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The Memory Card .59: With knowledge comes nudity

4:00 PM on 03.26.2009 // Chad Concelmo

For concerned parents, the formation of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) and its decision to display ratings on videogame boxes must have been a huge relief. But, honestly, how much does it really work? For every videogame store employee I see turn away a young kid for trying to buy a “Mature” rated game, I see five not even thinking twice while they ring up a thirteen-year-old’s Grand Theft Auto IV purchase. But who can blame them? It’s a tough thing to monitor.

In a parent’s perfect world, there would be some kind of age verification included as part of the game. This way, no mother would have to worry about her precious little Timmy seeing something that maybe he shouldn’t see. (For the record: I would much rather let my kid play Resident Evil 5 with me than listen to anything by the Jonas Brothers -- but, again, that’s just me.)

Funny enough, one game actually attempted this in-game age verification more than twenty years ago (!). The game was Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in the Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals for the PC.

Hit the jump for, hands-down, the best attempt at keeping minors out of a very adult videogame ever.

The Set-Up

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, publisher Sierra released a string of highly successfully and truly classic adventure games for the PC. While most of these games were aimed at family audiences -- most notably the King’s Quest series -- designer Al Lowe decided to take things in a decidedly more “adult” direction and introduce the world to Leisure Suit Larry.

The Leisure Suit Larry series -- while strong adventure games at their core -- are known for their sexual-based humor and awkwardly hilarious situations. Out of the seven adventure games released between 1987 and 1996 (and, no, I am not counting the subpar collection of mini-games that is Magna Cum Laude), arguably the best game in the bunch is Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals.

Like all the incredible Sierra games of the time, Leisure Suit Larry III is a graphical adventure game. While controlling the main character as he moves from screen to screen, players are required to type in commands on the keyboard that usually contain a verb and a noun. For example, if you want your character to open a drawer you would walk said character next to a desk and type in “open drawer.” Simple as that!

Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in the Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals takes place a few years after the previous game in the series. In the game, you play as white leisure suit clad hero Larry Laffer.

At the end of LLLII, Larry met and married a beautiful woman named Kalalua on the tropical island of Nontoonyt. As Leisure Suit Larry III begins, Larry’s seemingly wonderful marriage comes to an abrupt end when Kalalua kicks him out of the house and leaves him for another woman.

Saddened by the news, Larry decides to once again set off on a quest to find true love.

This adventure eventually leads Larry into the life of Passionate Patti, a jazz pianist in a local hotel. Once meeting her, Larry instantly falls in love.

At this point in the game -- after Larry accidentally becomes lost in a maze-like forest of bamboo shoots -- the player takes control of Passionate Patti as she heads out on a search to rescue the unlikely man of her dreams.

But this is the entire plot in a nutshell. This week’s moment actually occurs before any actual gameplay begins: right after the title screen.

The Moment

Once booting up Leisure Larry III from the DOS menu (ah, the memories), the title screen appears accompanied by one of the catchiest theme songs in videogame history. After hitting “Enter” (again ... the memories), an on-screen prompt displays a warning for the player:

Wanting to obviously try out the game even more after reading this, you, the player, click on the next screen.

After confirming you want to play one last time, a new window pops up:

The choices are “Under 12”, “13 to 17”, “18 to 25”, and “Over 25.”

One cool thing this game does: If you are not old enough to play, it doesn’t lock you out completely. Instead, all of the nudity in the game is completely censored. Take the below (scandalous) image, for instance:

If you are younger than 18, the female character that Larry is spying on through the binoculars pulls the shades down all the way to the bottom before getting completely naked. If you are not old enough, you don’t get to see the naughty bits the game has to offer.

But it’s easy to lie and just say you are old enough, right?

This is where the game tries something brilliant that had never been done before in any other videogame.

Once you select an age range, the game takes you to a new screen: one showing an image of a Nontoonyt postcard displaying a woman in a bathing suit sitting on a rock.

At this point you are asked five trivia questions based on how old you said you were when asked.

If you chose “18 to 25” you are asked questions (mostly of the pop-culture variety) that someone of your age would know the answers to. The game was released in 1989, so the questions in this case would focus on things someone who was born around 1968 would know.

Here are a couple of examples:

Obviously these questions are easy, but there are many in the mix that are pretty darn difficult, especially for someone who didn’t grow up during the time.

After answering all five questions the game let’s you know how many you got correct. Answer them all and you are treated to the games “raunchiest” level -- all nudity, all the time. The more you get wrong, however, the more that is censored.

In the example I mentioned earlier, this would mean the girl in the window would pull down the shades just a little farther depending on how many questions were missed.

Once the quiz is complete and the vulgarity level has been determined, the game starts and Larry starts his quest to find the love of his life.

You can watch the opening of the game, followed by the amazing age verification questions, right here (the questions start at about 2:42):

The Impact

I know, I know: If something like this was implemented in games nowadays it could easily be beaten by using this magical thing we call the Internet -- obviously every child in our modern society knows how to use Google Search. But that doesn’t mean the sheer cleverness of it all should be ignored.

At the time, this was an ingenious technique for keeping young players away from the very adult antics of Leisure Suit Larry.

And I am the perfect example of this!

While I won’t tell you exactly how old I was, let’s just say I was between 13 and 15 when Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals came out (yes, I know: I am old). Being a fan of the previous games in the series (the ones sans age verification), I couldn’t wait to get my perverted little hands on LLLIII.

Needless to say, I was surprised to see that not only would I have to tackle a series of questions to play the game with all the nudity, but I would have to answer all five correct. Argh!

To make a long story short, I had a lot of trouble with at least one or two questions even when I would restart (the questions are different every time) and never got to experience the game the way it was meant to be played until I was a little older. So, there you go: I was proof positive that the feature worked!

Regardless of the frustration I felt at the time, looking back, this is a pretty amazing idea. The concept of working age verification into the actual game is completely unique! Years ago, a lot of PC games would include some kind of copyright test in the form of a password you had to enter at some point in the game by using the manual that came in the box, but this was different. Regardless of whether you bought the game and owned the manual or not, if you weren’t old enough to answer the questions you didn’t get to play the adult version of the game. Simple as that!

Even more, the fact that the game can be played on five different levels of “raunchiness” is surprisingly deep and something I would love to see carried over in some of today’s games. Can you imagine playing a highly censored version of Grand Theft Auto IV? It would be a hoot to experience and would be welcomed with open arms by some of those overly paranoid parents out there.

As I mentioned earlier, this specific feature obviously would not work in the Google world we live in today, but I would love to see videogame designers try something similar to this. It’s not that I am for heavy censorship by any means; I just love to see smart videogame ideas implemented in creative, fun, original ways.

Instead of slapping a useless “M” on the front of the next God of War, how about asking the player “Who won an Oscar for portraying Roman general Maximus Meridius in the 2000 film Gladiator?” I doubt a 12-year-old would know the answer to that.

And if he does, hey, good for him! Your prize for being awesome is a threesome mini-game and a gratuitous amount of violence! Congrats!

With rewards like that, learning will always be fun!

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 - .20 (Season 1)
.21 - .40 (Season 2)
.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)
.42: Pyramid Head! (Silent Hill 2)
.43: Waiting for Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)
.44: Solid vs. Liquid (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.45: The birth of the cutscene (Ninja Gaiden)
.46: Insult swordfighting (The Secret of Monkey Island)
.47: A castle stuck in time (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.48: 'That's the magic flute!' (The Wizard)
.49: Saving Santa (Secret of Mana)
.50: A shocking loss (Half-Life 2: Episode Two)
.51: The flying cow (Earthworm Jim)
.52: Blind the Thief (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)
.53: The nuclear blast (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
.54: Microwaving the hamster (Maniac Mansion)
.55: The fate of Lucca's mother (Chrono Trigger)
.56: A fiery demise? (Portal)
.57: Jade's moment of silence (Beyond Good & Evil)
.58: The Great Mighty Poo (Conker's Bad Fur Day)

Chad Concelmo,
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