Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Twitter Is Really Upset That Pac-Man Lost His Wife

In a viral tweet seemingly about the Sonic 3 music copyright issues between Michael Jackson and Sega, Pac-Man revealed to Sonic that he should put things in perspective: He lost his wife in a legal tie-up. This, of course, rendered Sonic silent because how do you even respond to that?! This three-panel comic also drew wider attention to a decades-old relationship between the creators of Ms. Pac-Man and the rights holders (a.k.a. the creators of Pac-Man). Furthermore, a controversy formed when licensing shifted hands in 2019, thus contributing to a Namco’s rewriting of video game history.

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Two years after Namco’s release of Pac-Man in 1980, a group of seven MIT developers calling themselves General Computer Corporation (GCC) created a spinoff called Crazy Otto (which would become Ms. Pac-Man). While the evidence is lacking, people generally believe the original Namco programmer Shigeichi Ishimura wanted to expand the game’s appeal to women. While loved by many, Pac-Man was one of the few non-war or sports games available at the time. In addition to changing the gender of the leading characters, GCC established the “acts” within the game and other features most associated with the game today.

Ms. Pacman. Image: Bandai Namco.
(Bandai Namco)

Published through Namco’s North American distributor (Midway), GCC retained a license for Ms. Pac-Man and gained perpetual royalties. Since (at least) 2019, when AtGames (a retro hardware company) gained the royalty rights from GCC, Namco (now Bandai Namco) has tried to rid gain back full control of the license. Many retro gamers take issue with AtGames because of consistent issues with hardware quality. This is made worse considering the success and brand recognition by way of big deals with distributors like Walmart and GameStop.

A Marriage Story

Pac-man going into a house while Pac-mom and a new Pac-baby wave at him. Image: Hamster Corporation/Bandai Namco Entertainment.
(Hamster Corporation/Bandai Namco Entertainment)

During this now-multi-year legal battle, Bandai Namco has accused AtGames of using their trademark in making mini arcade cabinets and making illegal deals with distributors. AtGames claimed they’re being punished for buying the Ms. Pac-Man license from GCC. Essentially, for decades, Bandai Namco paid GCC for licensing and controlled everything else. Now, AtGames (already a competitor that worked with Sega at the time they were gaining the rights) wants to compete with Bandai Namco by using a shared property, and make money on the side from whatever Ms. Pac-Man royalties they are owed by Bandai Namco.

This was settled out of court, but it looks like Namco isn’t pleased. Following a tip by Junko Jakuzure, Madlittlepixel (the person buying the court documents and making them available online) found that while the companies are still at odds, Bandai Namco released Pac-Man Museum+ with Pac-Man hanging around a new leading lady. Madlittlepixel and EuroGamer refer to the Pac-person donning pink accessories as ‘Pac-Mom.’ She could be Pac-Man’s new wife, old wife, mother, or someone else?

We have no idea and aren’t likely to get answers, considering the ongoing issues within the companies. It appears that Bandai Namco would rather destroy a fictional marriage than pay AtGames a penny for her appearance in this 14-pack retrospective collection of Pac-Man games or, possibly, any future games.

(via Twitter and ArsTechnica, featured image: Netflix)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.