Pull up your favorite PC hentai game, any eroge that you’ve played in the past year or so. You might not know it, but that game you like has come a long way to be what it is.
It’s fairly easy to run into a bunch of mumbled-about oldies, namely “Rape Games”, some commonly talked about Atari games, and a bunch of SNES slideshows. Digging deeper and looking around however, one will eventually see that the porn game scene back in the 80s and 90s was more than just Japanese PC-98 developers and a trio of degenerates from Sweden. Fast travel to Wheaton, IL, where Tom Scheffler would go on to create a game titled Girlfriend Construction Set.
Girlfriend Construction Set is a text-based dating simulator created in 1989. You play as a young guy trying to get a top-tier girlfriend, some good sex and access to “THE BIG PARTY”. To start off, you choose the face of a lady from zero to ten, with zero being your frumpy so-n’-so and ten being your 1980s dream girl fantasy. After that, you can dictate her weight and proportions, in which you get a score from 1-10. You then go through a series of questions about what your potential girlfriend is like: “How attractively does she dress?” “Does she get along with your friends?” “Does she get jealous easily?” “How much does she like sex?” After you finish going through the questionnaire, you’re greeted to a list of numbers dictating the quality of your girlfriend using the fifty allotted points you used in your questionnaire. From there, you’re off to date!
To start it off, you’re greeted with a menu of things to do, like choosing date scenarios, checking the status of your relationship/dates, and calling your girlfriend to go on a date (or just dump her). Each selection is complemented with an icon composed of those sweet, sweet DOS VGA graphics.
Players will find a wide variety of activities in the date list option, each one ranging from rather typical things like going to the movies, going to a concert or going to a friend’s party, to rather extravagant adventures like going to Moscow for May Day or Hawaii for lunch. There’s a lot to do, so you’re not without wild opportunities to woo your ladyfriend. The only issue is that if your girlfriend doesn’t want to do the activity, you’re going to have to choose something else, so you can’t exactly go out to Hawaii on your first date, as tempting as it might be to do so. You have to start off basic with simple dates to get your points up. Ultimately, your goal is to get at least 100 points so that you can dump your current girlfriend and get a girlfriend with maximum stats. In general, you can push for dating and dumping girls for better dating outcomes and more point, or you can grind your way too 100 or more points so that you can go on better dates and have better outcomes with a ten-outta-ten lady. Dating however, isn’t the easiest thing.
On every date, you’re given a scenario with several choices to make. Some of them are simple enough, usually something polite like “give her a flower” or something else that would be construed as kind. The choices one can make in this game can quickly take a turn for the weird, the sexist or the downright abusive. For example: In one date, you go bowling and you find yourself to be on the losing end, and the options presented to your are questionable to say the least.
Clearly the best way to show her you love her is to THROW A BOWLING BALL AT HER HEAD
When it gets weird, you’re given options like going to run laps after having sex or talking to a fish and taking oxygen (an option that continues to confound me to this day). Some of these options have a marginal effect on your point gains, while some routes only give you one point and others give you considerably more. However, if you decide you want to throw a bowling ball at your girlfriend’s face or go off to have sex with some strange guy, you can run the risk of losing a lot of points or outright being dumped by your girlfriend. For myself, the first few playthroughs involved a lot of trial and error in an attempt to see a bunch of different outcomes, partially due to the humor of it all and partially due to the confusing nature of some of the choices. (What in the Hell does taking oxygen even mean!?) The outcomes of dates also depend on what her stats are. If her sex stat is low, you’re less likely to get it on with her after or during particular dates. If her jealousy stat is low, then good luck trying to play off getting caught staring at the waitress. It actually requires a bit of effort in figuring out a play style.
There’s more to the game than just getting points of course, as the ultimate goal of this game is to make it to “The Big Party”, which requires you to get special passwords from particular interactions in specific dates that you go on, which adds a surprising bit of depth to a game like this. I say surprising because, as far as lewdness, it’s definitely limited to you reading text and using your imagination. However, this game doesn’t seem much like one used to get aroused to as much as it seems like a raunchy, comedic take on sex and dating. When the sex scenes come up, it only goes so far in terms of titillating detail, staying in a rather vanilla, particularly hetero space, which makes sense because it was the 80’s. It tends to go further in terms of comedic silliness from talking to a fish named Wanda to having gun battles in China. In one date, you go to Moscow and spend the day being spied on by some KGB person, and you can choose to have sex while that KGB stalker is watching.
Hey baby, wanna go on vacation and shoot some people?
While light on lewdness, it’s definitely got some eyebrow-raising shit going on. However, the big question is: “Is this game even fun?” The short answer is: “Kinda?” It’s entertaining at a glance, not as arousing or attractive looking as other games, but still entertaining considering how old it is. Complaints about the graphics, or lack thereof, can basically be met with: “What did you expect? This is a DOS game from ‘89!” Outside of that, the humor and strangeness of it is definitely interesting, especially when showing the game to friends and cracking up about the absurdity of slugging your girlfriend at a male strip club.
Think of it as less like your favorite hentai and more like Fritz The Cat or a more crass Leisure Suit Larry in terms of outright goofiness. From a gameplay standpoint, it can feel like a slog bouncing from date to date just to farm points and get a better girlfriend. More modern dating sims offer minigame distractions to break up the monotony, while this game boils down to “pick your date, go on it, try not to do anything stupid, collect points, repeat.” Those looking for a game they can enjoy one-handed will come away from it being disappointed. However, if you’re just looking for something brain-fuckingly absurd and are interested in seeing what the NEETs and pervs of the 80s were into, Girlfriend Construction Set is a worthwhile experience.
If you want to play this game, you can find it for free at this website.