On Youthful Rejections Of Gender Stereotypes
Like pretty much every child with a pulse, I loved me some Pac-Man in the early 80s. I had a Pac-Man lunchbox, a cassette tape of the Pac-Man Fever album, books on how to beat Pac-Man… I shoved a lot of quarters into the Pac-Man machine at the local pool hall / arcade, and let’s not speculate too much on the sorts of parents who would let a kid of my age hang out in the local pool hall / arcade.
Then I moved to a Town Without Pac-Man. Specifically, Chadron, Nebraska. It was not a big place. It did not have a pool hall / arcade that a young child might be allowed into. It did have an arcade, attached to the local ice cream parlor, but they didn’t have Pac-Man.
They had Ms. Pac-Man.
I rebelled at this. I have a sister, and she took to it immediately, but to a callow lad it was a matter of boyish pride to not play as a GIRL, even a girl defined by a bow and some lipstick tacked on to the most gender-neutral character since the Pong paddle.
Mental Note: Has anyone ever made a Ms. Pong? Must research.
It took me a while, but the lack of Pac-Alternatives eventually pushed me into giving it a try, and it turned out that I liked it a lot better than plain old Pac-Man. It very quickly became the game that I would gravitate to in an arcade, because I could make a quarter last for quite a while and that sort of efficiency appeals to a kid. It also became nearly ubiquitous – I don’t think I ever saw an arcade after that point that didn’t have at least one machine.
Oh, and it taught me that some arcades are run by absolute bastards. I remember playing a Ms. Pac machine in Rapid City and not getting an extra life at 10,000 points because that particular machine was set to 15,000 points and had the difficulty yoinked to the highest setting. I like to think that the arcade owner was eaten by a swarm of locusts, because that’s a real risk in rural South Dakota.
The last time I happened on a Ms. Pac-Man machine was in a pizza joint in Tigard, where I placed a to-go order, sat down at the machine, put in a quarter, and made that single quarter last until my pizza was ready. It’s just the sort of game where you can kind of get into the zone.
Anyway, I like to think that being faced with the early conundrum of I Can’t Play That, That’s For Girls has helped me find that I really enjoy a lot of things that Boys Shouldn’t Like, and this has affected the character choices I make in games pretty much ever since.
So… when Namco released a Ms. Pac-Man port for the PS4, with trophy support, I needed to get that platinum trophy on my profile, as a tribute if nothing else.
It is an amazing port, by the way. I mean, it’s just the original ROM wrapped in an emulator, but it has some really good options for how you want your game experience presented to you. I had my mind ever-so-slightly blown when I turned on scanlines, as an example, and realized that as a vertical game the scanlines went top-to-bottom.
Yes, I am easily impressed.
Sadly it is hampered by the DS4, which is a terrible terrible controller for this sort of game. It’s like the experience of putting a quarter into one of those cocktail Ms. Pacs, sitting down at the player one side, pressing the start button and then discovering that someone has stolen the joystick knob and that the remaining steel nub always wants to pull to the left. Also it expects you to play with your left hand, and that was a real mental jump for me.
If you happen to have a actual joystick for your PS4, I can recommend it without reservation. If you don’t, well, I have reservations.
Anyway, I managed to get over the controller issues long enough for this:
…and I feel good about it. The trickiest trophy wasn’t the “eat all ghosts and fruits on a single board” trophy – that’s nothing particularly difficult – but rather the “play for three boards without dying and WITHOUT eating a ghost” trophy.
That’s the sort of challenge I’d never set myself before and wow if it doesn’t turn out to be a bit rough. You cannot help but eat all four power pellets when clearing a level, and the ghosts don’t always do a very good job of running away from you, to the point where I lost out on this on several runs by being trapped in a corner with blue ghosts coming at me from both sides and no way to avoid eating one.
There are also similarly arcade-exact ports for Pac-Man, Galaga and Dig Dug, but I don’t have the same compulsion to get those. Me and the Ms. are good for now.