125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
by Betty D. DeMunn
Betty D. DeMunn is a professional actress and freelance writer who lives in Buffalo, New York. She's been addicted to Ataris since 1982, when a 400 followed her home one day, and grew up to be a 520ST. Other hobbies include: one husband, five children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandson, Nick. Wow!
At last! An Infocom "Interactive Fiction" text adventure of a woman by a woman! News of this incredible breakthrough came as a delightful surprise. For years I've been masquerading as a macho male 18 year old in countless adventures, so the chance to shed "him" and become "her" was long overdue and more than welcome. Ripping open the package in a frenzy of anticipation, I thought, "Bless you, little Amy Briggs. You have taken one small step for woman, one giant step for womankind."
As usual, I found goodies in the package: a velvet reticle (purse), a letter from Jean Lafond, and a banknote, plus a slim manual containing basic info. Games are saved within the story disk, so I was all ready. With trembling hands and pounding heart, I booted Plundered Hearts.
Set in the 17th century, the story is obviously a spoof of the romance novels that leer from drugstore racks. You are a young gentlewoman on a ship in the Caribbean, sailing to your dying father's bedside as per instructions in the letter. En route you are boarded by pirates (Oops, Freudian chemise)—the ship is boarded by pirates, and you are snatched by a gorgeous hunk named Nicholas Jamison. Your pulse races and your bosom heaves. He sets you straight about Governor Lafond, a scurrilous liar and champion villain who actually holds dear Papa prisoner on the island of Ste. Sinistra. Your mission is to rescue Papa, decimate the evil Lafond, and escape with Nick. On the way to this happy ending, you encounter a lot of heavy-breathers, a crocodile, and several fates worse than death. Sounds like fun, huh?
Did you ever slip on a banana peel? You know, airborne one moment and flat on your keester the next? That's the feeling I experienced as this adventure unfolded. It was like playing hide-and-seek alone. I could find me every time. In fact, Plundered Hearts went by so fast, I didn't even catch the heroine's first name.
Hype on the package proclaims that Miss Briggs read hundreds of romance novels, researched 17th-century costumes and ships, and was wooed by a dashing pirate. No doubt this is true. But Amy contracted cliche-itis along the way, and I seemed to have all the antidotes. I finished ("solved" is too strong a word) Plundered Hearts in four hours, 523 moves. It should have been faster, but I kept trying to make a ballgown out of drapes, and putting hoops in my skirt so I could parachute out of the crow's nest! When one spends $40 for an adventure game, one expects to develop a meaningful relationship with it. This was a case of Wham-Bam, etc.
A new title by Infocom always meant buying a notebook to fill with maps, clues and assorted ravings. I've completed only four out of 20-odd adventures without the aid of Invisiclues. I'm self-rated as "Almost-Intermediate," and of average intelligence. If Infocom still printed difficulty ratings on the package, Plundered Hearts would have to be assigned: "Beginner—Novice—E.T."
Let it be noted, I love Infocom so much that my four-letter ATM code is "G-R-U-E." But I fear it has loaded its marketing bow with a horseshoe. Women who read romance novels would be better off buying ten of them for the price of Plundered Hearts. Not only that, but women who own, or have access to, or any interest in computers are likely to prefer other types of fiction.
Let's not be too cruel. Plundered Hearts is well-written. The brilliant purple prose is amusing and often funny. Amy Briggs is a talent, but, in my opinion, wasted on this sexist plot. Sexist because one of the levels you attain on your way to Happy Ending is "Lady Leman." Sexist because it's difficult to relate to a woman who doesn't know one end of a rapier from another and isn't allowed to handle a pistol or to sharpen her dagger. Granted, she rescues her virile lover from certain death three times, but doesn't that hint of his latent wimpiness? The ending suggests that the happy couple will sail to America for the sequel. I can wait.
Perhaps women are not as sadistic, manipulative and devious as men. If those qualities make for exciting, challenging adventure games, then harden up, Amy. Abandon the gentle, nurturing nature that makes us women and let the sequel be convoluted and frustrating. Give us months of pondering and a reason to buy the hint book.
A note to male players: You must be totally liberated to play Plundered Hearts, but go ahead, it'll do you good!
A few uneasy questions remain. Why was "About the Authors" omitted from the manual? We want to know more about Amy Briggs and her background. Why was Plundered Hearts kept secret until its release? Status Line, the Infocom newsletter, usually hypes upcoming titles, but I don't recall reading anything about Plundered Hearts there, or anywhere else, for that matter. Who is Amy Briggs, really?
Finally, I'd like to remind you that never within recent recorded history has there been a negative review of an Infocom game. Their track record has been a miracle of success. But there's a first time for everything, and Plundered Hearts disappointed me. The intent is to be applauded. Women have long been overlooked, both as authors and consumers, but to grab us, you need a stronger hook. Let us be what we are today, or will be in the future—not what we were 300 years ago. Or, if you must spoof, make the spoof challenging enough to flatter our intelligence. Even a first-time player would know what to do with a sliver of mirror, a library, a chandelier. Those tricks have been done and done and done in movies, TV, and books.
Being a feisty old feminist, I have to say that Plundered Hearts is one small step for womankind, sideways.