French games used to be weird
France is a major player in the game industry. France is the second-largest producer of video games in the world. The road to that position is filled with quirky adventure games. Before AAA games existed and the industry became globalized, French developers created sexy, politically-oriented games that were true to reality.
These include games like La Femme Qui Ne Supportait Pas Les Ordinateurs, from Chine Lanzmann. La Femme is a text-based game with an interface that resembles the French network Calvados is.
It is a chat room where you play a woman who meets other women. One of these characters is your sentient computer. It is a great piece of writing. It’s both unpleasant and funny to play but also very uncomfortable. I found it hilarious to watch the characters’ erratic, outlandish reactions. The computer reacts to blonde people by telling them they are blonde.
La Femme has six endings. Based on Lanzmann’s experience moderating messages on Calvados’ message boards, the game was created. You might be thinking, “Wow, wild”, that one of the earliest French videogames is about a woman being harassed online, which seems strangely current. This was not unusual for French games of the ’80s or early ’90s.
You had your racing games and faux-Donkey Kongs. And you had your Chess sims. There were also surprising numbers of game developers who used games to explore their issues with the world.
Froggy Software, which Jean-Louis Le Breton founded with Fabrice Gille, was one of the major culprits. They also published a game called Baratin Blues that mocked right-wing Parisian mayor Jacques Chirac’s efforts to privatize Parisian water systems. They also published Le Mur de Berlin VA Sauter — The Berlin Wall is going to BLOW — which was a game in which you have to stop a gay terrorist from blowing up the Berlin Wall. This sounds like something that Far Cry could make.
Gille and Le Breton were both “soixante huitards”, participants in the May 1968 protests that nearly tore apart the country. May ’68 was about protesting capitalism and consumerism as well as American imperialism. According to video game scholar Filip Jankowski, Le Breton and Gille brought that rebellious energy to Froggy Software, developing and publishing games that gave the middle finger to the status quo.
Arcade and action games had always taken centre stage in the United States, but France built a reputation for making … “weird games.” Or at least they were weird to the non-French in the same way those sexy Orangina ads are. Instead of creating action-focused titles that were spectacular, developers explored France’s complicated past and depressing present.
Muriel Tramis might be the one who came up with some of these most innovative games. Travis started her career as a programmer for Aerospatiale. In 1986, she decided to quit and start making games. Travis was granted free rein at Coktel Vision. She made educational games, like La Bosse des maths. Her classic puzzle-adventure series Goblins was her best. She also made erotica like Fascination and Emmanuelle and experimented with FMVs such as Urban Runner in the ’90s.
Freedom and Mewilo are her most well-known games. Mewilois an action game that takes place in Tramis’ home of Martinique. Creolite author Patrick Chamoiseau co-wrote it. In the game, a paranormal psychologist investigated a haunted city in 1902. But that’s just a pretext for experiencing the “economic, political and religious life” in St. Pierre. In 1988, Travis was awarded a Silver Medal by the Ministry of Culture.