Sega’s London HQ is in the district of Brentford, though people say it’s in Chiswick because that’s shorthand for anywhere west on the District Line. It’s a well known building to anyone on that side of central. In my youth we’d make rare trips in our Peugeot 305 from our flat in Burnham along the M4 and Mum would point out the massive adorned picture of Sonic greeting us on the way in to the city. Last night, Namco Bandai Games UK hired out a Very Big Projector and put a wobbly image of Pac-Man beneath this figure, along with a slogan which doesn’t parse properly as it contorts to the building where, I once assumed, all of the games I played on my Megadrive were made.
Incidentally, my childhood assumption turned out to be technically incorrect. Years later I fell into a job working for Sega in QA and I wasn’t ever expressly invited to step foot in that building. The company rented an office near Gunnersbury Tube Station to accommodate all of our lot; almost as if we daren’t grace the hallowed shrine their mascot guards with his trademark wry disrespect. I can only assume that higher management were fiercely protective of the divide between actual grown ups who earn a proper yearly salary and people like me who shower infrequently and drink a lot of shitty energy drinks.
Now that I’m in my early 20s I see that specific massive image of Sonic a little differently. He isn’t waving to us, acting as the furry herald of a world capital, as I would have once assumed; He is clearly captured in mid-sprint, dashing away from London as if he’s escaping, trying to jump off the wall onto the M4 himself and carry on zooming until he’s in Llangennech. He’d probably pay the toll at the Severn Crossing in fucking golden rings, the cheeky dickhead. That’s not legal tender, mate, not even in Wales.
It wouldn’t have always made sense for him to attempt a dramatic exit. Sega served as a pillar of the UK gaming industry, propping up home console sales and also providing an overly expensive battery eater for the portable market. London became a surrogate home for the Sega Brand, with Soho’s Piccadilly Trocadero housing Child Paradise SegaWorld up until it was renamed at the turn of the new millenium and later shut down entirely.
In a post Dreamcast world Sega is a remnant. I tell people that I once worked for the company and the response is usually to ask Whatever Happened To Them. If Sonic really is running away now then I don’t think he’s just conforming to his nature. He’s a rat escaping a sinking ship, only, a Hedgehog. Duh.
Namco’s publicity stunt doesn’t seem very well considered, mostly due to all the provided photographic evidence showing the image conforming terribly to the shape of the building (Pagis bazz? What does that mean?) partly because they’ve decided to connect their brand to Sega’s in a form of implied-reverence-through-disrespect without much further thought to what that suggests of themselves
It is not simply that Pac-Man has encroached on Sonic’s “Turf” and “Tagged It Up”, as they say. Through this act Pac-Man affirms himself more important than Sonic, more relevant, a better representation of what a Mascot is in what remains of The Fiscal Year Of Luigi. Pac-Man is your new friend. Forget about Sonic. Pac is Back and He Is Here To Stay.
It just… It sort of comes out of nowhere, y’know? Sonic isn’t the cultural force he once was, not even he seemingly believes this now, as he packs his bags and dreams of retiring to quiet life in the aforementioned coastal Cymru village. We aren’t thinking about Sonic in hushed reverential tones, save for one of us. Pac-Man replacing Sonic is like Pac-Man replacing Zool. Did you hear, Gladys, Pac is Back. Now pass the Custard Creams.
I worked on two games during my all too brief tenure at Sega. The first was Sonic And All Stars Racing Transformed, which fans will tell you is a celebration of the Sega That Was. A racing game which acts as a retirement home for their classic licences that haven’t the cultural foothold to be brought back in any meaningful stand-alone form. You can be a man from fucking Skies Of Arcadia and race around in a track based on fucking Burning Rangers, and the soundtrack is a Fucking Banger and it feels fucking amazing to play.
The other game was Aliens: Colonial Marines, which… is what better represents the Sega Of Now.
What’s Namco’s message from this act of impermanent graffiti? Is it to kick Sega while they’re down? Alternatively, are they trying to suggest their brand is on-par with Sega’s? Neither seem to justify the effort, especially if they’re implying that they’re as good as a brand with dwindling cultural value, that no one is talking about, while absolutely fucking up their attempt to do it with terrible cropping and logo design?
Plus, y’know, it’s uncharacteristic. Pac-Man is not rebellious by nature. Pac-Man is a Man who wanders a maze and tries not to die. Pac-Man is practically a Modern Day Theseus.
The Press Release’s Title is “Friends Reunited. Pac to the future.” I think this gives away a little of the intent (Though I don’t believe Pac-Man and Sonic have ever been friends, more vague acquaintances that would pick up the same conversation they left off a year ago at the last house party they both attended). They’re clearly saying that Pac-Man will prevail where Sonic does not. That Pac-Man is the one to bring us into the light. Guide us, Ye Man Of Pac, and we shall be rewarded.
Or I dunno. Maybe they haven’t put as much thought into this as I have, which is a prospect too scary for me to even consider. Imagine spending all that money for barely any reason. That can’t be right.