Power of Laughter

Power of Laughter
Hey Baby, What's Your Sign?

Ronald Meeus | 29 Apr 2008 12:06
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For a 15-year-old Belgian high school freshman in 1988, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to get a 40-year-old American software salesman laid.

My parents had bought me a Commodore Amiga a year earlier, considering that "there could be a future in this computer stuff," and figuring I would use it to learn computer programming or other future-related skills. But I had way better things to do with the machine, like diving into a universe of pixellated softraunch, bondage, forced marriages in wedding parlors, "censored" bars that humped to the cadence of the fornication they were supposed to suppress and Spanish Fly abuse.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was the first mainstream videogame (and one of the only ones) with sex as one of its core themes. It's still a curiosity, because even to this day, sex is grossly underrepresented in videogames. Under the American ESRB code, about 250 videogames between 1994 and the present were afforded an M rating due to their sexual content. The same rating was given to more than 1,000 games because of violent subject matter.

But, according to creator Al Lowe, claiming the game is about sex really doesn't do it justice. "The erotic content in Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was just a vehicle to sell the more important part: the humor," he says. "That was the only way to do it right. If you attempt to take sex seriously in a videogame, it ends up looking laughable anyway."

By the time the first Leisure Suit Larry came to market, Lowe, a music teacher who took up computer programming in the early '80s and joined game development firm Sierra by selling them three games he made for the Apple II computer, had already worked on some of Sierra's early "sandbox-style" adventure games, like King's Quest III and Police Quest, before he began developing Larry. Those earlier Sierra games had the same sense of humor as the Leisure Suit Larry series: brisk, unexpected, situational gags, with references to other works of popular culture and sometimes a touch of the cheesy or weird.

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With Land of the Lounge Lizards, the double entendre-spewing Larry Laffer embarked on a decade-spanning career, in which he appeared in six adventure games. After losing his virginity and finding love in the first title, the character returned in 1988's Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), in which sex definitely played second fiddle to story and humor: The lovesick Larry ends up in the middle of a conspiracy involving KGB agents and an evil scientist, and is only awarded a quickie after he saved the day. Subsequent Larry episodes made more or less the same yo-yo move as the first two: "Real" sexual content returned in Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals, but almost completely disappeared again in Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work and Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!, only to come back in full force with the much more risqué Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail. (A fourth game was never made but often referred to in other Larry adventures.)

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