Wherein Nick Overanalyzes the Narrative Content of the Pac-Man Games

Back when I was brainstorming my post on non-narrative games, I also got to thinking about Pac-Man, but forgot about it by the time that I got to posting my blog entry. So, without further ado, be prepared to think of the narrative of Pac-Man way more than you ever thought possible.

OK, does Pac-Man have a narrative? As I’ve argued elsewhere, I think it does. Or maybe something like the hint of a narrative, an ur-narrative perhaps. We have Pac-Man. We have lots of dots. And fruit. And then there are the ghosts. And it’s the ghosts that I think provide the narrative to the game. The ghosts have names (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde). They even have personalities (Shadow, Speedy, Bashful, and Pokey) that apparently affect their behavior and movement. The player has no idea what the maze is, or why Pac-Man is collecting dots, or why the ghosts hate him. But on that map, there are five named characters and a distinctive conflict, inscrutable though it may be. That’s a narrative. Heck, there are even cut-scenes, showing slap-stick interactions between Blinky and Pac-Man.

The sequel, Ms. Pac-Man takes it up a notch. First of all, the cut-scenes are even more involved, depicting the relationship between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, culminating in their having a child. Now we not only have characters, but we have definable relationships between characters, with consequences (babies!). And you if want to take it even further, you could even extrapolate a lot about Ms. Pac-Man just from her name and her appearance. Ms. Pac-Man is an interesting set of contradictions. On the one hand, she took her husband’s name in marriage. On the other, she uses the title of Ms. She does the same job as her husband, but she isn’t afraid to be sexy either, wearing a bow and lipstick, and having a beauty mark. Ms. Pac-Man is, I submit, a third-wave feminist.

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