I've never been good at building things. When I was a kid, I’d pour out the box of Legos onto the ground and just stare them, impotently. Which is why 1989’s Girlfriend Construction Set for MS-DOS didn’t seem like it was for me. A deeply embarrassing game from a time when it was just immediately assumed that if you even glanced at a computer you were a vile person, as opposed to now, when it’s just likely you are.
Girlfriend Construction Set was recently released into the wild, along with several other old games, on archive.org. Presumably, this game—or rather, this construction suite—is historically relevant enough for them to host for our and future generations. Just as how whenever I want to feel bad I am immediately confronted by a rushing reminder of all the most humiliating moments of my life, so too has archive.org hastened to show us a world where girlfriends were interchangeable with pinball tables: in other words, things to be constructed.
The construction suite starts simply enough, asking you for your name. And that’s all it needs from you. This isn’t about constructing a sad man staring into a 286, after all.
We get much more in-depth when it comes time to construct the girlfriend, whom I’ve named Chester Cheetah after my favorite brand (sadly, the game truncates this to “Chester Chee”). While I’ve already made it clear that I don’t know very much about construction, let alone the construction of an entire human being, I’m fairly disappointed that it doesn’t ask me what material I’d like to construct her out of. Instead, it lets you put in measurement numbers and gives you a rating based off those measurements, which I assume is calibrated to whatever the programmer was really into.
After your constructed girlfriend has been roundly shamed by the game on a 0-10 ranking, you get to give her stats, RPG-style, based on how interested she is in marriage (0 being desperate), sex, how well she gets along with your friends, and the other five things that determine what people are like. OH AND YOU GET TO CHOOSE HER BEAUTIFUL FOUR-COLOR FACE—
The game rates from 0-10 how pretty the face you selected is, too. That’s the extent of all the construction. (Though I do wonder: if 0 were to remove her glasses, what would she become? 4? 8? Also, let me point out that 10 is literally just a disembodied head, but maybe that’s why she’s considered a perfect face.)
This is the rest of the game. You select a date and call the woman you just constructed and beg her to go on it with you. The date types run from the traditional “go out to dinner” to the gay-panic–inducing“go to a male strip joint” to the baffling “play strip Monopoly”. Monopoly is a deeply boring game, and not even nudity could ever make it better. It’s best to see the full list of dates, which covers the full breadth of what people in relationships do:
If your girlfriend acquiesces to going on any of these dates with you, you end up in a situation like this:
Thankfully, the game thinks you’re a wretched person by default.
One might even be convinced that the secret message of the game is that all men are vile filthy animals and that they should be murdered. This message is not incorrect.
By going on these dates and selecting “right answers,” your reputation in the game rises. Once your reputation is sufficiently high enough, you can dump your girlfriend and trade her in for one with higher stats that match your reputation. Watch out though, because if you make the wrong moves you lose reputation points—sometimes a little, but sometimes a lot.
For example, during an innocent game of Strip Poker, a “strange man” started looking at me, so naturally I went home with him instead! This cost me 50 reputation points, which, having done something fairly similar in real life, I can attest is accurate (having a good dinner date is +3 points, so this was a huge deficit). I called Lady Chee to see if she might be interested in another date, but then this happened:
My construction—my meticulously crafted, zero-faced creation—had turned on me.
I’ve spent a few hours playing Girlfriend Construction Set, and having constructed a variety of girlfriends, I’m going to sound like that grouchy dad talking to a kid about playing a guitar instead of Guitar Hero. But hey, if you seriously think it’s a good idea to construct your girlfriend, take it from me: make her out of wood, glue, glitter, and old-fashioned elbow grease, like sad men did in generations past. But please don’t interact with any women—or any humans, really—ever again.