the welfare cutoff in the coming fiscal year, or the program will cost slightly more than it saves. The first set of figures shows how many people will be cut off. There are 208,000 persons on the general-assistance rolls, according to the welfare department. The Thornburgh administration estimates that the new eligibility regulations will cut between 64,000 and 68,000 "able-bodied" and employable people from the rolls. The maximum cash payment that the state pays to single recipients on general assistance is $43 a week. About 90 percent of the people receiving general assistance fall into this category. Sen. Edward Early (D., Allegheny), one of the leading opponents of the welfare proposal, said last week that the number cut will be about 85,000. "They the Thornburgh administration have been using that 68,000 figure for three years, while the general-assistance rolls have shot up," Early said. Joseph Kintz, a press aide in the welfare department, last week called the 68,000 estimate "soft." "It the number of general-assistance recipients who will be cut could go up or down," Kintz said. Another set of disputed figures involves the amount of money the state will save as a result of the welfare law. lli 1 . . . nmmHH ,,,lltMMM Philadelphia Inquirer DIXIE D. VEREEN Welfare activists deliver a message to Thornburgh during his visit to Philadelphia Thursday Opponents of the welfare law say the Thornburgh administration is underestimating how much the cutoffs will save and is intending to use the money to balance the state budget. Gov. Thornburgh Motivation questioned The Thornburgh administration shows the cutoff saving $46.3 million in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, other programs in the welfare package programs designed to increase grants for remaining recipients and to provide new jobs for people cut from the rolls will cost the state about $51 million in the next fiscal year, the administration says. Thus, the welfare law will add $4.7 million to the welfare program., the administration says. The new programs include a $25 million tax-credit program to employers who hire welfare recipients and $13.3 million that is to be used to raise by 5 percent the grants for families of three or more persons. Another $5 million has been allocated to run a "workfare" program, which will require welfare recipients to work for minimum wages in public-service jobs to earn their checks. About $7.6 million will be allocated to finance other employment programs and other costs, according to the Thornburgh administration. Opponents argue that Thornburgh is substantially underestimating how much the cutoff will save. Sen. Early estimates that savings in the next fiscal year will be $66 million, about $20 million more than the administration calculates. Early said that, because there is so much movement of recipients on and off the general-assistance rolls every month, the drastic new restrictions for eligibility will cause an immediate, sharp drop in the number of people accepted for general assistance yielding substantial savings. "This money is going to be used to balance the budget," he said. Early and some Democrats also argue that the Thornburgh administration will not be able to spend $25 million in the fiscal year on tax credits to employers who hire welfare recipients. At most, Early said, the cost of the tax credits will be $10 million in the next fiscal year. The administration will save another $15 million, he said. "There are 630,000 people out of work in Pennsylvania," said Early. "The most that an employer who hired one of these people would save in the first year of the tax-credit program would be $1,800 Ifor each employee hired. You can't tell me that there are many employers who are going to go through the expense of hiring and training a welfare recipient when, for nothing, they can hire qualified people from the pool of 630,000 unemployed people." Whether Thornburgh or his critics are right about the fiscal impact of the welfare program can only be determined by observing how the program operates in the coming year. If the state ends up pocketing a substantial amount of money from the cutoff, it will help the taxpayers but it also will tend to invalidate Thornburgh's claim that his welfare program is a true reform of the system. One question that probably will not be answered by the new law is whether it will stop Pennsylvania from being the "welfare haven" for poor people from other states that Thornburgh claims the state has become. The Thornburgh administration does not have much evidence to support its contention that poor people from other states have flocked to Pennsylvania because they believe the general-assistance program is attractive here. In his budget address to the legislature in Febuary, Thornburgh said it was "inescapably clear that Pennsylvania has become a welfare haven, and one need not lose a Pennsylvania job or even become much of a Pennsylvania resident to exploit that haven. The harder times get in states with tougher standards, the more attractive a haven we are sure to become until our system literally collapses of its own weight." The welfare-haven argument was used frequently during the legislative debate on the welfare bill in an attempt to justify the cutoff. However, it appears to be based on slim evidence. Asked last week what statistics supported the position, Roland Page, a Thornburgh news aide, said surrounding states either have no general-assistance program, or they have programs that are less generous than Pennsylvania's. Also, he said the number of general-assistance recipients in Pennsylvania has shot up dramatically in recent years. He cited a 1980 study by the welfare department showing that 11,000 new general-assistance applicants had moved within the previous year into the counties from which they had applied. This was a 41 percent increase in this category of applicants, said Page. But, he said there were no statistics on how many of the 11,000 had moved from one county to another within Pennsylvania. Page said the study was not "ironclad" proof that people were coming to Pennsylvania to be eligible for general assistance, but that he believed the evidence was sufficient to support that contention. "This is the best available data that we have at this time," Page said. drector of teen-pregnancy programs in cross fire of birth-control fight By Patricia O'Brien Inquirer Washington Bureau WASHINGTON - Letters about a Reagan administration regulatory proposal that might keep many teenagers from obtaining birth-control devices have been pouring in at the rate of 1,000 a day, but the woman with the wide smile who directs the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs is keeping her cool. "People are showing their concern, and that's what we want," said Marjory Mecklenburg. "The federal government has no business providing contraceptives to teen-agers without parental knowledge. I want parents involved in what happens to their children. I'm dedicated to that." Described by friend and foe alike as competent, gracious and smooth, "with a will of iron," Mecklenburg is determined to fight back her way against the upward spiraling problem of teen-age pregnancies in this country. With anti-abortion legislation and other New Right proposals stalled in Congress, Mecklenburg's plan, which would require federally financed clinics to notify parents when their teen-agers obtain prescriptive contraceptives, could end up being one of the few victories this year for the conservatives. There are hundreds of such privately operated clinics using federal funds for various purposes across the country. Mecklenberg is currently accepting public comment on the proposal before further action is taken. So far, its progress has been marked by snickers and groans from liberals and vigorous defenses of the family from Secretary of Health and Human Resources Richard S. Schweiker. He called the proposed regulation a chance to strike down the "Berlin Wall" between parents and children that inhibits discussions of sex. "Do von think kids will give up "The federal government has no business providing contraceptives to teenagers without parental knowledge," says Marjory Mecklenburg, director of adolescent pregnancy programs. sex?" an exasperated Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D., N.Y.), asked Schweiker during a recent hearing. ". . .We live in a society where Dannon yogurt is sold so you can have a Dannon body. Your view of what this world is doesn't comport with reality." Medical and family planning groups have been vigorously protesting the proposal, warning that it could result in many more pregnancies. "According to a survey we did, only 2 percent of teenagers would stop having sex if their parents had to be notified," said Jeannie Rosoff, president of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which conducts social survcrys. "A quarter of them said they would simply stop using effective contraception." Through it all, Mecklenburg, 47, has stayed unflappable even when her only daughter called from the University of Minnesota to argue the pros and cons. Mecklenburg said she was not ready to say which way the wind of public opinion was blowing. "We'll sort out all the letters in a few weeks," she said. However, the energetic former economics teacher from St. Paul, Minn., was talking about her goals to just about every group that would listen "We're not out to hurt these kids by 'telling' on them to their parents," she said. "We want to offer counseling and help. Sex is one of the hardest topics to raise in a family, partly because we'rd dealing with an enor mously changed society. Parents are in a terrible position, and so are their children." Mecklenburg was aware that she was no favorite of liberals or ultra-conservatives. She's a woman in the middle, arguing for nothing less than a major turnaround of family values in a society in which sexually permissiveness is well-entrenched. She has no illusions about getting teenagers to "give up sex" but she'd like to have counselors and parents try to talk them out of it before they start. "It's no good being in the middle when there's a war on," said an opponent from Planned Parenthood who views Mecklenburg with guarded respect. "She's a moderate with nobody else around. She'll get killed." Mecklenburg mother of four, former teacher and wife of an obstetrician came to the Department of Health and Human Services with a reputation as a strong leader of the anti-abortion movement. "I'm used to working my way through an issue," Mecklenburg said. "I like to argue out both sides of a question and then decide." A discussion 14 years ago with her husband, Fred, started her on her anti-abortion career. "We had been talking a long time, and suddenly Fred got up and hauled out his medical books to show me pictures of the developing fetus," Mecklenburg said. "I had given birth to four children, I had taught and yet that was the first time I fouftd myself identifying with what the progression of life development really is." Mecklenburg and her husband then became active in the anti-abortion movement, and each was an early chairman of the National Right to Life Committee. "There were many attacks on her for not being strident enough at that time," said a colleague. "All those people wanted to do was talk abortion. She was more interested in providing services to pregnant girls." Mecklenburg has founded several groups, including American Citizens Concerned for Life Inc., which she left when Schweiker tapped her for her current job. She downplayed her lukewarm' reputation among Far Right conservatives. "They are dedicated, and we need dedicated people," she said. "We do need legal protection for' the unborn," she said. "But beyond that, people arc facing real problems, and we need to help them." Her evenness has been winning respect from both sides. "All in all, she's doing the best she can under the circumstances," said Judy Brown, head of the ultraconserva-tive American Life Lobby. The Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs already has been paying for a variety of efforts aimed at curbing adolescent pregnancy, ranging from a counseling center for pregnant girls in Evanston, 111., to a vocational and counseling service for teenage fathers in Cleveland. "Our programs are more in the nature of models and demonstrations," said Mecklenburg. "There's no way we can provide adequate prevention programs for teenagers in this country. What we want to do is get responsible research going to look into what's happening, so when communities are ready to address the problem, they have some solid information."

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