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 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.
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.
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.
Also on hand was ex-1UP Associate Previews Editor Alice Liang, who told me she once played a VIDEOGAME!
“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.
“It made me glad I’m not a girl… If that’s the kind of games girls play”
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.
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.