In a brightly lit corner of Trumbull’s basement, between the pool table and the buttery, a little modernized slice of electronic history beeps and boops at pool sharks and passersby. The replica Ms. Pac-Man machine is free to play. Games like Galaga (1 and 2) and Donkey Kong pop up on the loading screen, but the headliners, the iconically hungry yellow ball and his wife, stand out at the top of the list.
On a few long winter nights last year, pushing the joystick down toward the bar stool, I guided the yellow pixels around the little maze-prison, full of points to accumulate and ghosts to outsmart. At each new path, the Pixels (2015) star munched his way down the dashed line, offering me a respite from the rest of the weeknight evening spent munching through responsibilities arranged in a dashed line in my Google calendar.
With an unshakable reliance on G-cal’s artificial memory to track classes, meetings, and sometimes social interaction, it’s easy to chew through a day, tasking away experiences as scheduled instead of spontaneous. My late-night forays into the pixelated cartoon realm were a chance to leave my own chewable to-do list for a moment, in favor of something useless. I never got the machine’s highscore, not that I was really trying, and I never scheduled my interactions with the near-futile joystick in advance.
I haven’t visited the red joystick and nineteen-eighties sound bytes in a while. For now, they lie dormant under Elm Street, waiting for someone else to do something useless.