Yeah, you read right. Old school Procyon is going to rave about an old school character in a serious attempt to shed light on why I think Pac-Man is one of the greatest video game characters ever created, as opposed to a humorous attempts to get some laughs.
When you think about all the mascots that there's ever been... Mario, Sonic, Bonk, Megaman, Simon, Crash, even Ratchet... they've all been venerable and memorable characters, but as icons, they've only ever come to represent the development houses that created them, respectively; Nintendo, Sega, NEC, Capcom, Konami, Sony (early), and Sony (later). None of these characters (with the possible exception of Mario in the early days) have ever been strong enough the represent the entire video game industry
. Sure, Pac-Man could be equally labeled as being nothing more than a Namco trademark, but it's actually surprisingly hard to find an average person who realizes that Namco created Pac-Man, and not Atari like I frequently hear from people. About the only other character who seems to be able to universally represent video games is a Space Invader (and the middle guy of all choices.)
But it goes deeper than that. Every video game pits a player in a theoretical battle of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, team A vs. team B, and while some let you blur the lines a little bit, most of them shoe-horn an ethical model into the game to provide a motivation. Why do you destroy Space Invaders?: to save the earth. Why does Mario fight Donkey Kong: to save Pauline. Why does Donkey Kong Jr. fight Mario: to save Donkey Kong (deep, right?) But why does Pac-Man battle against the ghosts to eat all of the dots? Because that's what he does. There's no moral and ethical implication there, it's simply his nature to eat, and he does what he's good at. He will even eat the ghosts if he can, but most of the time, the ghosts present a danger to him.
In this sense Pac-Man becomes a blank palette upon which you may prescribe any number of aspects to, according to your whims and desires. Does Pac-Man eat dots in order to save his family; his home town; the world? Are the ghosts evil for trying to stop Pac-Man, or are they merely protecting the dot farm that they worked so hard to grow, and now they need to stop this maniacal eating machine from devouring their winter stores? It's entirely up to you. You get to decide whether Pac-Man is noble or delinquent, wise or insentient, worthy of respect or completely corrupt.
Unless someone has specific cause to see him as a problem-maker instead of a problem solver, I think most people tend to portray Pac-Man in their own minds as a simple fellow who simply does what must be done for the good of those around him. He sacrifices without complaint. He performs his duty for as long as he is physically able to, and does not quit until he has no more chances left to try. In this respect, he may appear analogous to an idealized Japanese employee, one who works tirelessly for the benefit of his company asking for nothing more than the chance to return to work and do it again.
Speaking for myself personally, I have always seen Pac-Man as a noble soul. He may not necessarily be a natural born leader, as he typically operates on his own, but he is willing to step up and settle a score as an individual than to drag someone else with him into his fight. He may not be the wisest or smartest character, but he always does what he believes in his heart to be the most good, and never intentionally causes any harm. He doesn't see a problem with eating ghosts, because they can't die, they merely go back to their base and regenerate. Nor does he blame the ghosts for trying to stop him, because that is their job; that is what they do. And if my perceptions about Pac-Man are correct, then the world would be a much better place if there were a little Pac-Man in all of us.