The Comfort Pursuit

Google Maps Pac-Man and city segregation

From late March to a couple of days ago, we could experience the world through the eyes of a Pac-Man, as Google made possible to play Pac-Man on the streets of many cities around the world. Unfortunately, it was an April Fool’s prank meant to last only for a short period of time, and as I write this post the game is no longer available.

When I first played the game over Google Maps, I thought of it as a ‘tool’ for understanding and analysing urban fabric segregation. In other words, a tool to understand the possibilities of meetings in the city, or how easy it is for Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde to kill Pac-Man.

In an article about The Best Places To Play Pac-Man On Google Maps, Erik Kain wrote:

When I think about great Pac-Man maps, I try to think about the worst-designed metros out there, with the worst congestion and traffic issues possible.

And indeed, I tried Pac-Man in Christchurch’s Central City and it worked, but not in the suburb I currently live in. Even in a reasonably large area around here I got the message “There aren’t enough roads in this area for Pac-Man to get around”. Looks like we don’t have enough connections around here, and Pac-Man would not be found. Then I tried Aachen’s Central City, but Pac-Man couldn’t play there either, because it is largely a pedestrian-only area, and it can only go where cars can go.

The Google game just takes into account ‘car connections’ instead of human ones and that’s not exactly what we should look for. So it was not that useful to assess urban segregation through encounter possibilities. But in any case, it was a fun April Fool’s joke and an useful way of thinking how our cities are structured.

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