Pac-Man creator leaves Namco Bandai for school

With career training in Japanese gaming "on the verge of crisis," Toru Iwatani explains why he's leaving his employer of almost three decades.

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Toru Iwatani, best known as the creator of Namco mascot Pac-Man, is set to leave his employer of almost 30 years next March in order to teach his craft to aspiring developers. In an interview in the latest issue of Weekly Famitsu, Iwatani discussed his motivations for the move.

Iwatani explained that in 2004 he participated in a series of lectures on game planning held by Namco in conjunction with the Tokyo Polytechnic University. After this, he started lecturing regularly at several universities.

"I experienced firsthand the passion today's young people have for games," Iwatani told Famitsu Weekly. "I also realized how important teaching is. So, when TPU told me they were beginning a new course on games, and asked me to become a full-time lecturer, I decided to do it."

Although he wanted to keep making games, he felt he was needed elsewhere. "I thought it more important to pass on the know-how that I've accumulated over the last 30 years to the next generation," he said. "Right now, the state of career training in the Japanese games industry is on the verge of crisis."

According to Iwatani, the evolution of hardware has created incredible difficulties for publishers. "It will become very hard to train staff in-house, as was done in the past," Iwatani said. "As a result, the educational institutions must follow through. However, Japan is far behind in the field of game education compared with the US, Europe, Korea, and China."

Iwatani also expressed his hope that other veteran game designers will take a hand in training the next generation of game makers, saying that different corporate cultures yielded different ways of doing things. Having those diverse points of view ties into the importance of the school as both a place of learning and research for Iwatani.

"For example, mental training games have become very popular lately," he said. "TPU has set up facilities to monitor brain activity so that we can thoroughly investigate the relationship between games and brain activation. … It is necessary to verify that the claims [made by brain-training games] are valid from a scientific viewpoint. As the impact of games on society grows, they will be subject to criticism."

However, the main thing Iwatani hopes to impress on Japan's future game creators is the crucial role of communication in the workplace.

"Game development is a group activity, so communication is crucial," Iwatani said. "On the other hand, it's a creative process, so assertiveness is necessary. I hope to foster in my students a balance between assertiveness and cooperation."

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