Gobbled: Google Pac-Man Chomps Office Productivity

Google Pac-Man

Is Google's pellet-gobbling Pac-Man arcade tribute without the quarter-gobbling arcade damper a menace to office productivity? Did conjuring Google's homepage last week set you involuntarily tap-tap-tapping the arrow keys on your keyboard? Were you frantically trying to remember the pattern exploits for Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde?

Was your Friday last a little more "casual" than usual?

According to "time and attention" stat tracker RescueTime, probably.

The company figures we spent 4.8 millions hours fiddling with Google Pac-Man last week. Before you allow your jaw to hit the floor, note that's on top of the 33.6 million hours we spend on average just poking around Google Search.

A 14 percent increase? That's not so bad, is it?

RescueTime had some fun with numbers, estimating the average Google viewer makes $25 an hour, and landing on the startling sum of $120 million. "For that cost," writes RescueTime blogger Tony Wright, "you could hire all 19,835 google employees, from Larry and Sergey down to their janitors, and get 6 weeks of their time."

So what about the "perils" of instant accessibility? If you make something simple and easy enough to play on a middle-of-the-road computer, will people play it compulsively? Bypass administrative access locks? Blow off their job agreements? Annoy co-workers endlessly?

Probably not. Pac-Man's been available online for years. Finding a version to play has been no more complex than typing 'Pac-Man' into a search engine and clicking a link. That's to say nothing of mobile versions of the game for PDAs and phones tagging along wherever you go in coats, purses, and pockets.

Google Pac-Man was Friday's zeitgeist. The news media hyped it (guilty as charged) and drove exponential traffic from Google News back toward Google's search page. Facebook and Twitter amplified the story. And then there's the inestimable power of ol' fashioned cross-cubicle discourse ("Hey, check this out!"). We're all co-conspirators here.

Look at it this way: Pac-Man gets old fast. I'd wager most only played a level or two before quitting. Contrast with the office productivity lost in time spent viewing YouTube videos of toilet-flushing cats, reading personal email, fooling around in Facebook, or trying to sound witty on Twitter. If people want to "waste" time at work, they could find a million others ways to, and guess what, they probably already do.

What I really want to know is, would the world end if all the people playing the game (it's now available permanently) arrived at the fabled split-screen level simultaneously.

It's up to all you time-wasting, money-flushing "slackers" to find out.

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