PAC-MOM: A Practical Rethinking of the “Classics”
In this recipe, I proposing using game re-design to create an alternative view of “classic” video games from a feminist perspective. To illustrate this technique, I am describing PAC-MOM, a digital game that I created to counter and expand the popular 1980s game PAC-MAN. I am offering this practical rethinking of a “classic” game as a recipe to challenge and rethink a canon of games that are uncritically revered by game enthusiasts and often recreated with minor modification by individuals and organizations.
In her book Coin-operated Americans Carly A. Kocurek describes how video game arcades became a space claimed by boys and young men in the US in the 1980s.1 A game common to 1980s video game arcades was PAC-MAN. PAC-MAN is classified by game scholars as an eating game.2 I created the game PAC-MOM as a parody of PAC-MAN. It is a game about gender and food insecurity. PAC-MOM takes place in a situation where accessing food requires PAC-MOM to work a disproportionate amount more than PAC-MAN. In addition to having to work more for the same pellets, PAC-MOM has to avoid a set of powerful ghost-enemies including patriarchy, misogyny, racism, ableism, and many more.
Every discipline has its canon of “important” works. The longer a canon exists, the more immutable it becomes. Instead of a calcified collection of works, I am proposing a continuous refiguring of works in a canon to encourage continued questioning of a discipline’s history. Instead of worshipping on the altar of the “classics”, we should be creating alternative views of works seen as “historic”. Below is a set of instructions for this process.
- Find “classic” games (or other media artifacts) that are part of the “canon” in a specific genre.
- Identify conceptual aspects in these games that seem culturally antiquated and are ripe for re-interpretation.
- Modify the rhetoric of the chosen game to create an outcome that reveals something about social inequities and intersectional identities that the original game is unable to do.
- Test your concept with an intersectional audience. Integrate feedback.
The ingredients of humor and irony can help make hard truths more palatable and easier to digest.
My questions for creators of this kind of project are:
- How can you make a game parody that is more than just ironic?
- How can you modify the rhetoric of a classical game to expand what it is and how it works in culture?
- How can new classics be created that examine the past, communicate contemporary reality, and help us create a better future where a multitude of feminisms exist and are taken seriously in game development and in society more broadly?
What is the context or background that inspired your recipe?
This recipe is inspired by my game PAC-MOM, a parody of the popular 1980s arcade game PAC-MAN. I wanted to create a game that addresses social inequities and intersectional identities. PAC-MAN is classified as an “eating game” by game scholars. I therefore created a parody, PAC-MOM, to communicate my ideas about motherhood and food insecurity. I also realized that “classic” games lend themselves to re-interpretation. I therefore decided to create this recipe because I think that this mode of game re-creation is transferable to other games and might help other creators generate ideas.
Which community are you offering the recipe to?
I am offering this recipe to the game development community. Game developers often have a good sense of the history of our field. I am offering an example that re-examines this history. By re-designing a historic game, I am imagining a feminist future that could have been. I want game developers to see our field’s history with different eyes, where every game is up to critical, speculative, and possibly utopian re-interpretation.
How does your submission relate to intersectional feminism?
My recipe is about designing alternative views of “classic” or “historic” video games. The example that I am giving is PAC-MOM, a reinterpretation of PAC-MAN. PAC-MOM is a game about gender, work, and food insecurity. Food insecurity is a complex intersectional issue. It affects single mothers most. It also affects women of color disproportionately due to the gender wage gap and related intersectional factors. As part of the game, I created a screen where the player can customize their own PAC-MOM. This does not just include customization of the game character herself but also of her enemies. These include classism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia and many more to illustrate that an individual’s experience can be determined by multiple intersecting aspects.