You can’t go wrong with Pac-Man

I have exciting news beautiful readers!

The wedding invitations are complete. Okay, half complete. Alright I’m about 33% of the way there. If anyone knows my future mother-in-law, do not tell her.

No, don’t be silly, it’s not a wedding invitation update. It’s this:

After moving through to the second round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge, by sharing a story of a flatulent feline, I was tasked with writing a persuasive essay in response to the prompt “Is there value in playing computer games?”. As you can imagine, I was delighted with this topic because I am positively teeming with video game knowledge. I can’t finish a sentence without reference to my immense and overwhelming knowledge of Grand..um..thieving…call of Halo?

Brad is a gamer (I know, I know, we all have our crosses to bear) so I thought I’d ask him to help me out. He started talking and it sounded very much like Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking so I gave up. The best piece of advice I ever got about writing was from someone who said that you should write about what you know. My knowledge of computer games began and ended in the 1980s, so that is exactly where I went.

Luckily for me, the judges liked it and *girly squeal of excitement* I’m through to the final round!

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PAC-MAN: MORE THAN JUST A GAME

My knowledge of video games is pretty limited, although as a child I was shit hot at Pac-Man.

I had an Acorn Electron computer circa 1984 so when I say Pac-Man what I actually mean is that I had a game called Snapper which looked suspiciously similar to Pac-Man. The designers of Snapper originally named it Puc-Man (see what they did there?) but it turns out that the makers of Pac-Man saw through that cunning disguise resulting in a change to both the name and some small elements of the game play.

That said, Snapper was still incredibly similar to Pac-Man, a bit like when you walk into Aldi and think that you’re surrounded by named grocery produce only to discover when you get home that you’ve bought ‘Hob-Nibs’, ‘Prangles’, ‘Coca-Coca’ and ‘Wow! Who can tell that this isn’t butter?’

Despite the fact that I had budget Pac-Man, I did not care and I spent many a happy hour moving that greedy little yellow dude around the maze whilst he munched his way through hundreds of delicious pac-dots.

There was limited research on the positive effects of playing video games until the past decade. Sadly, I am so old that my gaming days were back in the last century but I firmly believe that playing Pac-Man in the middle of the 1980s had a positive effect on me. Recent research has found that playing video games improves hand eye coordination (University of Toronto study in 2014) and a study by a New York Doctor in 2007 showed that playing video games improved the skills of surgeons performing keyhole surgery.

Fortunately I don’t have responsibility for cutting people open for a living, but I’m a demon touch-typist (yes, I do realise how lame that sounds compared to life saving surgical abilities). However the good level of hand eye coordination required for typing is bound to have been improved by my childhood goal to save Pac-Man’s life.

Pac-Man also taught me about multitasking. Pac-Man has to rush around, eat, avoid things that are out to get him and remember to get some fruit into his body every so often; which pretty much describes my usual day.

In some ways, Pac-Man is a bit of a female icon. Toru Iwatani, the inventor of the game, wanted to create something that women would enjoy. At the time, many of the games were violent war or space invader type games. Pac-Man was different and held much more of an appeal for women. Given that the aim of the game is for Pac-Man to outwit characters that want to bully him and ultimately take revenge, many women saw the attraction of the game.

In 2016 video games are much more popular and easily accessible than they were when I was young. The main negative effect of playing video games when I was a child was just trying to fill the time that it took your game to load up from a cassette tape. I’m pretty certain that you could start loading the game, get called downstairs by your mum for dinner, talk to your parents about what you learnt at school that day, moan that you don’t want to eat the carrots on your dinner plate, begrudgingly eat your carrots because you really want Angel Delight for pudding, eat your Angel Delight, return to the computer and still hear the damn thing whirring away trying to load.

The media describe the main concern with video games nowadays as being the violence that games contain and argue that this has a detrimental impact on children by increasing aggression and aggressive behaviour. Luckily for me, Pac-Man and the ghosts were not known to drop the f-bomb and their simulated deaths were pretty underwhelming; Pac-Man makes a sad little noise and vanishes into thin air and the ghosts cart their body-less eyes back to their lair to be regenerated.

I did not always find playing Pac-Man an enjoyable experience. I recall once being very distressed and crying to my Mum because the four ghosts were ganging up on Pac-Man and I felt that four against one wasn’t fair, although had I known at the time that the ghosts in the video game had names and were called Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, I’d probably have liked them a little bit more.

My Mum, who is very wise, used my anguish at not being able to thwart Pac-Man’s enemies as an opportunity to teach me a valuable lesson: Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes you will not win first prize, sometimes people will stand in your way, sometimes circumstances will challenge you and sometimes people will be unkind to you. When this happens, like Pac-Man, you have to just keep moving around the maze, keep eating, keep doing your very best and if you work hard, you might just end up with a key and 5000 points.

Pac-Man: more than just a game.

pacman

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The last week of August

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I consider myself very fortunate to have lovely childhood memories, not least the summer holidays when my mum and sister and I spent time with my mum’s cousin, her husband and their two daughters. They lived in Somerset, we lived in Sussex and the last week of August usually involved them visiting us or vice versa. My mum is very close to her cousin and the four of us children adored the time that we all spent together.

We recently all met up again after almost ten years. It was wonderful, like we’d never been apart. We spent an evening together talking and reminiscing (if you’ve learnt nothing else about me from this blog, the fact that we’re a family of talkers should be apparent), laughing so hard that our cheeks hurt.

Us girls are pretty close in age, born between 1976 1986 and 1980 1990 and a lot of my most favourite childhood memories are of the four of us: roly polys, laughing policemen, waltzers, sunshine, dummies made of rock, beaches, paddling in the sea, fish and chips and gherkins called wallys, that incident at that wedding (you know who you are), dog walking, trampolining, sesame snaps and lots and lots of giggling.

However, our reminiscing did make me realise quite how different growing up in the world is nowadays.

It started when one of us remembered that we would spend hours creating our future dream home. This involved skills that I suspect children have become rather lacking in these days; cutting out and sticking down. We would trawl through the Argos catalogue picking out the furniture and accessories that we’d like to have in our houses when we grew up, then, after a bit of negotiation; “I like that settee”, “Yes, it’s okay but it won’t go with those cushions, we need something blue”, we’d cut pictures of our preferred household items and stick them down on pieces of paper ready for when we were home-owners.

I’m not sure what happened to the bits of paper, although knowing how sentimental our mothers are (for my mother: read ‘hoarder’) they’ve probably kept them somewhere in their lofts. Long after our parents are gone we’ll find them, yellowing with age, in a box along with a set of milk teeth, a tatty golliwog, a valentines card from 1967 and a Christmas ornament made of dried pasta, glitter and cotton wool.

We were much more economical in those days too. Firstly there was the car. We would fit four children and three adults into a mid sized family car: One adult driving and one adult navigating in the front. Eldest child in the back with youngest child on lap, third adult with one of the middle children sitting on their lap and remaining middle child on the hard, ‘not really a proper seat’, bit in the middle. No seatbelts, no booster seats or harnesses, no child locks on the doors. Mind you, if we had ever been in an accident I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we would have been alright. We were slotted together like a successful game of Tetris. We weren’t going anywhere.

If for any reason we were one adult down, the four girls would kneel next to each other on the back seat, leaning on the parcel shelf waving at other drivers out of the back window. As we got a bit older, we’d look for any handsome drivers to wave hello to or dare each other to blow a kiss to someone old or unattractive.

The cost saving theme continued at bath time too; Four girls, one bath. Gosh, I do hope that last statement doesn’t get picked up as a search term on Google or people are going to be very disappointed when they find it’s just me wittering on about summer holiday memories from the 1980’s.

Parents didn’t bother with babysitters in those days either, they just found a pub with a beer garden, bought four bottles of coke with straws and four assorted bags of Golden Wonder crisps and left the children outside. Every half an hour or so, one of the adults would pop outside to make sure none of us was bleeding and bob’s your uncle, cheap night out.

Our favourite place to eat was always a Little Chef, because they usually had a children’s play area and they gave you a lolly at the end of your meal. To pass the time on long car journeys, we’d all sing songs, “On Top Of Old Smokey” being quite prominent in our repertoire. Not the actual real lyrics but the version when Old Smokey turns out to be a pile of spaghetti and the song charts the journey of an unfortunate meatball who falls off the plate when someone sneezes or, my favourite, when the bald headed eagle is on top of Old Smokey not scratching his arse as you are first lead to believe but actually scratching his head. When our holidays ended, we would write letters to each other to stay in touch. Yes, actual physical letters with stamps and everything. It seems almost twee, another world compared to the high-tech, fast moving, instant access world that we live in nowadays.

We’re all grown up now with responsibilities, families, homes, jobs but put us together and 25 years vanish. It’s the school holidays, the sun is shining and I am laughing.