Level Up

"Ms. January" = Ms. Pacman

Every last Friday of the month, I will be doing a monthly segment on a digital starlette by profiling their importance in video game history.

We’re kicking off the New Year with a familiar face, but possibly more recognized for her “side-profile”.  I am of course talking about the most famous video game heroine of all-time, Ms. Pac-Man.

I wasn’t aware she was such a showgirl but she totally just sang, “Honey, dontcha know, I’m more than Pac-Man with a bow!”  More than Pac-Man with a bow, indeed!  She also has heels, a pink boa and dare I say… fake eyelashes! Good for her.

But let’s talk about the origins of Ms. Pac-Man and why I’m naming her Level Up’s “Ms. January”.

Pac-Man, (originally called Puck-Man, but obviously retitled due to the *ahem* clear concern for vandalism in video arcades), was conceived by a Japanese man named Toru Iwatani and named after an onomatopoeic slang phrase in his language called “paku-paku” which is the sound of a mouth wide-open and closing when eating.  In an interview with Wired.com, Iwatani said he made Pac-Man with the intention of appealing to women.  He pointed out that most of the arcades in 1980 were alien shooters that were dark and – in his view – aimed at men.  Iwatani cites Space Invaders specifically, but in America at least, these early ’80s Atari games were being advertised to women, too (check out last week’s article about gender-based advertising for more on this subject).

Says Iwatani about bringing women into his master Pac-Man plan:

“When you think about things women like, you think about fashion, or fortune-telling, or food or dating boyfriends. So I decided to theme the game around “eating” — after eating dinner, women like to have dessert.”

I love everything about this statement!!  He created Pac-Man because women liked to eat?!  Clearly we love fortune-telling, but eating?  However, let’s be honest, he does have a point about dessert.

Although it was 1980 and however sexist it may sound in 2012, Iwatani’s eating theory was possibly true and Pac-Man became the first actual “character” or “mascot” in a video game (massive accomplishment) and truly bursted open the flood gates of gaming to the female audience.

Now enter… Ms. Pac-Man.

Not only was her game illegally developed by hackers from MIT – but they referred to her as “Crazy Otto”.  Crazy Otto?  Kind of an odd name for a woman, you say?  Well that’s because she was born a dude.  That’s right, dear readers, our beloved heroine could actually be considered the first video game transgender protagonist!  All that make-up and showgirl dance in the commercial earlier makes a lot more sense now.  Work it guuurl!

Long legal story short, the game developers that owned Pac-Man acquired Crazy Otto, gave him a sex change and BAMF! Ms. Pac-Man was born.

While Pac-Man had no discernable features outside of looking like a yellow pizza with a slice missing (Iwatani’s true inspiration), Ms. Pac-Man had an eyeball, lipstick, a mole and her signature red bow.  But don’t be fooled by thinking she was easy… Ms. Pac-Man was a way harder game than Pac-Man.  It was challenging and engaging.  I personally beat everyone at that game outside of my best friend’s father.  He was, like, 25 years older than me and would rather die than lose to a 10-year-old at Ms. Pac-Man.  I gotta admit though, he had skills.

Although slightly provocative, Ms. Pac-Man is proud of her round figure and is nothing like the hyper-sexualized female peers of her future.  One of the most important things to consider in talking about female video game characters is the role they play and their relationship with men in the game.  Hands down, Ms. Pac-Man is the star of the show – the protagonist – equally fighting off the evil dual gender ghosts: Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Sue.

What I love about Ms. Pac-Man the most is that she isn’t “Mrs.” Pac-man.  She actually meets Pac-Man for the first time in the intermission cut-scene after she has completed the first stage of gameplay.  Not that there’s anything wrong -whatsoever- with being “Mrs.”… but for 1981, the fact that the first female video game protagonist doesn’t follow the norm is pretty edgy.  Her name was “Ms.” Pac-Man to start with, and it stayed that way.

So, congrats Ms. Pac-Man for being Level Up’s “Ms. January”.

For those of you with a flair for nostalgia, here are all the intermission cut-scenes from Ms. Pac-Man (with a few I’ve never even seen):

*** VALENTINE’S DAY is coming up and if you have a story about meeting your honey through video games please email me at michelemorrow@gmail.com or find me on Facebook and message me there.  Don’t leave your story in the comments, though, lets save the goods for V-Day!  If you wish to remain anonymous, that’s *totally cool* and I won’t use your real names in the post ***

Featured Image via: BlackMoonProject

Images via: Wired, USAToday, and FastCompany  

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