Re(?)Considered: Spellcasting 101
Legend Entertainment's problematic fave
While Lucasarts were revolutionising graphical point-and-clicks, Legend Entertainment were doing the same for the humble text adventure. Sort of. Well, they were making enjoyable ones at any rate. It's difficult to revolutionise words, and when someone does it's rarely appreciated - I draw your attention to my unpublished autobiography, Encircl'd: A Life Rotund. But I uncharacteristically digress.
Legend Entertainment. Not exactly a household name, but the company behind such cult classics as Eric the Unready, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon and Superhero League of Hoboken deserve both respect and attention. The subject of this (so far, bloody excellent) article, however, is their Spellcasting series, comprising three games: Spellcasting 101: Sorcerors Get All The Girls, Spellcasting 201: The Sorceror's Appliance, and Spellcasting 301: Spring Break. They're all close enough in presentation that I've lumped them together and if you don't like it (finger spinning motion) swivel, mate.
The problem is, convincing people to play Spellcasting is easier said than done. The reason for this is, well, it's about a wizard trying to get his end away. Yes, this is uncharted territory for Re(?)Considered; an erotic game. Unless you count that bit with the bare lady from Mega Man Legends 2.
It's a very difficult premise to sell in today's gaming climate; when there are unjustly entitled piss-creatures throwing conniptions when Nintendo so much as localises clothing onto minors, the idiotic pushback against compliance with the law has made discussing the clearly apparent (and, until recently, basically unchecked) sexism in videogames a fraught conversation. Let's cut to the damn chase then; Spellcasting is a sexist series. It's effectively a game where you try to get laid ala Leisure Suit Larry, but it doesn't even have the character development and sense of irony that makes Al Lowe's seminal Sierra series even vaguely acceptable.
Now, this can be countered to a degree with the fact that every character in Spellcasting is a silly exaggeration in the tradition of the American teen sex comedy; your main character Ernie Eaglebeak is basically Lewis Skolnick in a wizard's robe. But said stereotyping, when applied to the women in the game, focuses on their sexual characteristics almost exclusively. I mean, it would do - it's a sex game, more or less - but when that's what always happens to female characters regardless of genre, it's not an adequate defence.
Crucially though, it is fun. It is funny and well-written. And it's okay to have fun with it. If you can tolerate the retrograde content on display, it's difficult not to; it's a piece of interactive fiction by Steve Meretzky of Infocom fame, which means you're getting plenty of wit and character. Unlike most text adventures the puzzles are fun to solve, with the excellent art lending things a wonderfully enhanced sort of feel. Rather than guesswork, you're able to see which commands and nouns are at your disposal. The prose itself is rich and entertaining, more concerned with getting a laugh than really drawing you in. Spellcasting is a comedy, through and through, and a funny one at that. It's certainly not easy - while it doesn't run in real-time, there is a clock to work against, and your actions taking too long can cause you to miss crucial events. It'll take more than a few goes to make significant progress; it's the nature of the beast with text games, but Spellcasting is one of the friendliest ones in the genre. The women in particular are very friendly indeed.
Yes, there's plenty to appreciate about the Spellcasting series, as long as it's not being held up as representative of a beloved lost era when the treatment of women like conquests was somehow a laudable trope. To criticise it, and games like it, is not to call for their "censorship"; indeed, Spellcasting is still widely available on Steam and GoG. Is sexism an issue exclusive to videogames? Hell no. It's not even exclusive to adventure games. But if this medium is supposed to be on the cutting edge, shouldn't that be reflected in their content?