I met Ms. Pac-Man in a Greek restaurant that my mom was working at on one of those bring your kids to work because no one is available to babysit days. As my mom delivered gyros and souvlaki to hungry customers, I found myself in the care of a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table with unlimited access to the soda fountain. Long before I’d ever possess a game console, this was my first experience of marathon video gaming. Throughout our shift, my mother and her fellow waitresses would place quarters on the game’s glass top, skimmed from their own tips no doubt.
Some balk that Ms. Pac-Man is just a Pac-Man clone with a bow and lipstick. To this I argue that it’s a more difficult game. Ms. Pac-Man has to work harder than her male counterpart, which is often the case in this male dominated society. She is expected to navigate varying maze configurations while contending with ghosts that exhibit less predictable haunting patterns than those in Pac-Man. Ms. Pac-Man is also more visually striking with a richer color palette changing between game screens. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia of an entire shift of uninterrupted power pellet and ghost eating, but Ms. Pac-Man remains one of my favorite video games of all time. Intermissions in the game depict a courtship between Ms. Pac-Man and Mr. Pac-Man culminating in the arrival of a Baby Pac-Man. However, I’ve always imagined Ms. Pac-Man as single woman, if not a divorcée, far surpassing her ex-husband’s success. After all, Ms. Pac-Man went on to become one of the most popular video games of all time. Maybe it’s the use of the Ms. honorific, or perhaps it’s a projection of my own experiences in life.
When she was eighteen, my mother, her parents, and her six younger siblings immigrated to America from the Açores, a Portuguese archipelago nearly one thousand miles off the coast of Lisbon. Shortly after arriving in the United States, her father abandoned the family leaving the eight of them alone in a new country; not one of whom spoke a lick of English. My grandmother went on to own, live in, and maintain an eight family tenement with her daughters; her sons having left home when they were old enough to do so. To help support the family, my mother found work in a fabric mill where she met my father. They soon thereafter married, had a child, and separated. Now a working single parent, my mother enrolled in college with hopes of becoming a teacher. As a result, I spent many of those years watching One Life to Live and General Hospital with my aunts and grandmother when they would babysit. I was there the day my mother graduated when the words “with honors” were announced after her name was called. I didn’t know what that meant at the time but was pretty sure that it meant that she had scored some extra points toward her final score.
I’ve come to realize that I am more at ease in the company of women, feeling quicker to trust or respect a female than I would a male. Socially, I feel I have more to contribute in a conversation with a woman. I’m well versed in the latest episodes of Top Chef or Project Runway, and lost if asked what I thought of last night’s game. “Why, did Larry Bird win a Goal?” I understand that I’m generalizing. Men can enjoy soap operas, women can enjoy wrestling, and it’s perfectly normal that, as a child, I wanted the Barbie Bubbling Spa playset. It is perfectly normal right? It’s not that I dislike men; it’s just many of the men in my life have been absent, be it emotionally, or tangibly. I’ve been accused of being too sensitive, but that criticism came from my father, a man, so I’m not sure I trust it. Ultimately, I respect strong hard-working people. In my life most of those people have been women.
Today I am married to an exceptionally hard-working independent woman (I’m sure that Freud would have something to say about this). Her achievements amaze and confound me. I consider myself lucky that she is willing to share her life with me and understand that I have been given an opportunity to be a better man than the examples in my life. We hope to one day acquire a vintage video game cabinet for our home. Naturally my choice is for a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table. My wife wants a vintage Mortal Kombat cabinet. So much for gender stereotypes. I do know that if I found myself trapped in a maze full of ghosts I’d have more trust in a woman to find the power pellets and get us out alive.