In Armchair Arcade's fun new series, we ask the provocative question, "What makes a particular videogame sexy?" Each week's feature will explore some of the many intriguing approaches game designers have taken over the years to make their games more sensual, not just with increasingly detailed graphics, but also with romantic and seductive gameplay. While some of the games we'll be looking at are unabashedly low brow, displaying their raw sexuality like a badge of honor, other games in contrast are remarkably subtle, often downplaying their suggestive themes.
This week's entry, written by Bill Loguidice, is on the oft-ported arcade classic, Dragon's Lair. Enjoy, help spread the word, and of course, let us know what you think:
Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Publisher: Cinematronics, Taito
Release Date: 1983
Platforms: Arcade and most capable home platforms
Game Type: Action
There's a common phrase that sometimes less is more. Farrah Fawcett's legendary 1976 photo in the red, one piece swimsuit, which was presumably shot on an unusually nippy summer day, sold millions of posters, all without actually showing much of anything, perfectly embodying that concept. Of course, Fawcett would eventually give us the full monty, with triumphant appearances in both film and Playboy in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was that relatively modest poster that secured her status as a sexy icon for the ages. That's all well and good, of course, but you probably want to know what that has to do with Dragon's Lair? You see, Princess Daphne, as the videogame princess that you actually want to rescue, embodies all the charms of that famous poster. While another game on our list, BMX XXX, does away with any pretenses of subtlety and has playable, topless female characters, it's arguable that what's teased at in Daphne's presentation is a far more effective approach to sexy.
Like a hungry vampire right before sunrise, the art style of Dragon's Lair goes straight for the sexy jugular. Drawn by former Disney animator Don Bluth in what can best be described as a mash-up of a Disney Princess and Tex Avery's, Red Hot Riding Hood, Daphne comes complete with stereotypical, high pitched 1950s bombshell voice, and was apparently captured by the evil wizard Mordroc while in the middle of a high-heeled romp around the palace in her sheer, black negligee.
That's not to say that Dragon's Lair is entirely consistent in its sexuality - it's not - particularly with the player-controlled comic-relief protagonist, Dirk the Daring. Of course if you find the likes of Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners), Fred Flinstone (The Flintstones), George Jetson (The Jetsons) and the countless other mismatched sitcom pairings attractive, then this is the game for you, otherwise there's not much here for the ladies. In fact, while Daphne oozes bubbly sexiness in the various quick-hit cut-scenes that urge the presumptively male player ever onward, Dirk, in all his goofiness, borders on asexual. Perhaps to counter this, in the second of his only two outbursts of speech in the entire game, he does let out an appropriate, "Wow!", when first entering Singe the dragon's, lair, and lays eyes on the seductively slumbering Daphne. In contrast, it seems the big, fire breathing dragon is the sole opportunity for the female player to let out her own, "Wow!".
As one of the first arcade games to double down on the traditional $0.25, or one credit per play pricing, Dragon's Lair presented a high-end experience to match that high cost of entry. Featuring its masterful hand-drawn animation with memorable characters and matching sound, Dragon's Lair drew large crowds in its first few years of existence, often requiring arcade operators to set up additional displays so all could see the current player's adventures.
While the embedded laser disc technology enabled random access to dazzling full motion video, it was slow, so the gameplay suffered, utilizing what is now referred to as quick time events. In short, after the animation sequence loads, the player has a tiny response window with which to take a single appropriate action, such as pressing the Action (sword) button or moving left. Taking too long or engaging the wrong action results in an often comical or exaggerated death sequence. These clever death scenes are a good thing, helping take some of the edge off the game's frustrating single solution gameplay design, because short of memorizing the correct sequence of moves, the pace of the game is too unrelenting for most players to react with the sole aid of the on-screen prompts. However, for the sexy videogame enthusiast, all that's really needed to play through to the end is the idea that Daphne will be there with an enthusiastic - and appreciative - greeting.