Pac Man celebrated its 3oth anniversary yesterday with a free play at Google, made from the Google logo on the home page. What fun!!!! I finally broke the 4th level with 40 thousand points. WooooooooHoooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And as I played, I thought back to the first days of play. I could almost smell the part of the school where the religious education center was. Good times. Those were the days where everything started to change for me.
Have I mentioned that I went to a parochial school? Yeah, I did tell you I am Jewish. Funny funny world. Anyway, in Middle School we had more programs open to us. We started to have elective classes added to the curriculum so I guess it stands to reason that a bunch of some ones decided that we were old enough to start developing clubs and groups. The religious ed center sponsored groups after school. Sometime during 7th grade the center underwent a change in management. Mr. Hannenberg took over and opened the room to students during lunch periods. It was mostly the geeks who took advantage of the offer.
It had a piano to accompany hymns for the after school activities. Mr. Hannenberg lobbied to add a video game console. Hello Atari! It was your basis set up, with only about 5 games. I think that there had been talk of a pool table. But, as best as I can remember, the only other thing in the room was a Foosball table. I don't know it that is compromise or consented defeat. Anyway, I thought that it would have been a great place to hide. That is until the first day I went to check it out. The room was full of boys. There weren't any girls and I did not think it was the most emotionally safe place to be. Even with Mr. Hannenberg supervising, I still felt that my arch nemesis presented a physical threat. So I tried to blend into the brick walls outside. That didn't work.
Near the end of 8th grade there was an incident in which I found out how much I could not trust girls and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong to classify everyone in my class as a threat. I was pulled out of a dangerous situation, backed against a wall and lectured about putting myself in harm's way. My lecturer then instructed me to join him and his friends in the Religious Ed center. He promised me that if daggers were stared into my back he an his friends would stare them right back. I told him no. He only told me once more that I was going to go and that was the end of it.
The next day I had tried to hide in the library which was in the same part of the building. That turned out to be a bad idea. The posse that had ambushed me the day before was waiting for me outside of the library. So I turned on my heel and went into the religious ed center. My Hannenberg was really nice about me being the only girl in the room. John, my guardian angel and lecturer from the day before, slung an arm around my shoulder, brought me over to the game console and told the guys I was going to be with them at lunch from now on. The guys made room for me. Jeff let me have the controller and my Pacman died in 60 seconds. We all laughed. It was the first time I didn't feel like I had been laughed at but with. Everything was cordial and laid back. Wayne gave me his next turn and the guys spent the rest of that first lunch trying to explain the game and some of the subtleties of hand eye coordination. I have great dexterity when I'm doing the designing. But I have a hard time with video games. I don't know why but playing video games with the guys made the rest of 8th grade so much easier.
That game console was a bridge. I wasn't very good at it. And I didn't improve quickly at all. But it was something, like Matchbox cars in 1st grade, that connected me to classmates. They were all pretty patient with me. After a few weeks the guys would call "Winner!" to get in line to play next. Winner kept the good controller. Which, correct me if I am wrong seems to always be the right hand controller. The left hand one seems to be slow to respond and gives the other player a distinct advantage. Of course that may just have been my perception. But successive consoles have not changed my opinion on the built in handicap theory. At any rate, while the opponents were engaged in two player battle the rest of us would have a conversation in between shouts of encouragement. After a while I started calling "Looser!"
If I wanted any chance at lasting in two player game play then I couldn't play the winner. And everyone wanted to play the winner. So the best players got more game time. Like good friends do, the guys let me get away with that. And I would be able to last a little while longer against the weaker player. It was the only way the other poorer players could play too. It was fun. And relaxing. And we built good friendships over that console. The boy who was so merciless in tormenting me for the better part of 7 years left me alone after a week with them in the religious ed center. So in the end the best part of playing Pacman was being able to be comfortable in my own skin as I unabashedly sucked gizzards.
Pacman was the gateway to other games. Gauntlet at the pizza place before youth group helped pass the couple of hours between school and Bible study; basic Mario while babysitting that lead to new heights of epic sucking; and the range of Nintendo we played on Fridays. But it was also the gateway to other friendships. With the kinds of interests I had as a young child I had a hard time finding the commonality to connect with my classmates. Year after year of being left out because I couldn't feign interest in Barbie dolls and disco boy bands, I was despairing of ever fitting in. But Pacman was fun and those conversations between games revealed other similar interests. And that is all that it took to open up the world to me.
Happy Anniversary PacMan. And thanks for reminding me that for the better part of my life things have not sucked... just my hand eye coordination.