Kids today! With your colored pixels, your moving objects, your talking characters and your fancy multi-button controllers… you don’t know how spoiled you are, do you? Oh, sure, you’ve read about the early days of gaming. You’ve emulated the Atari and NES. You’ve laughed at a Pac-Man reference, or worn an ironic Pong t-shirt.
But unless you were a gamer in the primitive age of the text adventure, you don’t really know. You can’t. You’ve never had to play on a machine with less technology than a fast food drive-thru. You’ve never had to switch floppy disks to continue a 200 kilobyte adventure. You’ve never had to navigate an entire world using only a keyboard – no mouse! – or type out “look” and “examine” just to get a vague idea of what the hell is happening around you.
And you’ve never had to accept THIS as a sex symbol:
We’re not joking. That thing – from 1980’s Mystery House – is supposed to be a woman. Hey, at least she’s made out of lines and shapes! Two to three decades ago, such advancements were considered a high-tech luxury, and more often, gamers were forced to create characters – including female love interests – within the dark and desperate recesses of their imaginations.
Could you have survived? Would you have been “geek” enough to make do with nouns and adjectives instead of skin textures and boob physics? Read on as we dust off seven supposedly sexy examples.
One of the most famous text adventure games of all time. Based on one of the most popular novels of all time. Starring one of the geek universe’s most beloved heroines of all time, Tricia “Trillian” McMillan. To give you some perspective, here is how she is drolly described in the book: “A slim, darkish humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little knob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes.”
And here are the actresses who portrayed her on television and in film:
Surely, then, with the entire English language at their disposal, the developers of this text adventure version could dream up something comparable. Surely, with Hitchhiker’s original author Douglas Adams on the design team, they could find the right words to stroke a million eager gamers’ fantasies… or at least stroke their funny bones. Surely, they could do better than:
Above: Get used to screens that look like this
Alright, alright, so the majority of text adventure descriptions didn’t leave that much up to the player’s imagination. Some were quite mature, in fact. How about a game that was named after a William Wordsworth poem? How about A Mind Forever Voyaging, the serious-minded political thriller in which a sentient artificial intelligence runs government-sponsored computer simulations that determine the best domestic policy for the United States of North America (which now includes Canada)?
Why, that sounds incredibly, overwhelmingly adult. Just wait until you meet your new simulated wife, Jill!
See? “Beautiful.” Now we’re getting somewhere. If you were a male gamer back in 1985, you knew exactly what to type next…
Damn you, storytelling!
Are you still with us? Has the lack of color and movement scared you away yet? Shall we try another?
The Witness shows potential. It’s a murder mystery, it takes place on the eve of World War II and it stars a hard-boiled male detective. Legally, this game is required to include a sexy femme fatale. For context, here are some famous examples:
Sure enough, when millionaire Freeman Linder is killed, the culprit is revealed as his young and sultry daughter, Monica. Let’s take a “look”!
Ohhhhhh yeah. We don’t know about you, but this description won us over at “effective make-up.” Then they go and throw in a navy Rayon blouse and tan slacks? Goddamn. At that point, the Cuban heels are almost too much. Sensual overload.
Dialing down our dry sarcasm machine for a moment, though, you have to admire the difference in priorities back then. The screen above reads like a book, with attention paid to small, character-building details rather than to exactly how much bare flesh can be flashed before the ESRB gets flustered. Seriously, can you imagine any recent heroines getting away with slacks?
Not all text adventures were so highbrow and conservative, we assure you. Many ‘80s game designers were just as obsessed with skin and sex as their ‘90s and ‘00s counterparts, if not more so. But without the benefit of graphics, how well do you think their erotic efforts turned out?
Next: Two games with the word “porn” right in their titles – promise!