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Happy anniversary, Ms. Pac-Man

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Video games’ first lady is 40 years old

Just like her husband Pac-Man, born just two years earlier (young couple!), Ms. Pac-Man is a round yellow circle, kind of like a jawbreaker or the Sun.

She debuted in arcades across America and raked in $1.2 billion quarters by 1987, all the while managing her marriage with Pac-Man and their baby Junior, who was unceremoniously unleashed from his blue blanket during Ms. Pac-Man gameplay. Today, she celebrates her 40th anniversary.

But in some ways, Ms. Pac-Man, one of the world’s most successful arcade games, has been overshadowed by the legal troubles that followed it from the moment it was introduced as a knockoff “enhancement kit” for the original Pac-Man.

[Source: Honest Gamers/Atari]

The decades-old saga finally ended in 2020, when Bandai Namco reached a settlement with AtGames, a company that bought the rights to Ms. Pac-Man from creators GCC in 2019. But royalties are the core of why, throughout the years, Ms. Pac-Man has been missing from Pac-Man games or rebranded into other characters like Pac-Marie or Pepper. At least much more often than her husband, who is pretty much always Pac-Man.

It’s disappointing — I wish we had more years of Ms. Pac-Man. Especially since she was one of the first characters that drew women to gaming.

“Advertising flyers of the period depict only women playing the game, which reflected a broader acknowledgment of female participation in video gaming,” write history bloggers The History Bandits in a post describing how Ms. Pac-Man changed gaming for women. “Ms. Pac-Man today is viewed as the historical catalyst in attracting women to a traditionally male-dominated hobby.”

[Source: Imgur]

Ms. Pac-Man’s critical role in women’s video game history is well documented, and although it’s largely because Ms. Pac-Man allowed women to identify themselves with a character at a time where there were no other options, she’s also just a good character in a good game.

At least, I think so. I know this is debated (“she’s literally named Ms. Pac-Man,” screams the Tumblr feminist in my head), but hear me out. Ms. Pac-Man is a nuclear family wife — a homemaker with the occasional task of eating fruit and avoiding ghosts — but the original advertisements declaring her to be “the woman of the year” and “more than Pac-Man with a bow” never made this her sole focus. They also never belittled it or minimized the importance of these traditionally “feminine” roles.

In Ms. Pac-Man, womanhood wasn’t a joke or a gimmick. It was just there, just the way it is in me and other players, celebrated with sweet screens of Ms. Pac-Man sharing a kiss with her husband followed by Ms. Pac-Man eating enemies whole.

So even 40 years later, Ms. Pac-Man is a sparky reminder of where women in video games have gone and where they still might go — ideally, beyond wives and sexy murderers since it isn’t 1982, and women now get to be picky about representation. But the odd kiss and a pretzel won’t hurt us, either.

Ashley Bardhan

Ashley Bardhan is a writer from New York who covers culture, sex, and other things people like. Her journalism can be found in Pitchfork, Mel Magazine, and Bitch, among other places. She thinks about Bloodborne a lot. [url]https://msha.ke/ashleybardhan/[/url]

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