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Pac-Mania, alive and well

Pac-Man celebrated its 33rd birthday this week, causing us to reflect on just how deeply the hit game and its distinctive characters have etched themselves onto the global psyche.

Tough economic times in Spain bring out a demonstrator dressed in a costume that combines a Pac-Man ghost with a mask of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The protester was taking part in a May Day march in the center of Barcelona this year, against the government's austerity policies. Getty Images

We missed the official anniversary by a couple of days -- mark the calendar for May 22 -- but let's not close the week without taking a moment to mark Pac-Man's remarkable status as a cultural icon. In the 33 years since the game's creator, Toru Iwatani, saw his invention make it into the market for the first time, Pac-Man has become a part of our cultural lexicon, appropriated as a symbol by the likes of professional boxers as well as political protesters.

It hardly seemed that would be the outcome given Iwatani's rather modest ambitions when he started out. As he told our sister site Gamespot a couple of years ago, the game arcades of the pre-Pac-Man era weren't as welcoming as he thought they could be:

Back then, [the arcade] was a very -- not an inviting atmosphere for female gamers. It was mostly guys; it was really dark and somewhat...damp and almost, maybe sometimes smelly and all that. I wanted to make a game that would be more inviting to bring in the female users -- maybe couples, like boyfriends, girlfriends, come in to play together.... That was the basic idea.

As the cliche goes, the rest is history. Check out the gallery below for some examples of what followed.