The Pac-Man, the Plumber, and the Cabinet: The Belly of the Whale


Continued from Chapter 1: The Call to Adventure

Ah, college: that lovely transition between child- and adulthood.

For most of us, it’s our first taste of independence. It’s the first time we’ve lived away from home. The first time we’ve had to clean all of our own clothes. The first time we’ve been completely responsible for feeding ourselves. Pizza at every meal, anyone? Cereal at every meal, anyone? Belgian waffle irons, anyone? Tell me ours weren’t the only dining halls with waffle irons. The line would be out the door for those things, every single day. PS. Unlimited soft serve ice cream. PPS. The freshman fifteen.

And oh, the built-in social life! On campus and off, there was always some kind of happening. Organized frisbee golf on the quad. Acapella arch sings utilizing the natural acoustics of some dorm’s stone architecture. Some afternoons, you might even attend classes outside. Unless, of course, you went to school with me. In which case, you spent eight months of the year trudging around in this:


Though smuggling trays out of the dining hall and using them as sleds was awesome.

Eight months is pretty much the entirety of the academic school year, obviously, so that’s a whole lot of snow boot wearing. Indoor activities reigned, my friends. Now, I’m not saying there weren’t parties and/or bars to frequent. Every weekend and most weeknights (excepting Monday and Tuesday), there was a frat party, a wacky themed mixer, or a house party at which you’d pretend to know “Dan.”

If you’re me, you’d go to whatever theatre nerd’s house was on the docket for a rousing game of “Celebrity.” Seriously, you play on the team opposite mine and you will be pwned. Guaranteed. Unless my friend Chris is on your team. He’s the Bruce Willis to my Samuel L. Jackson.

But even if you wanted to be queen or king of the party, the near constant three inch blanket of snow  was quite the hurdle for nice shoes and clothes. Of course, not even that was always enough to stop us.


This is me in college.*

So what’s a theatre major (read: a person with not as much homework as say, a pre-med student) to do during those long winter months? Better question: where does a gamer go to escape the cold?

Here’s the thing. Once I got to college, I decided to stay firmly in the closet when it came to my proclivity for gaming. I was there to reinvent myself, or more accurately, define myself as the sophisticate I knew myself to have always been. I would devour art and literature and deliver insightful analyses that would make everyone’s opinions fall in line with mine. I would move people to tears on the stage. I would write a short novella that wouldn’t get me a book deal or anything outlandish, but would garner respectful, if subdued, praise from my creative writing professor (a Nabokov type).

I wasn’t there to join in common room four-way multiplayer Mario Kart 64 tournaments, even if I did have a knack for baiting my fellow racers into getting hit by the train in Kalimari Desert. I wasn’t about to be that kid who borrows their friend’s Playstation over fall break so she could spend her free days delving into Final Fantasy VII, a classic in anyone’s eyes, even if she did live three doors down from said friend and he certainly wasn’t going to be using it and she had already figured out that yes, it was compatible with her roommate’s old television.

But we all know one can’t hide from one’s self forever. So finally I caved, accepted the gamer within, and found my sanctuary.


Pixel was a bar and lounge that catered almost exclusively to grad students. The entrance was down an alley, which made it undesirable as a viable hangout spot for underclassmen. Now that I live in New York, the idea that we called the well-kept pathway that led to this establishment an “alley” is hilarious. Pixel was hipster before “hipster” had even entered into my lexicon. *Pixel adjusts hipster glasses* Anime films were projected on the wall,  there was a TV with an NES hooked up in one corner, and there were drinks to be had, of course. But the best thing about Pixel was the modest but well-curated collection of arcade cabinets.

By this time I had honed my arcade skills and “knew my machines,” if you will. There are those cabinets an arcade gamer will dominate, and those they won’t. I was excellent at both Donkey Kong and Rampage, but my best machine by far was Ms. Pac-Man. My mom tells me my dad was also quite adept at Ms. Pac-Man, so I like to say it’s in my blood. As in:

“It’s in my blood,” the diminutive stranger growled around a tea-tree oil toothpick, setting the high score at 105,000.

In any case, not only did Pixel have Ms. Pac-Man, but it was free to play. Whenever I felt the itch to get my game on, I’d just mosey over to Pixel. It was maybe two minutes from the shop entrance to the theatre, so no snow storm could curb my desire.

Long story shorter? Don’t deny who you are. If you’re lucky, someday a bunch of strangers might even like to read about your gaming habits on the internet. I’m serious about the lucky part.

Side note: In defense of my alma mater’s hometown, it wasn’t always an icy hellscape. If you managed to drum up a reason to stick around for summer (in my case performing Richard III in the middle of some of the lushest gardens I’ve ever seen), you got to do this:


Tune in next week for Chapter 3: Apotheosis

*This is an outright lie.

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