Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"There are some who call me… Tim"

Memory can be a cruel mistress sometimes. She can convince you that night is day and black is white, hide your hotel on drunken nights in foreign cities, and make you inappropriately confident that the capital city of Canada is Vancouver at trivia nights. Being vain and self-important I find it is important to back up my increasingly unreliable memory with displays of persuasive bullshitting. This, I naively believe, perpetuates confidence amongst my peers that I have a vague idea about what is going on in the world… which I clearly do not.

A recent example was based around my outwardly firm conviction that I knew the names of the ghosts in Pacman. I did know that one of them was called Inky, and the others variations thereof (Blinky? Stinky?) but for some reason had got it into my head that, unlikely as it may seem, one of the ghosts was rather quaintly called Tim.

Whilst I had by doubts that such a thing could actually be true, I spoke of Tim to all and sundry with great confidence and gusto to a point where, despite any compelling evidence either way, his unlikely existence pretty much became fact. Mrs Custard and I even reached the point of referring to all ghosts as ‘Tim’ as a kind of shorthand, in the same way that – thanks to Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz - all vampires are now ‘Draculas.’

And yet I couldn’t escape a nagging thought in my head that maybe, indeed probably, I was wrong. What if I was basing my ‘fact’ on a casual glance at a freshly reset High Score chart - one where Inky, Blinky and Co reigned supreme, but someone called Tim had chalked up a fairly creditable fourth spot? Was I putting myself, Mrs Custard and those I had confidently spouted off about Tim to at risk of ridicule at the hands of an over-zealous 80s gaming nerd just because I didn't want to admit that I might have made it up?

We may live in an age where search engines offer an answer to everything (to the point where there is even a site called but I had resisted verifying my Tim theory on the internet on the basis that I didn't know what to do if it wasn't true. In my heart of hearts even I found it improbable that the spookiest name the programmers could come up with to scare the willies off Pacman was Timothy. But I needed to know, so just-fucking-google-it I did.

At first it seemed that I was right about being wrong. A casual search for Pacman’s phantom nemeses revealed Blinky (a red ghost), Inky (blue/cyan), Pinky (go on, have a guess) and – seemingly confirming my fears - their little orange compadre, Clyde. ‘Bugger’, said I. Ignoring the fact that Clyde is just as ridiculous a name as Tim considering Inky, Pinky and Blinky’s matching monikers, I still felt decidedly foolish for propagating the idea of a fantomas with a plummy Home Counties’ bent.

Hugs and kisses then to DS Cohen (‘professional writer, video game historian and gaming industry professional’) for restoring my faith in my undeserving memory and for proving that when it comes to trivia, even the most unlikely of facts can be true. Cohen’s
Classic Video Games blog recounts the full history of Pacman and all its incarnations, including Ms Pacman and, crucially, Junior Pacman (who knew?!)

For those who are interested, it would seem that whilst Blinky and Co were ever-presents in Pacworld from the original 1980 arcade version onwards, young Clyde suffered from multiple personality and gender identity disorders over the years. By 1981’s Ms Pacman (in which our eponymous hero stuck a digital bow in his hair and - Lou Reed-style - he was a she) our friend Clyde had become Sue; still resplendent in orange but no doubt with far more interesting underwear under his/her cloak.

Two years and five well-milked incarnations later, step forward Jr Pacman (1983) – the whirly propeller-hatted son of Mr and Ms Pacman who carries the pill-munching action outside of the traditional four walls of the maze. Blinky, Inky and Pinky return – but this time Sue is gone replaced by – you guessed it – Tim! Cohen notes that young Tim didn’t last long; his transgender tendencies clearly got the better of him and by 1987 he was back again as Sue. Still, however fleeting it might have been there was a Tim, and my Swiss cheese memory feels slightly less holey than it once did.

Thinking again about Tim I wonder whether there is a lesson for me to learn from this story. Even though he turned out to be real, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t lying about his existence. I never really believed in Tim, but that didn’t stop me trying to get other people to believe, mostly because I thought it was a cute little story. Really I just got lucky; my drunken memory turned out to be more accurate than I deserved. If there is a moral I think it boils down to this: there are fibbers and there are fibbers and some of the fibbers get found out and others fibber live to fib another day. In Pacman terms I lost a life but got an extra man for finishing the level. For that dear Timothy - nee Clyde, now Sue - I thank you. May your 8-bit memory live on better than mine…

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