Ms. Pac-Man and the rise of joystick abuse. (And by joystcks I mean joysticks, not “joysticks.”) Joysticks.

Though I didn’t grow up in the arcades like many gamers of the 70s and 80s, I still had opportunities to play coin-up games back in the day.  As kid, I was generally too timid to really enjoy arcades.  They were boy’s domains…stupid, ugly, rough boys. They (the boys and the arcades) always seemed to be kinda smelly, odors of stale popcorn and pizza  hung heavy and clung to every fiber throughout, and someone was always shouting or crying.  Early on, I rarely remember seeing girls play.  Once Dance Dance Revolution made its way into the arcades of the 90s, which provided them with one last breath before dying, then I saw girls.  Lots of them.  Either dancing up storms, wearily hanging off their boyfriends’ arms, or cheering on friends while trying to not spill drinks. (Sooooo many soda spills…sticky floors and controls …gross.)  So arcades weren’t my scene; but lots of places had one, two, or a small gathering of games tucked away somewhere.  I actually played a good bit on one of our local movie theatres that had a “game room.”  Throughout my teens, with friends and family, we consistently went to local batting cages and mini-golf that had, if not game rooms, then a few arcade machines that worked to varying degrees.  And if I was in a place with games, and I had money and time, I always searched for one game: Ms. Pac-Man (1981/2).

A miniature replica of the Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet (source)
A miniature replica of the Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet. So cute! (source)

For whatever reason, Pac-Man, as wonderful as that game was, pretty much slipped my gaze.  We had a version of it for our home PC, and it was fun, slightly addictive, and very different from most of the vector graphics games that were eating up gamer’s hours at the time.  I first saw Ms. Pac-Man at our movie theatre, which also had Pac-Man.  But Midway’s now-classic (and classy!) Ms. Pac-Man…oh, that game was something else!  First off, I got to play as a girl. (Win!) Second, the bonus fruits moved around the maze rather than being stuck in the middle box.  (Awesome!)  And third, the game told the beloved story of the meeting and courtship of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. (Awww!)  Okay look, outwardly, the games were remarkably similar.  Ms. Pac-Man was newer, brighter, more colorful, and did offer all those aforementioned things, but it was essentially Pac-Man.

However, Ms. Pac-Man blazed an unrelenting path through arcades into gamers’ hearts.  People who had just gotten over their “Pac-Man Fever” found themselves right back feeding their addiction with his female counterpart.  And I soon ended up right there with them.  Well…not right there.  My turn with Ms. Pac-Man happened well after — 5, 6, 7? years — the fires had died down.  Still, arcades were scary places, remember?  But the game room at our movie theatre was not.  So with each trip to see the latest big screen something or other, I always brought (or begged for) a few quarters for Ms. Pac-Man. Or some other game. But really Ms. Pac-Man.  (We eventually got the Atari version – it was probably the most-played video game in our house up to the day we got an NES.)

Damn straight, bucko. And don't you forget it! (source)
Damn straight, bucko. And you all can just stop rolling your eyes! (source)

Now I could sit here and claim that Ms. Pac-Man had this je ne sais quoi, this ethereal magic that made the game something extraordinary.  That the joy of remembering it brings forth blissful memories of wonder and excitement. But that would be a load of horseshit.  Ms. Pac-Man filled me, and plenty of other gamers, with rage as quickly as it did happiness. Do you know how many times I went to that theatre to play Ms. Pac-Man only to find that the joystick had been broken?  Ms. Pac-Man drove people to the brink of madness and (seemingly) super strength!  If there’s one thing I remember from being around, if not in arcades was the constant metal-on-metal/plastic sound of joysticks being beaten against consoles to an inch of their lives! Sure enough, if you simply and quietly moved one of those joysticks left, right, up, or down, the characters usually complied.  Yet some…no most players of theis game developed an intense passion, sometimes anger, that relayed from their brains, down their arms, to the unwitting joysticks.  BAM! to the left. BAM! to the right. BAM! BAM! BAM! The constant clattering could become utterly deafening!

As much as Pac-Man contributed to this rampant joystick abuse, it seemed to gain nothing but momentum with Ms. Pac-Man. And I was no better!  I tried very hard to be “nice” to the arcade game, but occasionally my frustrations got the best of me.  Even worse was at home.  Our weary Atari joysticks, which had been readily abused since Robotron 2084, just couldn’t keep up with my frenetic movements.  And I always wanted Ms. Pac-Man to move faster! Until she did move faster in the higher levels.  Then I wanted her to be slower!

Women, jeez! Amirite??

HAHA! SCORE!! (course)
HAHA! SCORE!! Stupid ghosts… (source)

In terms of sheer addictiveness, Ms. Pac-Man ranks up there with the likes of Tetris, Centipede, Angry Birds, and many other simple action, maze, and puzzle games.  I never made it up to fabled Level 256, but I damn sure was going to try to reach it each time I played. Ms. Pac-Man just worked right (as long as you had a good joystick) on every level of play.  I’m sure she’d be like the Imelda Marcos of quarters if she was…alive. Which she really couldn’t be because she’s just a internal…organs…or, well… There was that cartoon and… sorry.  Sorry for making things weird.  And…but — didn’t she have kids?? With Pac-Man???  Ooo..I’d just better stop typing now.


  1. Reblogged this on The Duck of Indeed and commented:
    While I am not qualified to make any comments on the well-known “Pac-Man” games (having only played, literally, 5 minues of it total in my lifetime, unless you count the “Jak II” version…), Cary is, and she wrote an interesting post on her memories of “Ms. Pac-Man”. Check it out. Do it.


    • Thanks for the reblog! Sometimes I can get a bit goofy in my nostalgia, but this was a fun post to write. Ms. Pac-Man definitely stands the test of time.


  2. I only played “Pac-Man” once (not “Ms. Pac-Man”, though) at the orthodontist. They enjoyed calling us into the back room and then apparently quitting for the day, and I’d sit and wait in that stupid chair for a long time. They had an old Game Boy (not even a Game Boy Color, the fiends!) with “Pac-Man” on it, and I played it once as I waited for the people to remember I was there. I couldn’t get into it, but perhaps that’s because I was already in a bad mood.

    As for joysticks, I, too, have heard the racket people make playing, as they bang that poor joystick from side to side as if they’re attempting to yank it loose. My goodness, people. Calm down. I promise you the character will still move if you just tilt the joystick a little bit less. One of the many reasons I don’t let people touch my things. Because they’re bound to snap all the joysticks off. And I kind of need those.


    • Man, my dentist only ever had crappy Highlights magazines for us to waste time with while they were doing who knows what in the back! I might have enjoyed going more if video games had been an option. But I can see how they might not be all that much fun in such a setting, regardless.

      I had the chance to play an old Galaga arcade game not long ago, and sadly, the controls were not in good shape. Moving the poor joystick didn’t really do much and the ship just sort of twitched over to one side and stayed there. Thankfully, the machine was rigged for free play, so no money was lost in the futile effort. If we all took better care of our joysticks, I bet the world would be a happier place.


  3. “Imelda Marcos of quarters.” Great comparison, haha.

    My arcade nostalgia is flying pretty high right now from this post. I played a fair amount of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man but I’m a Street Fighter player going back almost 20 years so I’ve seen (and been responsible for) some pretty serious cases of joystick abuse. Matter of fact, I think there’s a SFII cabinet at the the Arcade in the mall where I grew up that still has a restraining order out on me.


    • Oh man! If there was one game that was always on lockdown in the arcade, it was Street Fighter! I remember seeing kids 3 and 4 deep just waiting around those machines for a chance to unless their hadokens and dragon punches.

      I know that many folks who grew up with that game in the arcades even today often still prefer the arcade controls over the console controllers. Do you think so to? I’ll never know having first played the game on the SNES.


      • I actually still attend fighting game tournaments and the D-Pad vs. Traditional Arcade Stick controller debate is still a very lively one. At the end of the day, it ends up being personal preference but I personally lean towards Arcade sticks when it comes to fighting games for their better feel and execution. Heck, I’ll even plug in a stick for console ports of old games like The Simpsons arcade, The X-Men arcade game and Double Dragon Neon. You By and large though a lot of the older generation gamers or “Arcade Rats” are the ones you’ll see who still prefer and carry arcade sticks.

        Friends of mine even have Q*Bert and Ms. Pac-Man on their computers and could easily use a PC controller or even the arrow keys but will always whip out the Arcade sticks. 🙂


        • On the rare occasions that I have played arcade games, and with the exception of Ms. and regular Pac-Man, I pretty much sucked at using the controls. I don’t have much finesse with fighting games, in particular, as is, and adding a joystick on one side and an array of buttons on the others really never helped my coordination. But having watched friends in arcades and some of those gaming tournaments, I totally get why some people prefer arcade pads.

          And OMG Q*Bert! I played the original a few times and was soooo terrible at it, but I’ll never forget its sounds and music! We had a funky clone of the game called something close to but not quite “Q*Bert” on our PC years ago. (sigh) I miss that old beige PC sometimes and all those cheap knock-off games.


    • Get thee to an arcade! If they still existed, that is. Standing up to play a game that you can just as easily sit down and play is novel and worth it for the nostalgia factor, but that’s about it. (I say that as arcade fanatics curse my very name…)

      I don’t think your version of Pac-Man could have been worse than some of the clones of the early days. Kudos for creating a such a game at all — that’s awesome!


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