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Lo-Fi Let's Play 19: Emmanuelle, A Game of Eroticism

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I’ve been doing a series of Let’s Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era and beyond. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones.

The 1980s gave us a smattering of cartoonish, often crude graphical sex games — almost as if the player, assumed to be a “he”, were himself the butt of a joke for even questing for sexual stimulation from a computer in the first place. This excellent Atlantic piece about The Softporn Adventure, widely considered the first erotic game, describes the common tone the game set: it’s a “gawkiness”, a car accident of earnestness and chauvinism. As I grew up in the 80s myself, their awkward visual language is almost inseparable from the ticklish squickiness I felt whenever I accidentally brushed against that kind of sexual imagery as a kid.

For example, a friend once revealed to me in a hushed voice, half-mortified and half-thrilled, that her parents owned a video tape called “French Postcard Girls.” Meanwhile here is 1981’s French Post Cards, an ancient, grotesque set of interactive animations for the Apple II — a simple web plugin will let you ‘play.’

The same friend and I would have sleepovers where we’d wait for her parents to go to bed so we could change the channel to late-night cable channels like Cinemax and watch with giggling, dread fascination for the softcore scenes. There were many such programs, but among them was always “Emmanuelle”, a spin-off TV series based on a film based on a novel (I think), about a French woman and her friends basically going around doing whatever they wanted, and then having sex with men assertively and enthusiastically.

This Emmanuelle game is from 1989, but it feels older. The ornamental smarm of vintage computing lingers, and oddly the player is not Emmanuelle, but a man in search of Emmanuelle, plying other women around Brazil with bizarre pickup lines until they plead for lovemaking. If there’s anything to be said for my memory of those TV shows, it’s that they celebrated liberated women’s sexual agency; it’s with resignation and very little surprise I note this game does not.

Its complete nonsense approach to game design is exactly what makes it the kind of relic I perversely like, though: hunting with your tiny cupid-shaped cursor across “exotic” beaches, hotels and airports, unsure why things do or don’t work. Unsure of who you are or where you’re supposed to be going; unsure of even how to time your conversation inputs so that you at least feel in control of your conversations. Its brokenness lends it a pleasing surreality — if you wanted, you could almost pretend you’re playing a glitch poem about those confusing nights with late-night cable and our misconceptions about masculinity and adulthood and sex.

The Emmanuelle game has recently been liberated for your consumption in the Internet Archive’s substantial MS DOS library. To try it for yourself, you’ll need to wrangle one of the most forbidding copy protection systems I’ve seen in my travels, involving a massive wall of alphanumeric colums that represent colors.

The original manual text is also …quite the thing. To attain Emmanuelle, you must master the “three laws of eroticism,” each with its own corresponding statuette. These are:

3.1 THE LAWS OF EROTICISM
These laws are symbolised by three statuettes which, if you possess
them, will permit their automatic application. They relate to precise
characters in the game. These are the laws;

-the law of ASYMETRY; There must be an odd number of partners.
-the law of UNUSUAL; You must never see your partners’s face.
-the law of NUMBER; You must have multiple relations with the same
partner.

“Here we go! This sweet languishing which is traveling up my spine will make my brain boil if I don’t get myself organised right now. Let’s get a few things settled before this ambiant eroticism start takink me over,” the text advises. Later, “My natural charm and my experience with woman will come in very useful, but they won’t be enough. Only by keeping strictly to the three laws dictated by MARIO will i be able to increase my erotic potential, the only thing which could attract EMMANUELLE to me.”

Enjoy, friends. The end of this video was a surprise even to me. And for the odd selection, blame Simon Parkin, who mentioned this game in the New Yorker.

The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

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Leigh Alexander

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