Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was released in July of 1987. I was released from my mother’s womb in March of 1988—meaning that this crude sex-centric MS-DOS game came out right around the exact time when my parents conceived me. Awesome!
I remember playing this game sometime when I was around 8 or 9, maybe 10, years old at my mom’s friend’s house in suburban Fort Lauderdale. She had all of the coolest MS-DOS games for her black and white pre-Windows PC, but there was only one game that I wanted to play: Larry.
When my mother and her pal would go chat on the porch, I’d slip into the den to gather up a handful of bright red pistachio nuts served out of a gumball machine, tip-top across the heinously fuzzy brown shag carpet, and make sure no one was looking over my shoulder as I booted up the Amiga and grabbed the diskette.
I knew I’d get in trouble if my mother were aware of the game’s content, but it was impossible to avoid getting caught red-handed—literally, with all of that damn pistachio dye stuck to my hands. Sierra’s software developers didn’t want Larry to be played by kids, so if you claimed to be over 18, they’d ask a series of questions suited to your generational cohort. I’d type in random ages, and the questions would cover topics ranging from the Eisenhower administration to the Vietnam War to what any reasonable man would do if they were trapped on a desert island with Bo Derek.
Some of the questions were, oddly enough, way too hard for the average Baby Boomer to answer, especially in an age without Google or Wikipedia. Attorney Generals? Are you kidding me, Sierra?
I’d end up running up to my mother and asking her these random, bizarre questions, and she’d answer apprehensively before saying “What’s all this about? Why are you asking me questions about JFK’s boat?” “Nothing, Mom! It’s a trivia game! Don’t worry about it!”
Finally, after I’d proven that I was born sometime before 1969, I’d be able to enter Sierra World. I would enter… the world of Larry.
Larry Laffer is this short, balding 38-year-old guy wearing a hopelessly outdated polyester suit. After the ‘80s backlash against disco—including the “DISCO SUCKS!” riots of born of misplaced rockist rage and referenced in Freaks and Geeks—there’s really no comparison when it comes to describing how tacky he must’ve looked by the time 1987 rolled around. It’s not even comparable to wearing a pink, JUICY velour tracksuit in 2015. I’m not sure if he looked “douchey” so much as “pathetic,” which was the point.
Larry can no longer stand being a virgin who lives in his mother’s basement, so with his white polyester and $94 to his name, he embarks on a journey of fear and loathing in Lost Wages. He’s got only seven real-time hours to meet the woman of his dreams, or he’ll end up committing suicide. If you try to take the easy way out at the beginning of the game by sleeping with a prostitute without a condom, he’ll end up catching a disease and will die.
Moreover, if he attempts to walk between destinations and makes a wrong turn into a dark alley, he’ll immediately get senselessly beaten to death by a thug. He has no way of traveling between any of the game’s exciting destinations—the disco, the dive bar, the casino, the liquor store and the seedy 24-hour wedding chapel—without using a cab, or he’ll walk into traffic and get hit by a car. Finally, if you forget to pay the cabbie, there’s no option to say you forgot and quickly hand him the cash. He gives you a pounding in a cloud of BAM! POW! smoke and proceeds to run you over, flattening you and fleeing the scene. Again, death.
But all hope is not lost! It’s pretty easy to save the game at any point in time and restore it with all of your items and money intact. Cash can be earned at the casino’s blackjack tables or slots, and you pick up items as you move throughout the game. You’ve only got a wallet, pocket lint, breath spray and a wrist watch at first, but you can pick up a rose and a discarded diamond ring in the dive bar’s bathroom to later offer to a pixel babe.
You can even give alcohol to drunks (who stumble into view to the tinny MIDI tones of “How Dry I Am”) in exchange for things like remote controls and pocket knives, or head to the convenience store fronted by a racist Asian caricature to buy a $1 gallon of wine (!!!) or a ribbed (“libbed”), spearmint, colored, plaid condom (“lubber”).
Most of the women in the game are pretty cruel to poor ol’ Larry, mocking his inadequacies (“Do you have a Pez dispenser in your pocket?” “Is that a roll of dimes or are you happy to see me?”) and threatening him with violence. One of them threatens to “blow his head off,” a fully-loaded double entendre. Watch out, Larry!
But all hope is not lost for our hero. By using commands such as “engage in eye contact” and “disco with her”, Larry is eventually able to win over the ladies.
Oh, and gifts. Gifts are the only real way for Larry to compensate for his shortcomings. They’re terrible, ill-gotten gifts – a plastic rose snatched from the dive bar’s back room, a box of candies stolen from the aforementioned prostitute, and a ring that’d been abandoned on the dive bar’s nasty bathroom sink – but they suddenly make him tolerable to the women who’d previously violently slapped him. I’m really not sure whether this game is predicated on misogyny, #misandry, or an inextricable double-helix of both.
Larry encounters four women in his journey: the nameless hooker, a blonde named Fawn who’s the only girl at the whole discotheque, a receptionist named Faith who, true to her name, stays devoted to her boyfriend, and finally, a bathing beauty named Eve. The women are the only characters rendered in any artistic detail; we don’t even get a chance to see poor old Larry’s face. I won’t spoil the whole plot, but along the way, one of these broads tricks him into a sham marriage, steals all of his belongings, and leaves him tied up on a heart-shaped bed with little hope of escape. Let’s hope you traded that gallon of wine to one of those hobos in exchange for a pocket knife, Lar.
In the end, after nearly falling off of a penthouse roof while chasing a rapidly deflating blow-up doll, Larry meets the girl of his dreams and gets what he wants. He’s the champion, and you did okay by him. No, really. You did “ok”, and that’s it. What, did you want a gold star?
All in all, I highly recommend paying a visit to the Internet Archive and playing this, or one of the other 2,000+ MS-DOS games re-released free of charge. That’s how I ended up playing with Larry all over again, and thanks to a helpful walkthrough (warning: spoilers!) (and come on, complain all you want about using one, but it’s within a browser, not a hard drive), I ended up beating the entire game in about six hours. Just enough time for our hero to end up satisfied and not kill himself in shame and disgust. Hooray!
On that note, was I aware of how disturbing the game’s content was when I played it in elementary school? To some degree, yes, but without any manual or hints, I mostly just aimlessly took cab rides everywhere and kept innocently trying to talk to the other pixel people. I knew the game was seedy because of the run-down bars and the quest to meet women, but I figured that at some point, I might even run into actual lounge lizards. Reptiles. Yeah.
I distinctly recall having no idea where I could even travel in the game, and kept naming destinations in town where I thought he could go. I thought landfills were funny for a gross guy to visit, so I typed “go to dump.” It took me a while to understand why the cabbie yelled “You can’t do that in this vehicle!”
I’ll leave you with some fun facts: The game was originally based off of a 1981 Apple ][ text adventure game called Softporn Adventure. And according to Wikipedia it became “one of the most pirated computer games of all time, with some copies even reaching Eastern Europe where it became a hit on university computers in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Al Lowe estimated that the amount of pirate copies in use exceeded legitimate ones by almost 6 to 1.”
God bless the Larry Laffers of this world, and may they all succeed along the 8-bit path of the polyester pervert.
Stefanie Gray is a freelance writer, web developer and GIS analyst living in New York, NY. Follow her on Twitter at @stefaniefgray.