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Urban Pac-Man Comes to Phoenix

For us, the streets of downtown Phoenix are an urban death maze of scalding asphalt, never-ending construction, and anger-inducing bonehead drivers that we attempt to maneuver through as quickly as possible during our daily commute.

But to Linzi Juliano, our city's central core were the perfect setting the perfect setting for a game of "Urban Pac-Man," a real-life version of the infamous 1980s quarter-muncher writ large. This past Saturday, the 25-year-old doctorate student and a group of her friends transformed the streets and sidewalks of Copper Square into the meatspace representation of that classic glowing blue virtual maze.

Juliano is something of a gaming geek (her masters thesis at NYU even covered the sociopolitical complacency of World of Warcraft players during the 2004 presidential election and Iraq War) who heard about similar urban Pac-Man events that were held in NYC and Paris and was inspired to organize a Phoenix version.

Here's how it went down: Juliano plotted out a downtown grid stretching from First to Seventh avenues and from Washington to Van Buren streets. Separate teams of five people each donned colorful costumes and adopted the roles of Pac-Man and his eternal nemeses Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. Meanwhile, a command center of sorts was set up at nerby CenPho java joint Drip Coffee Lounge, where a separate group of participants (or "players") used maps and cell phones to communicate with those in the field (who were referred to as "pawns") and instruct them on where to go.

Just like in the arcade game, the ultimate goal is for the ghosts to hunt down their prey (à la the Terminator) and for Pac-Man to run the length of the grid without getting pwned. The player controlling the great yellowed one relays instructions and keep track of how far their avatar has traveled (a.k.a. how many "dots" they eaten) and how best to escape their pursuers. Stoplights at each of the four corners also served as "power pellets" that transform Pac-Man into a ghost-chomping pimpzilla.

Sounds fun, huh? It seemed quite an enjoyable experience for Juliano and company, despite the fact it was crazy hot outside, with the mercury topping out at around 113 degrees. Truth be told, the costumed participants weren't going "wocka-wocka-wocka" whilst traversing the streets, but instead were gasping for breath as they sweated up a storm and got plenty of Paxcercise.

Originally the event was planned for either earlier or later in the year, but since Juliano will be enrolling at UCLA in September for a doctorate in performance studies, it was a now-or-never kinda thing. (Thankfully for those involved, roles were switched up every few rounds, with pawns getting to head back to the air conditioned comfort of Drip while the players endured the heat.)

So even though the sun's rays were strong enough to melt a stack of Pac-Man Atari 2600 cartridges, pawns such as Bill Clayten trudged onwards. The 31-year-old assistant restaurant manager became the prey for one of the later rounds of the day, waiting patiently at his starting point near the intersection of Van Buren and Fourth Avenue for the cue to start via his cell phone. Finally, his controller (or "Pac brain") gave the word and he started beating feet westward on Van Buren before hanging a left on Seventh Avenue. Passing a McDonalds and a no-tell motel, Clayten was instructed to make his way down Adams Street towards the vicinity of the FOX-10 studios. In the meantime, ghosts such as his girlfriend Chelsea Samuelson and Giuliano were in the hunt. One such pseudo-spectre eventually made the kill, in the form of Arthur Trout, who tagged his pal near Fifth Avenue.

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While both seemed almost relieved that this particular round was over, they saddled up for one more go at it, with Trout choosing to become Pinky this time.

"I feel like a gay Klansman," he joked after pulling on the cotton candy-colored poncho of his new character.

Both Trout and Clayten stated they'd be up for playing another game of Urban Pac-Man again sometime in the future, but only if it's during much cooler climes.

"I think I've lost a few pounds today," Bill says.

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