An acquaintance of mine recently put together a list of games hacked to have playable female characters in response to this article about the erasure of female game developers hacking games to have female heroes in reporting of stories about fathers doing so for their daughters. Obviously playable female characters are a rarity even today, but in thinking about this, I was reminded of a certain company who went out of their way to give women their turn at the controller.
What’s funny about this, though, is this company made nothing but pornographic Atari 2600 games.
You might never have heard of Mystique, but you have undoubtedly heard of their most famous production, Custer’s Revenge. In it, General Custer (clothed in naught but his cowboy hat, bandana, and boots) must traverse a plain while dodging arrows in order to reach and have sex with a Native American woman tied to a pole. Pretty much everyone hated this game, if not for its misogyny, racism, etc., then for its dismal hit detection and jerky controls.
Mystique also made two other games under its “Swedish Erotica” brand (though no part of the games’ development had anything to do with Sweden). Bachelor Party was a sort of Breakout clone where you would bounce a naked man with an exaggerated erection into a field of similarly nude women. He would bounce back, flaccid, and you’d have to catch him with the paddle (explained as being Spanish Fly to regain his erection) and try to bounce him into another woman. Their other game, Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em gives the player control of two nude women who must dart around under a rooftop where a man is constantly masturbating. The women must catch his falling semen in their mouths. Basically, Kaboom! or Oil Panic, except with a porno theme.
Regardless of what they might say about women’s roles in games in the early 80’s, the games weren’t very good as far as games themselves go. Mystique was a subsidiary of Caballero Control Corporation (Caballero Home Video nowadays), one of the oldest porno studios today, in an arrangement probably not unlike Quaker Oats’ defunct videogame division, US Games. Their games handle weirdly, the hit detection is rage-inducingly bad, and the graphics are simplistic even by Atari standards. They were but three of a multitude of shitty games that glutted the market, caused consumers to become wary to purchase (Custer’s Revenge retailed for $49.99, which was even more money then than it is now), and that along with several other factors collapsed most of the videogame industry in 1983. Many game development companies went out of business between ’83 and ’85, including Mystique.
That wouldn’t be the end of their shitty Atari erotica though.
The rights to all of Mystique’s games were purchased by another company, PlayAround. And that’s where shit gets interesting.
PlayAround not only rebranded (and in some minor ways, improved) these acquired games, but took Mystique’s formula of making pornographic clones of other popular games and made several more of their own in the same vein. Then they released these games two apiece in special “double-ender” cartridges. They also made genderswapped versions of all of their games.
For every game where you were a suspiciously armorless knight trying to build a drawbridge to reach a nude princess across a moat, there was a game where you were a naked woman hanging from a helicopter, trying to lactate out a fire and rescue a naked man from being burnt to death by jungle tribeswomen (also naked) and vice versa. Cathouse Blues and Gigolo had the player as a john (or a johanna) seeking to fuck seven prostitutes of the opposite sex while avoiding the police and muggers. Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em had the roles reversed in Philly Flasher, where two men had to catch breast milk from a witch (I don’t even, man) on top of the roof. There was a Bachelorette Party, presumably for the woman marrying the Bachelor. And each double-ended cartridge featured one male game on one end and a different female game on the other.
Wikipedia and what meager other sources I can find on PlayAround state ambiguously that this decision to make genderswaps was an attempt to “try to tap into another market”. What market specifically, I cannot find. The obvious answer would be women. I would really like to believe this. I mean, it seems like a fucking stupid idea, one that anyone would know would not work, given that videogaming and porn have always was seen as male pastimes. If there were women to sell these games to (and marketing wisdom has always been that there are not), they probably wouldn’t be into a niche like porno games also. Especially given the overall attitude both feminists and more conservative women at that time had towards pornography. But one could argue that maybe PlayAround took a gamble that the assumption about a female market was wrong and it simply didn’t pay off. Bad business decisions weren’t exactly rare in those days.
The more cynical answer is that they made them for men still, and the genderswapping really doesn’t affect or change anything about the games themselves. They were just as shitty in gameplay with female protagonists as male ones. Some of them have interesting things to say about the dynamics that are at play when the gender roles are reversed. Lady in Wading flipping the script with a princess trying to rescue a knight, for instance, when princesses are usually meant to be the prize for valiance. It’s interesting too how female sexuality is presented in these games. That is, the original Mystique games were celebrations of male virility and PlayAround’s female versions do nothing to change that for their female characters. Just as with the male versions, the women are expressed as being fully sexual people and there is no judgement passed about that, although there is still plenty of tongue-in-cheek. I think it would be giving them too much credit to say that was all intentional. That would imply a level of self-awareness that I don’t really glean from the games themselves or their box art. More like they were just happy accidents that happen when you remake a game exactly save for the genders.
But I like to idealize it. Even if the games were derivative crap, even if they were all porn, it was still a conscious decision on the part of the developer to remake every single one of their games with a female player character. Not hacked by hobbyists to allow it; the company itself designed them all that way. A porno company, even. In the beginning of videogames too, more or less. In complete context, that’s wild shit, man.
And in case you are wondering, yes, they did rebrand Custer’s Revenge and there is a version where you play the Native woman and rescue/fuck Custer. Because America hated it the first time around, the two were only ever released in the PAL region. The male version, renamed much less threateningly Westward Ho!, was revised so that the woman beckons Custer over, implying her consent. They also make her skin darker. General Re-Treat puts the player in the woman’s role where she must dodge cannonballs in lieu of arrows, suggesting Custer’s captors are white instead of Native.
owate, I do even re: Philly Flasher lactating witch! See, on the cover of Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em, there’s a woman eating yellowish ice cream. I think I read somewhere that the semen in the game is colored yellow so that it could be conceived as being ice cream. I don’t know why they felt the need to do that since, you know, if you’re making a porn game, you may as well commit to it. But nonetheless, the ladies are catching “ice cream”. So that takes us back to the witch and her breast milk. What is ice cream made of, class? Frozen milk. And ice cream is colder than a witch’s tit.
Har har, geddit?