Up, not North

Pac-Woman and Mr. Pac-Woman ROM hacks

January 6th, 2014

Often, male is assumed to be the “default” gender for fictional characters. For example, while trying to ensure gender balance in the geeky alphabet blocks I made for my son, I came across the fact that there is apparently official confirmation that R2-D2 has “masculine programming.” (Seriously, why does R2-D2 need to have a gender at all?!)

In her  “Ms. Male Character” video, Anita Sarkeesian examines this tendency as it applies to video games. She points out that while Pac-Man is assumed to be male without any special indicia, Ms. Pac-Man is marked as female with stereotypically feminine features. This Tumblr post illustrates the point by reversing the situation, making Pac-Woman the default and giving Mr. Pac-Woman the gender-specific features.

Inspired by this, as a little project on New Year’s Day, I modified the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man arcade ROMs to create playable versions of Pac-Woman and Mr. Pac-Woman. 

This is the only place in the original Pac-Man where the name appears.

The Pac-Man to Pac-Woman hack is simple: this is the only place where the name appears!

I can’t make the full ROMs available for legal reasons, but here are patches for your own legally-obtained ROMs (patching instructions included). If you know of an easier/better way to let others play these, please let me know! Also, if any artists out there want to make Pac-Woman and/or Mr. Pac-Woman cabinet art, get in touch and I’d seriously consider building physical cabinets for these.

Keep reading for screenshots and information on how I made the changes.

The Process

Turaco screen shot

Turaco running in DOSBox

My quick Google research only turned up very old DOS-based programs for editing Pac-Man ROMs, Turaco and its predecessor Arcade Game/Graphucs Editor (A.G.E.). Fortunately, the programs are still available to download. I was able to run them on my Mac using the free DOSBox emulator; it didn’t work initially, but some searching turned up the solution, which was to add this executable to the same directory. I used Turaco to edit the sprites and A.G.E. to edit the text.

The patches are made for bspatch, a free binary patching utility. Turaco includes patching ability, but I don’t want people to have to go to the trouble of using a DOS emulator.


Mr. Pac-Woman in action Mr. Pac-Woman title screen

§ 9 Responses to “Pac-Woman and Mr. Pac-Woman ROM hacks”

  • ragnar says:

    The awesomeness of this can not be overstated!

  • Lucika says:

    Clever :)

    I hadn’t thought about R2-D2’s gender, yet had automatically assumed the little robot was somehow masculine. (It has blue bits on it?!) Amazing how pervasive and insidious these little assumptions are.

    I think maybe child raising is one of the main arenas where you do have to deliberately rethink and reevaluate those assumptions, trying to see things from the ‘blank slate’ perspective of your child.

    • LeoCeballos says:

      To be fair, C-3PO consistently uses male pronouns to refer to R2-D2 (When Luke remarks that R2 will get him in a lot of trouble, 3PO answers “Oh, HE excels at that”). While both droids are obviously neutral, I think its that use of language, rather than the blue bits, that makes us think of him as male.

      As to the mods, they are awesome indeed. Aside from the subverting the trope, I have to say that Mr. Pacwoman is rockin’ that to phat (And we all know bowties are cool).

  • Sylvia says:

    Dude, this is awesome. (p.s. I heard about this from a recent AfterEllen article.)

  • Sylvia says:

    This is awesome! Great article. (p.s. you were mentioned in the most recent Femenist Fridays article on AfterEllen)

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