Ode to Joystick

How can you not love Ms. Pac-Man, a woman for whom power pellets, peaches, and pretzels constitute a steady diet?

This is how I feel about her now, but my love for the little yellow gal with the red bow began when I wore bows myself—when I was around 11.

Each summer, my mom would drag me to Atlantic City, New Jersey, under the false pretense of visiting my older brother so she could scratch her casino itch. Since kids weren't allowed in the casino, I would be relegated to the arcade for hours with a bucket of quarters while Mom gambled, sometimes until the place shut down.

Shooting or driving games made me queasy. I was a loser at Galaga. Donkey Kong drove me bananas. Pinball was a real game, and if I lost that quickly, it was my own fault. As a practicality, I veered away from all of these: They ate up my money, and if the quarters were spent before Mom came back, I had nothing to do but watch other kids play. Ms. Pac-Man, the better half of the Pac-Man couple, hooked me because it not only made a few quarters stretch, but I got to see a girl outrun bad ghosts—great for a budding feminist.

Unfortunately, I was never a champion. The most I remember ever achieving was 30,000 points. When the 5-in-1 TV Game, a joystick that can be plugged into the television for endless Pac-Man pleasure, came out recently, I fell in love all over again. Endless games for the price of a few batteries!

And now that I'm older and wiser, I see Ms. Pac-Man's meta­phorical gifts to my life: It's not all about scoring points, but even if it is, keep going after the fruit along the way—because life should also be sweet. Nothing's better than killing your ghosts, even when they keep coming back to devour you. Don't be afraid of the twists and turns in life; they may end up saving your life. And of course, the most important one: Women rule, even in video games.

Joshunda Sanders lives in Austin, Texas. She is a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and aspires to one day be a librarian.
This article was published in Fun & Games Issue #30 | Fall 2005

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