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A pair of Whac-A-Mole machines
ManufacturersTOGO (Mogura Taiji)
Bandai (Mogura Tataki)
Bob’s Space Racers (Whac-A-Mole)
Years active1975–present (Mogura Taiji)
1977–present (Mogura Tataki)
1977–present (Whac-A-Mole)

Whac-A-Mole is an arcade game, originally known as Mogura Taiji (モグラ退治, "Mole Buster") or Mogura Tataki (モグラたたき, "Mole Smash") in Japan. A typical Whac-A-Mole machine consists of a waist-level cabinet with a play area and display screen, and a large, soft, black mallet. Five holes in the play area top are filled with small, plastic, cartoonish moles, which pop up at random. Points are scored by whacking each mole as it appears. The faster the reaction, the higher the score.

A child playing with a classic Japanese Mogura Taiji machine.


The cabinet has a three-digit readout of the current player's score and, on later models, a best score of the day readout. The mallet is usually attached to the game by a rope in order to prevent anyone from walking away with it.

Current versions of the Whac-A-Mole include three displays for Bonus Score, High Score as well as current game score. Home versions, as distributed by Bob's Space Racers, include one display to show the current score.

If the player does not strike a mole within a certain time or with enough force, it will eventually sink back into its hole with no score. Although gameplay starts out slow enough for most people to hit all of the moles that rise, it gradually increases in speed, with each mole spending less time above the hole and with more moles outside of their holes at the same time. After a designated time limit, the game ends, regardless of the skill of the player. The final score is based upon the number of moles that the player struck.

In addition to the single-player game described above, there is a multi-player game, most often found at amusement parks. In this version, there is a large bank of individual Whac-A-Mole games linked together, and the goal is to be the first player to reach a designated score, rather than hit the most moles within a certain time. In most versions, striking a mole is worth ten points, and the winner is the first player to reach a score of 150 (i.e., 15 moles). The winner receives a prize, typically a small stuffed animal, which can be traded up for a larger stuffed animal should the player win again.

Game play options have become more adjustable, allowing the operator and/or owner to selectively alter the high score, hits points, rate of progressive speed as well as the game time.

The game has been criticized for teaching children to be cruel towards animals,[1] though it is still used for teaching auditory processing and attention.[2]


Mogura Taiji was invented in 1975 by Kazuo Yamada of TOGO, based on ten of the designer's pencil sketches from 1974.[3] TOGO released it as Mogura Taiji to Japanese amusement arcades in 1975.[4] It became a major commercial success in Japan, where it became the second highest-grossing electro-mechanical arcade game of 1976 and again in 1977, second only to Namco's popular arcade racing game F-1 in both years.[5][6] Mogura Taiji was licensed to Bandai in 1977.[3] Bandai (now part of Bandai Namco Holdings) introduced the game to the Japanese home market as a toy in 1977, called Mogura Tataki (モグラたたき, "Mole Smash"), which became a major hit by 1978,[7] selling over 1 million units.[8] In the late 1970s, arcade centers in Japan began to be flooded with "mole buster" games, where players used a foam mallet to hit plastic moles that popped out of the machine.[9] Mogura Taiji has since been commonly found at Japanese festivals.

Mogura Taiji made its North American debut in November 1976 at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) show, where it drew attention for being the first mallet game of its type. Gerald Denton and Donny Anderson saw the Japanese game, and decided they wanted to adapt it into a carnival game by putting it in a trailer, with Denton also showing it to Aaron Fechter at the same show. Denton assigned Fechter the task of building their own version of the game, with Fechter coining the name "Whac-A-Mole" and adding air cylinders, "so that when air pushed up the moles, the air acted as a cushion." Fechter developed the prototype in 1977, with Denton and Anderson presenting it to the founder of Bob's Space Racers, Bob Cassata, the same year. After Bob made further refinements to the game, Bob's Space Racers made its first sale of the game in 1977. In 1978, it debuted at a midway exhibition show, where it was the most popular game. The following year, it debuted at pinball parlours. In 1980, it was sold in the carnival, amusement park and coin-op arcade markets.[10] Whac-A-Mole has since become a popular carnival game.

Back in Japan, Namco, who were beginning to shift towards arcade video game production with hits like Galaxian (1979) and Pac-Man (1980), noticed arcade centers in Japan were flooded with "mole buster" games.[9] To capitalize on their popularity, Namco began work on a similar game with a unique motif to help it stand out from other similar games.[9] Sweet Licks (1981) was originally designed by TOGO, who had originally named it Mole Attack. Namco purchased the rights to the game and re-skinned it.[11] Sweet Licks was designed by Yukio Ishikawa, a mechanical game designer for Namco.[12] The game was themed around cake and pastries to help attract women.[9][13] It used an LCD monitor to keep track of the player's score, being the first arcade game to employ such a concept.[13] Sweet Licks became popular in Japan,[14] and was subsequently released in North America in April 1982,[15] and then in Europe where it became popular in the 1980s.[14][16]


Whac-A-Mole machine for small children in Hainan, China.

The original Whac-A-Mole game inspired the first genre of games with a violent aspect as central to their user experience. Researchers have used Whac-A-Mole and its variations to study the violent aspects of these games.[17]

The Whac-A-Mole game trademark was originally owned by Bob's Space Racers but since 2008 has been owned by Mattel.[18] Machines with similar gameplay are sold under other names. Whac-A-Mole has also been the basis for a number of internet games and mobile games that are similar in play and strategy.

Engineer Tim Hunkin built and installed a "Whack a Banker" machine at Southwold Pier in England in 2009[19] made from parts of a previous "Whack a Warden" machine.[20]

Mattel Television currently is partnered with Fremantle to develop a game show inspired by the game, which has yet to debut. The show will be an elimination-style, unscripted series to determine the "Whac-a-Mole Champion." The competition will involve a life-size version of the game, as well as obstacle courses and other "surprising twist[s]."[21]


The moles are mounted on rods and raised by a lever and crank system. When the user strikes the mole, a microswitch is activated by a pin housed within the mole and the system lowers the mole.[22]

The timing of the moles was originally controlled by tones from an audio tape which then drove an air cylinder system.[23]

Colloquial usage[edit]

The term "Whac-a-mole" (or "Whack-a-mole") is used colloquially to depict a situation characterized by a series of repetitious and futile tasks, where the successful completion of one just yields another popping up elsewhere.

In computer programming/debugging it refers to the prospect of fixing a bug causing a new one to appear as a result.[24] In an Internet context, it refers to the challenge of fending off recurring spammers, vandals, pop-up ads, malware, ransomware, and other distractions, annoyances, and harm.[25][26]

In law enforcement it refers to criminal activity popping up in another part of an area after increased enforcement in one district reduces it there.[27] In a military context it refers to ostensibly inferior opposing troops continuing to appear after previous waves have been eliminated.[citation needed]

It has also been applied to fake news, where as soon as one story is debunked another appears elsewhere – or sooner.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Teaching Kids to Abuse Animals With Whac-A-Mole – Brian.Carnell.Com". brian.carnell.com. Retrieved 2022-03-23.
  2. ^ "Whac-a-Mole". www.speech-language-development.com. Retrieved 2022-03-23.
  3. ^ a b "もぐら叩きを作った男" [The man who made Whac-A-Mole] (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2021-05-14.
  4. ^ "70s Amusement Machine History" (PDF). Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association (JAMMA) (in Japanese). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-11. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  5. ^ "本紙アンケー 〜 ト調査の結果 (アーケードゲーム機)" [Paper Questionnaire: Results of the Survey (Arcade Game Machines)] (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 65. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 February 1977. p. 2.
  6. ^ "結果ベスト3" [Best 3 Results] (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 90. Amusement Press, Inc. 15 February 1978. p. 2.
  7. ^ Fact Book 2021. Bandai Namco Group. 2021. pp. 3–6, 20–3. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  8. ^ "元祖モグラたたきゲーム" [Original Mogura Tataki Game]. Bandai (in Japanese). Bandai Namco Holdings. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d Namco Elemecha Daihyakka booklet. Japan: Victor Entertainment. 24 July 1996.
  10. ^ "An Oral History of Whac-a-Mole". MEL Magazine. 6 March 2020. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  11. ^ "Joint Venture by Namco and Togo Japan" (PDF). Japan: Amusement Press. Game Machine. 1 June 1987. p. 22. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  12. ^ "『ワニワニパニック』開発者からグループ会長にまで上り詰めた男が語る、ナムコ激動の40年。創業者・中村雅哉との思い出、バンダイ経営統合の舞台裏【バンダイナムコ前会長・石川祝男インタビュー:ゲームの企画書】". Den Famicogamer. 14 September 2018. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  13. ^ a b "おかし大作戦 (1981)" (in Japanese). Bandai Namco Entertainment. 2005. Archived from the original on 8 September 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Sweet Licks". No. 29. United Kingdom: EMAP. Advanced Computer Entertainment. February 1990. p. 23. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  15. ^ Manufacturers Equipment. Cash Box. 20 November 1982. p. 63. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  16. ^ Rignall, Julian (May 1990). "Arcades". CU Amiga. No. 3. United Kingdom. p. 87. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  17. ^ Chittaro, Luca; Sioni, Riccardo (2012). "Killing Non-Human Animals in Video Games: A Study on User Experience and Desensitization to Violence Aspects" (PDF). PsychNology Journal. 10 (3): 215–243.
  18. ^ Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), United States Patent and Trademark Office
  19. ^ "Bankers 'whacked' in arcade game". BBC News. 2009-12-13. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  20. ^ "Whack A Banker details". Timhunkin.com. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  21. ^ "Whac-A-Mole Game Show in the Works at Mattel Television and Fremantle". The Wrap. 2021-02-01. Retrieved 2021-08-11.
  22. ^ US 4461475, "Game machine having pop-up target" 
  23. ^ Brett Whitcomb (director) (2008). "The Whac-A-Mole Story". The Rock-afire Explosion (Motion picture).
  24. ^ The Whack-a-Mole Problem. Strategies for App Development Success: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?. www.informit.com. 2014-07-23. Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  25. ^ "Spambot Beware - Glossary of Spam Related Terms". Turnstep.com. 2003-03-30. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
  26. ^ "What is whack-a-mole? - Definition from Whatis.com". Searchsecurity.techtarget.com. 2002-07-22. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  27. ^ Eleanor Clift, et al. "Refusing To Lose." Newsweek 150.4 (2007): 22–30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.
  28. ^ "'This was a moment of great failure': Top journalists ruminate on Trump's upset victory and the threat he poses to the media". 2017-01-18.

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