Wot I Think: 1996 Electronic Dream Phone

By Cara Ellison on August 26th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Oh god. This is going to take considerable amounts of wine.

So there’s this bit in Gone Home, in your younger sister’s closet, where you find a copy of a game called “Got Your Number!” It’s based on a real world game called Electronic Dream Phone. No, it really is. Cara found a copy. And played it. For science.

Dear diary: today I played 1996 Electronic Dream Phone for 1-4 players with some friends and some older guy who let us use his living room! It was like, super fetch (note to self: is ‘fetch’ happening?). It’s a game sort of a like a shit Cluedo, only instead of murderers there are twenty four boys and no weapons. Diary, who made this game? ED KEY????!!! Unless you count the Electronic Dream Phone itself as a weapon, which I have been considering, and I think I could probably bludgeon a small mammal to death with it if I needed to.

The idea is that you get three boys in your hand (eyooo!) and then you take turns to call them individually on the Phone, picking up extra boys as you discard the last ones. The boys on the phone give you a clue as to which boys do not fancy you. There is only one guy who fancies all of the ‘players’. It is a process of elimination to find out who this slutly stud is. The first person to guess correctly and call the guy in question wins. I played this game on two different occasions and on both the phone’s technology was too primitive to let us finish the game. Sniff. Technology.

Each region of the board has our heroes getting up to different japes in different areas of the town

Each player is dealt three boycards out of a pack of 24. You should always have three boys in your hand at all times, so as you use them up you pick up more, like in life. On the cards are boys who are 90s cute, in the way that say, Aaron Carter was 90s cute. The cards show a range of diverse boytypes that completely do not match the age or ethnicity of the boys on the board that are supposed to represent them. Part of this seems to be that the game has been localised for British use: I think I recognise Tony as a British soap actor, but I can’t place his name or which soap. This raises the important question of whether there is a British standard of attractiveness: would British Dream Phone players not go for American Tony? Or was this Tony in the original game? The food names have also been localised: there are ‘biscuits’ instead of cookies, ‘sweets’ instead of Pick ‘n’ Mix (both of which Brits can also use the US terms for). I emailed Hasbro to ask them about where the lovely boys of Dream Phone are now, and about the localisation of it because I thought it would be an interesting interview. They haven’t got back to me which makes me sad. It is an old game, though. It was first published back in 1991. You can read the full instructions here.

But muuuuuuuuuuuum

You also get three Special Cards: a ‘Mum says hang up’ card that you can play when someone is dialling on their turn so they have to miss their go; a ‘Share A Secret’ card you can play before someone’s turn, so that you can press redial and listen to their clue; and a ‘Speakerphone’ card to force someone to dial a crush on speakerphone so everyone can hear his gossip. The Share A Secret card is passed to the person you played it on; the other Specials are discarded. The cards themselves lend the only real interest in the game, since it’s usually quite a boring ‘pass the phone’ affair, so the moment you play your hang up card there’s a giant BOOOO and everyone throws stuff at you. Likewise, if you play ‘Share A Secret’ and the boy in question says ‘I know who it is but I’m not telling’, you’ve wasted a card and you feel like you want to smash the lovely pink Dream Phone into a lovely pink crispy pancake.

To record your turn you are given a little slip of paper, like in Cluedo (‘Clue’ for you Americans). You tick off each boy you have called, and eliminate the boys who don’t fancy you by working out from the board’s pictures where they hang out, what sports they like, what he’s wearing or what he’s eating. This admittedly has a slight voyeuristic pleasure to it: it’s like you’re teen boyspotting in a cafe.

Dreamphone is very exciting

DIARY: The Dream Phone is so high tech!!!!!! And it is pink!!!!!! <3 <3 <3

How it works is this: you play a card, announce you’re calling a boy. Say: “I’m calling Tony”, for example. Anyone can play one of their Special Cards at this moment. Unless the Eighties-haired mum tells you otherwise, you slot the card into the really quite exciting pink phone and dial the number on the ‘display’ (high tech cardboard). A South African Microsoft Sam voice will speakerphone something like ‘He lucks kool in whiteva he weaz’ before segueing into a secret message only the dialler will hear in their ear. This could be something like ‘He’s nut wearing green’.

You then look (secretly) at who is wearing green on the board, and score out on your slip of paper the boys that are wearing green. You pass the phone around until one person thinks they know who the boy that fancies everyone is. Then that person presses hash and dials the number of the boy they’re guessing. If you’re very patient throughout this tedious process, the boy will eventually say to the astute dialler ‘Yus, I do like yew.’ You then celebrate your newfound compulsory heterosexuality by experiencing massive anti-climax (get used to it) and putting all the stock photographs of boys back in the box. Or if you are me and you are too old for this you feel a bit uncomfortable that at least two of the boys on the cards look forty and wizened by a long prison sentence.

I first played this game with four teams of two women, which I think is the ideal way to play this: it’s a repetitive and boring game at its heart – the game mechanics are neither interesting nor surprising in any way. It’s just a rote elimination, like Guess Who crossed with Cluedo, and the novelty is a phone that can only do one very odd electronic voice.

The giggling and general chatter you can have over Dream Phone is the real reason that you’d ever get it out of the box. The phone is a broken piece of equipment: even if it functions as it should do, it’s finicky. My friend Keza ruined our first game by banging the phone down on the board and it accidentally hit the reset button – our game was gone forever. (It’s okay though, we strung Keza up Lord of the Flies style over a campfire and ate her entrails.)

Our second game was with four players in total. We played for just over an hour and a half until we chatted too much, and after fifteen minutes of no activity, the phone reset the game, again leaving us without a winner. We looked at our paper together and, through an unlikely process of Women Work Together deduced that the boy who liked us all was in fact Gary. There was no point in calling Gary by that point. Gary would have moved on. Sob.

Helping me on this night was omigosh my best friend at school and she SINGS IN A BAND and one time she told me she can USE A COMPUTER: Kerry Turner.

Kerry is very perturbed by this boy news

Also on hand was ex-1UP Associate Previews Editor Alice Liang, who told me she once played a VIDEOGAME!

We probably should have moved the wine bottles out of shot

“Bit odd for me to play a halfassedly localized US-to-UK game… it was like taking a step back into an alternate past, one where robotic-voiced boys looked good in whatever they wore, and hung around the beach with neon paint sprayed all over their sunglasses lenses…..and they can change race at will. I mean it’s like sort of sci-fi 90s: so imagine it’s like some sort of really poor movie script. Girl goes back into past, goes to alternate history past, people are all robots and can change race and do really weird things… the girl’s mission is to go back and Nancy Drew herself a boyfriend but then fails ultimately because she accidentally had a bit of a long chat with someone along the way…”

And some brunette guy whose house we were in played too.

Iestyn is a poser but he let us use his flat so

“It made me glad I’m not a girl… If that’s the kind of games girls play”

I don't know what I am doing with this phone but it doesn't look right

To play this game is to reach back into a sentimental era in which my mother would not buy me very many of the associated frivolities of girlhood: she reluctantly bought me a Barbie one Christmas, Malibu Barbie, whose painful figure, huge eyes and deep tan to this day I ache to fulfil but never can.

Dream Phone is a guilty indulgence.

The cleverest thing about Dream Phone is not its actual system of play: it really is as boring as I make out. Dream Phone says something else to me: it has a second level of entirely semantic play, which is that you are ‘playing’ at being a girl. It’s an instructional as to what your teen interests should be: phones (chatting, of course) and bickering over boys. This system is a real life obstacle course; it is complex and it’s hard to transmit to those who have never been brought up or socialised as a girl. The reason you’d pick up this game is to roleplay at being a girl, which is a thing that no one, even the very feminine girls, ever entirely win at. That means that as adult women, the act of playing this game is admitting to yourself that your childhood was a game, albeit one with (at the time) severe consequences, such as being excluded by your friends, or being shunned by boys.

The reluctance to give me feminine-coded toys speaks to the wise ways of my mother, I think: she perceived that such toys might have an impact on my already well-developed inferiority complex (I was a femme-hating misogynist, terrified of looking at myself in the mirror), and instead opted to buy me a sturdy beige Fisher Price tape recorder and a series of Terry Pratchett novels read by Tony Robinson. This gave me a mischievous sense of humour, a meandering imagination, and a demeanour that was halfway between the characters Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.

But I was never given many of the pink plastic-moulded things I would press my nose against a window for. This includes Dream Phone, a game that seemed so advanced in its technology, and so exotic in its focus on boys (how naughty!). But as I pick up the cards now as a fully grown adult, in the sort of tipsy glee that is necessary to even open the box, I glimpse that if I’d played it when I was younger I would have been made aware that girls are supposed to aim for relationships. What boys think of you feels more important than what you think of yourself. Even Dream Phone’s act of competing against other girls for the same boy: it’s a painful reminder that girls are asked to gouge each other’s eyes out just for the chance to feel a male gaze, whilst boys are supposed to run just as feverishly down a lonely career path, watching women break each other mentally and watching women’s magazines draw circles around what they make out as terrible body faux pas’. This is the construct we are all asked to interact with, even if you aren’t heterosexual or remotely interested in Heat Magazine.

If I didn’t already hate ‘femininity’ when I was a kid, I wonder if this game would have made me hate it. It is, as Yez insinuates, terrible. Playing at being a girl is only fun when you’ve left it far behind.

APART FROM THE NETWORK OF LOVE amirite

Anyway, the only cute boy in the game was Richard and he turned out to be a total douche: ‘I know hew it es, bit I’m nit telling’.

You can find a vintage MB Games Electronic Dream Phone on Ebay, if you are lucky.

There’s a new version of this game out by Ideal, which I haven’t played yet, but which I intend to buy. You can find it here for £20 (which does seem steep now I’ve played the vintage version).

Dear Diary: The game states you can play Dream Phone solo. Imagine. Cold calling 24 boys. Who would do that?

She slings Electronic Dream Phone over her shoulder, tosses her hair, and leaves for home, thinking of a large pink electronic device.

__________________

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174 Comments »

  1. cptgone says:

    looks much better than previous Windows phones.
    good to see Microsoft revitalised by the imminent retirement of Steve Ballmer!

  2. YogSo says:

    It’s a game sort of a like a shit Cluedo

    More shit than Cluedo? Is that even possible?

    Edit: I read the rest of the article. Yes, yes it is possible… o_O

    Very good read, Cara. Funny and thought-provoking.

  3. Ian says:

    C’mon, Cara. If you’re not going to give it a score you could at least tell us how many graphics it has.

  4. gunny1993 says:

    I feel a modern version with Facebook and restraining orders would be much more fun.

  5. robotco says:

    what’s cluedo?

  6. RaoulDuke says:

    Seeing the box in the first image of this post brought back strange and horrible memories. I think I may have owned this…

    P.S:- I *do* have a 4 years-senior sister so let’s hope that’s the reason.

    P.P.S:- This isn’t a joke. I am slightly distressed by this revelation.

    • Triplanetary says:

      My sister DID have this. I remember it vividly.

    • Amun says:

      I’m just glad my psyche wasn’t at all damaged by my He-Man action figures. Of course, I break into tears whenever I look in the mirror and see that my deltoids aren’t the size of beach balls, but that’s natural. Right?

  7. OrangyTang says:

    I eagerly await the Wot I Think for Electronic Dream Phone 2014.

    Not sure how they’d reimagine it for modern times. – possibly some kind of grimdark reboot?

  8. PoulWrist says:

    James from AVGN did a video on it at his cinemassacre sitr

    • Renato Costa says:

      Came here to comment the same thing. The AVGN Dream Phone Video is just pure crazyness in the end, well worth a watch!

    • thecat17 says:

      Link. And one from the Tubes of You.

      I got a game!
      [sound of dangerously hefty box that can crush small children being pulled from offscreen]
      Dream Phone!

      [...]
      Are you kidding me?

      But this is a girl’s game!
      This is for, a little, girl.

      Ahhhhh it’s a bunch of hogwash. You guys are a bunch of wiseacres, huh? This is a great game trust me on this trust meeeeee

      And soon after, things take a turn for the horrible.

  9. RedViv says:

    There were two packs of this game in our local store, one in the store itself and one in the window. Needless to say, one kept neat and tidy and got a bit worn down due to being moved from shelf to shelf every now and then, while the other I think saw the rise and fall of at least thirteen civilisations of dust people happen on it. Firmly in the hands of its Games Workshop denizens, this store was. None of the fairer sex ventured in there, at least not for themselves, except for one weird little monkey girl. But she didn’t really count, and as it turned out would not even with that weird pink phone game have cared much about what boys think of her anyway.

  10. Niko says:

    TORI AMOS ON RPS? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS IT DEBASES MY MASCULINITY ASFKSKFGAIDBMIT

  11. DiamondDog says:

    Finally, RPS and my music interests collide so that I can post this!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXeBZ-UnZ4w

  12. lordcooper says:

    “a demeanour that was halfway between the characters Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg”

    And now I fear you.

  13. Tei says:

    This looks like something the Vanu would play.

  14. thedosbox says:

    “Dear Diary: The game states you can play Dream Phone solo. Imagine. Cold calling 24 boys. Who would do that?”

    Try living somewhere during a hotly contested election in your constituency/district/riding.

    What?

  15. Amnesiac says:

    My sister owned this game.

    Oh the horror. I thought I was over this…

  16. nebnebben says:

    You have a truly wise mother to give you the wonders of Terry Pratchett. I must have read every book in the series at least 3 times.

  17. PopeRatzo says:

    Do you think we can get John Walker’s take on this game? I’d like to get his opinion before I spend the money.

  18. gunny1993 says:

    I notice you got the Tony Robinson Pratchett audiobooks ……

    ABRIDGED CASUAL

    • nebnebben says:

      They’re not as good as the actual books but they are useful if you can’t turn pages for whatever reason.

      • LukeNukem says:

        The problem is not with the audiobooks themselves, the problem is with the Tony Robinson versions which are abridged and thus do not contain the full mastery of Sir Pratchett

      • gunny1993 says:

        Or get the ones read by Stephen Briggs, which are unabridged (although I admit they are pricy as hell at RRP)

        • tigerfort says:

          Personally, I think Lord Vetinari reads them better than Baldrick did anyway. The unabridgedness is a very nice bonus, though.

      • Bishop says:

        I perfer audio books because it’s faster than reading for me. I don’t mean because it’s abridged, for I suffer life crippling dyslexia and it takes longer to parse words to thoughts than sounds to thoughts.

  19. Grayman says:

    giraffe
    giraffe
    giraffe

  20. kwyjibo says:

    This is the secret inspiration behind Hotline Miami.

  21. Bluerps says:

    What a shame. I liked Ms MacDonald.

    Anyway. Great article, as always.

  22. BTAxis says:

    Cara’s PC is pink?

  23. radian says:

    That beige tape recorder was the best.

  24. Moni says:

    I’ve been trying to make ‘Fletch’ happen, because references to fetch happening lead to references to Chevy Chase making ‘streets ahead’ happen.

  25. The Ultimate Clone of The Ultimate Warrior says:

    THE WARRIOR WOULD APPROVE +10 BUT THEN HE’D GET COOTIES! UNACCEPTABLE!

  26. <]:^D says:

    Laughed out loud at the South African Microsoft Sam voices. Great article.

  27. DrScuttles says:

    Phones, chatting, bickering and boys? This game sounds like a very special Hell.

    • gunny1993 says:

      It’s was originally going to be in the Divine Comedy, but it was considered too evil for the time.

      • DrScuttles says:

        I said: ‘Master, who are these people
        Who, buried inside these boxes, make themselves heard
        In these agonised sighs?’

        And he replied: ‘Here are the arch-heretics,
        With their followers, of every sect, and many more
        Than you imagine, are crammed into these tombs.

        Those of the same kind are buried together,
        Some monuments are hot and some are hotter.’
        And then, when we had made a turn to the right,

        We passed between these tortures and the battlements.
        Inferno: Canto IX

        My interpretation may be off, but it reads like Dream Phone made it in after all.

  28. Lemming says:

    haha My gf and her sisters are adamant this game is hilarious (although they played the ’91 version I think. A blue phone?). I’ve got some mates really into hardcore boardgames and I’ve been very tempted to give one of them this for a birthday present just to see the reaction…and of course we’d all play it.

    Also, that last screen caption made me guffaw into my pancakes

  29. db1331 says:

    I knew this was a Cara article the moment I saw the picture on the main page. Is that sexist?

    • Dozer says:

      I knew it was a Cara article as soon as I saw the image on the front page, because it had “by Cara Ellison” written just above it.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I consulted with the Grand Council of Wise Ones, who sent me on a quest to retrieve the Seeing Eye, which grants the holder unimaginable foresight via the Dark Planes, which is how I knew it was a Cara article.

        • tigerfort says:

          I did all that twice, uphill (both ways), in the snow. (Which allowed me to know Cara had written the article before it was even published.)

  30. engion3 says:

    This game ain’t got nothing on Pretty Pretty Princess. I destroyed my sister and her friends in that game on the daily.

  31. Jack Mack says:

    A terrifying journey into the heart of Pinkness.

  32. ecat says:

    TORI AMOS !
    That video must have won an award for something? Shirley? That poor carrot: four months growing in shit only to end its days as a metaphor.

    Sorry, not very games related.
    Err. WONKERS !
    Better?
    I’d happily live out the rest of my days as one of Tori’s Wonkers.

    Anyway. Good to see someone tackling sexism and stereotyping in games other than those played on computer. Who would have thought such abhorrent things existed?

  33. Shieldmaiden says:

    Cara, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!

  34. Gap Gen says:

    OK, so the moral of the story is to date the one person who happens to have zero standards and will go out with anything with a pulse. Gotcha.

    EDIT: Wait, looking at the manual, none of these Boys are at home. This isn’t just calling Boys, you are pioneers of the Information Age, stabbing sweaty teen fingers against glistening space-age technology, devices meant previously only for business wannabes with greasy hair and no self-awareness.

    • Jack Mack says:

      GUIDE TO GAME DATES

      1. Ring every boy. Hurry! Every other girl had the same idea.
      2. Efficiency is key. Every day you spend outside the bar is +5 charisma down the drain.
      3. Money converts into gifts, which convert into love. Know the exchange rate!
      4. Your lovers body is a ticking time bomb. Fondling body parts in the incorrect sequence will be deadly. Failing to fondle a body part will be deadly. REMAIN CALM. Your lover can smell fear.

  35. Vernalagnia says:

    I have played the dreamphone. It is amazing. It’s best experienced as a room full of sleep deprived/drunk college students of varying genders at nine in the morning.

    Cara, I look forward to your next review: I suggest the also fantastic 90s game “Careers for Girls”

  36. Mihkel says:

    maximum hipster

  37. Don Reba says:

    Can you find the commenter who fancies everyone?
    Hint: he is wearing a hat.

  38. bstard says:

    Woo that was weird. Reading the manual, I cant seem to find out what the function of those empty bottles of wine is.

  39. Lacero says:

    Wait, is it in game fiction that this one guy likes everyone? Or is it presented as him liking YOU only but the game mechanics mean he actually does like everyone?

    I mean either way it’s really disturbing. In lots of ways. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

  40. AmyDee says:

    My first time playing Dream Phone was in high school. At the time I was a vocal feminist and misandrist. I was also pre-transition and only spoke of my actual gender in terms of jokes and other socially-acceptable cop-outs. I played the game with my girlfriend at the time. We both often “joked” about having a lesbian relationship. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t actually a joke.) For me there was an added layer of enforced identity in addition to compulsive heterosexuality, a layer that tried to tell me I don’t belong.

    Playing this game fell into a category of experience common to girls like me, that can be hard to describe. It’s a combination of repugnant politics and unintended validation. Other examples include getting cat-called for the first time and being called a “dyke” as an insult. This game was part of my introduction to that category of experience. It was a moment simultaneously farcical and profound—the conflicted feelings you’d expect from a girl who loves the color pink but hates every negative and prescriptive stereotype society associates with it.

  41. McDan says:

    Surprised that Quinns hadn’t already reviewed this on Shut up & Sit down. thought it would be right up his alley.

  42. KDR_11k says:

    I remember being forced to play a round of this when my sister bought it (or maybe borrowed it from the library, don’t recall).

  43. Muzman says:

    Girl training isn’t a fair tag. I watched numerous American sit-coms from the 80s and 90s and I know for a fact all teenage girls do is talk on the phone about boys for hours and or fight with one another.
    This game is taking a special risk making the phone cordless, as that would enable one of the girls to take the phone away to some room in their cavernous mansion (a kind of house everyone had apparently) and dad would have to find it and it’ll lead to some hilarious misunderstanding cleverly combined with a heartfelt moment when the girl in question was thought for a time to have run away.

    They really had the rich gamut of modern life down pat in those days.

  44. Tsarcastic says:

    I just wanted to let you know I read through all of this. Which is a testament to your skills as a writer.

  45. sinister agent says:

    If only you could shoot the boys with a plasma cannon. Now that would be something.

  46. nindustrial says:

    Cara, in addition to the new version, could you please also review (to the extent these have UK analogues and/or can be found):

    Electronic Mall Madness
    Girl Talk (not the musician)

  47. Yosharian says:

    That’s quite a good Tori song, but I prefer this one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCpOAXIgF9U

    =D

  48. Baines says:

    I remember seeing this game’s commercial on TV when I was a kid. I never realized that there was just one guy who liked everyone. I figured each player had to find a different guy.

    Bonus video for anyone who doesn’t think to search YouTube for it, the US Dream Phone commercial:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVary7lyBq0

  49. hotmaildidntwork says:

    What the hell is “Pick ‘n’ Mix”?

    • JuJuCam says:

      You know at cinemas and some family oriented bowling alleys how they have like a candy buffet where you can fill a bag with sherbet bombs and an assortment of lesser treats and pay by weight? Ukayvians call that the Pick ‘n’ Mix.

      • hotmaildidntwork says:

        Ahhh, I see. I’ve only ever seen those at the grocer or in an airport, but I have run into them.

        I had taken it as some sort of alternate name for trail mix.

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