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).
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.)
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??
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 head..no 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.