Are video games art?
Surely you’ve heard the debate. At some point during the past two decades, video gaming has moved, or attempted to move, into the realm of serious, life-changing, capital-A art. Along with comic books, animation, television, rap music, rock n’ roll, punk rock, and other things once considered “low” culture, video games are slowly being regarded as an actual art form by players, critics, and fans
Whether or not you agree with these pretensions, there is no doubt that video games do require both artistry and craftsmanship to design and create—the good ones that we remember and still play, at least.
Several come to mind. There are exquisitely crafted games like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. As gameplay and graphics improved, so did storytelling and narrative mechanics: Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, for example, are hailed as masterpieces to this day. And I’d be remiss by not mentioning titles like Vagrant Story, Metal Gear Solid, the Resident Evil series, and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
On the PC, games like Ultima IV quickly became modern classics, crafting experiences unavailable in any other realm. Adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island also deserve special accolades; while maybe not Art, it is certainly the work of artistic talent and, some may say, genius. And I haven’t even gotten to modern games like Portal, Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus, Skyrim, and Undertale.
The jury is still out on whether video games deserve to be ranked in that lofty sphere where we put works of literature, painting, music, poetry, and film. But there is no denying the wonderful storytelling mechanisms the medium offers players, and the creative playground it offers to game designers.
For example, in Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, you get to catch horse farts in a paper bag.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
First, a note about racial and ethnic humor. My last FPFP post generated a lot of talk on what is “racist” or not when it comes to comedy. For my money, I don’t find this game racist at all. Insensitive, sure. Offensive, to many, yes. But “racist”? Nope.
I think many conflate the term, the idea, of “racism” with “offensive” or “insensitive.” Those are different things. The depiction of Hopalong Singh, for example, doesn’t seem to reflect any bigotry or belief that Asian people are inferior to any other races. No, it’s a joke. Arguably a joke that is in poor taste, especially to modern sensibilities, but nonetheless intended for comedic purposes and not to make a mockery of Asian people. Does that make it right or good? Not necessarily. But it doesn’t make it racist.
Anyway, I’ll start keeping track of jokes I see in this game that make fun the various races and ethnicities. As a preview, I’ll note I’ve seen a few Jewish jokes, and a running theme throughout FPFP is that Coarsegold’s population is comprised mainly of stupid, low-IQ inbred white rednecks.
Anyway, on with the game. And the horse farts.
Having explored Coarsegold last session and finally making our way to Freddy’s pharmacy, there’s not much else to do but step behind the counter and wait for customers.
There are tons of things to look at in the pharmacy, though. The door in the back leads to Freddy’s lab where he fills drunk ol’ Doc Gillespie’s whiskey-soaked prescriptions. There are lots of things on the shelves here, and the game goes into detail explaining which poultices and potions and medications and preparations—including Preparation G (remember this)—are on the shelves and tables . . . but that none of the stuff is useful, real medicine, and is all past it’s sell-by date (remember this too).
There’s an ice-cream counter on the left side of the pharmacy, but so far Freddy can’t do anything with it. And there are jokes galore. Boy howdy, are there jokes. I could fill this post up with 75 screenshots of jokes, but I’ll spare you the excruciating details and merely point out some salient gags.
|Hey look! A white person joke!|
|Hey look! A Jewish joke!|
|Seriously, remember this screenshot.|
There is also a green bottle on a table to the right full of what the game tells me is the world’s most recent medical breakthrough: leeches! I can’t do anything with them now, though, which is good because leeches are disgusting. One summer when I was a teenager I went swimming in the river with some friends. When I got back home, I saw bloody footprints all over the floor . . . and they were mine. Turns out a leech had attached itself in between my toes and had sucked my blood aplenty. Seriously: the thing was engorged like a fat little Vienna sausage. I nearly puked, but managed to pluck it off and flush it down the toilet. I sure hope it didn’t mutate down there and become some kind of super-leech or I am going to be facing a lot of legal costs (presuming the statute of limitations hasn’t run out).
Where was I? Oh, right. Freddy’s pharmacy. So here is where the game’s manual/copy protection scheme comes into play. It’s also where I, once again, play a game that simulates work. As if Police Quest III and L.A. Law weren’t enough for you people. The things I do for The Adventure Gamer, I swear . . .
|Freddy’s lab. The shelves on the back are where the pharmacy stuff happen.|
FPFP isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s pretty fun and an example of copy protection done right by integrating it into the game’s main conceit. After all, Freddy is a pharmacist, and pharmacists make medicine. A total of four customers come in, each with a prescription from the doctor that you need to figure out. What do I mean by figure out? The game just doesn’t tell you what medicine you need? No siree! Let’s take a look at our first customer, Penelope Primm’s, prescription:
“Penelope Primm, 4 mls Tyloxpolynide orally 2x/5 days.” This is for the vapors apparently.
The next step is to check out “Tyloxpolynide” in the manual. The entry there reads as follows:
“An effective aid in the treatment of the vapors. Not possible to synthesize in the home laboratory, however, substitutions are permissible. (See: PEPTICLYMACINE TETRAZOLE.) Available from D. B. Aze & Sons, Baltimore, Maryland.”
So now I had to look up Pepticlymacine Tetrazole. That entry tells me it is an “Effective aid in treatment of the vapors. Available from Furnette Formulas, Cincinnati, Ohio. Pepticlymacine Tetrazole is an acceptable substitute for Tyloxpolynide. Dispense at 40 ml. per bottle.”
Luckily, Freddy has some Pepticlymacine Tebotrazole in his pharmacy. So you need to click on its bottle and place it on the work bench, take an empty medicine bottle and put it next to that, click the Pepticlymacine Tetrazole on the empty bottle to fill it in 5 ml. increments until you have 40 ml., click on a cork, and put it in the bottle. Conveniently, 40 ml. matches the doctor’s prescription for Ms. Primm to take 4 mls. Of the medicine twice a day for five days (8 x 5 = 40).
You know you’ve gotten the right prescription when the game tells you that you label the bottle or box or whatever for the patient.
Penelope is thrilled, and she tells Freddy she’ll see him again soon. You can also engage in some light flirting with her—they called this “courtship” back in the day—by clicking the Talk icon on Penelope before you fill her prescription.
So besotted with Penelope is Freddy that he forgets to charge her for her medicine. Ah, good business practices—what are they when compared to true love? With Penelope happy and presumably on the road to good health, Helen Back comes sauntering in with a problem, and a prescription, of her own.
Helen needs Quinotrazate tabs, 3x/7 days. This is a bit trickier than our first puzzle. The manual entry for Quinotrazate reads as follows:
“A highly efficacious and useful medication when taken orally at a dosage of NTE 60 mg/day. To prepare: to 15 ml. of Bismuth Enterosalicyline, add 30 gm of Phenodol Oxytriglychlorate to produce Quinotrazate. Mix together in a glass beaker. Stir the mixture well using only a pure clean glass rod. Process into pill form. Usual dosage is 21 pills.”
So this will take some mixing and matching and measuring of liquids and solids. I hope you remember your high school chemistry labs, because I sure don’t!
Freddy sure has a lot of equipment, including a beaker, a graduated cylinder, a balance, a pill machine, pill boxes, and plenty of glass rods. Luckily, everything is labeled. It takes me some fumbling around to get the process down, but after a while it starts to make sense: pour the Bismuth Enterosalicyline into the graduated cylinder in 5 ml. increments to measure out 15 mls., and then dump that into the beaker. Then, use the scapula (I love that word!) to take 5 gm. at a time of the Phenodol Oxytriglychlorate and measure out 30 gm. on the balance. You dump that into the beaker and stir with a glass rod, not forgetting to throw the used rod away in the trash receptacle.
Then, you put the mixture into the pill machine and make 3 pills at a time. These subsequently go into a pill box, and once again you know you did it right when Freddy labels the box (and you hear that old coot yell “Score!”).
Helen doesn’t pay either.
Madame Sadie Ovaree, the mistress of Coarsegold’s whore house, comes in with a rather difficult request to parse out.
“Increase my womanly powers . . .” Now what the heck does that mean? The prescription she gives Freddy is useless as Doc Gillespie must’ve written it when completely blitzed—it’s illegible. So this is a puzzle that’s going to take more than just flipping to the right page in the manual and following instructions. It’s going to take some research.
I look through the manual and see stuff to increase male potency, but the only thing that seems to hit the mark is Estrosterane, which the manual states:
“Can be used to prevent conception after marital relations. Normally available only by prescription. May be produced in the home as follows: Grind 15 gm. of Bimethylquinoline crystals and 15 gm. of powdered Metyraphosphate in a mortar. Prepare 5 gm. dosages on pure sheets of medicinal dispensing paper. Recommended maximum dosage: 1 box of six.”
So basically birth control. I mean, I’d imagine that a prostitute does not want to get pregnant, right? And forgive my ignorance of the sex work field. I’m just trying to solve an adventure game puzzle here.
Long story short: I was right. And Sadie is very happy.
The game intimates that Sadie is Freddy’s best friend, visits her a lot, and that she knows everything about him . . . which is kind of weird if Freddy is smitten with Penelope. Yikes!
Anyway, I actually liked these puzzles. They were different than King’s Quest III’s famous manual-as-spellbook puzzles, which were clear copy protection, although they did help simulate what it would be like following a magical spellbook with mystical reagents, where one wrong misstep—or mistype—could spell certain doom. I actually enjoy that aspect of King’s Quest III, but your mileage may vary.
Here, you have to do a bit more thinking, and if you screw up, you don’t die. You just can’t advance with the game. So yeah, it’s basically copy protection, although it feels a bit different.
The last customer for the day is Smithie, the town blacksmith, whose butt really hurts and is in dire need of Preparation G.
|I told you to remember this.|
Smithie also tells Freddy that the mayor just shut down Smithie’s smith for operating without a Smithie License. So he sold his smith to P.H. Balance at the Bank of Bob and is going to hightail it out of town. His final warning to Freddie is that something isn’t right in Coarsegold; even the horse’s farting is threatening to wipe everyone out.
Anyway, I saw Preparation G on the left-most table in Freddy’s store. This should be easy, right?
When I click the Action icon on that table, I’m told there’s nothing there Freddy needs. Even though the Preparation G is right there.
Is this another puzzle where I have to figure out what to make on my own? If so, it’s the toughest one yet. I look up “Hemorrhoids” in the manual. They’re normally cured by a proper diet of soft foods, but sometimes they can be caused by constipation. So I look up constipation, but there’s nothing I can make.
I fart around for several minutes, going crazy at this puzzle. I finally consult a walkthrough and it tells me that all I have to do is give Smithie the Preparation G from the table on the left.
It turns out, you have to click on a specific tube amidst that pixelated mess on the table. Do you see it now?
Yeah, you have to click on that particular tube I circled. That’s the Preparation G, aka butt cream. You pick it up and give it to Smithie and, shockingly, he not only pays Freddy what it’s worth but settles up his entire tab, forking over the kingly sum of four dollars and eighty-seven cents. Freddy’s rich!
And he’s going to need that money, because the Sheriff strides in next and shuts down Freddy’s pharmacy for being a fire hazard. What makes it a fire hazard? It’s made out of wood. Just like all the other buildings in Coarsegold.
I don’t know about you, but my keen adventure-gamer instincts, honed through decades of solving wacky inventory based puzzles, are tipping me off that the sheriff is not quite on the level. He does suggest I talk to the bank and, jumping ahead, you can get a pretty funny death by going over to Mr. Balance and talking to him, getting the option to accept his offer to buy the pharmacy or to pound sand. If you sell the pharmacy, you get one of the funnier deaths I’ve encountered so far.
Sure, as Willy tells it, Freddy takes the money and runs, earning the town’s eternal scorn and approbation, but does Freddy really lose by skipping out of a dump like Coarsegold? Doesn’t he really win by losing?
Nah, screw that. I’m here to solve puzzles and save the day! Giddy up, pardners!
Leaving the pharmacy begins chapter two of our ridiculous saga.
Nah, screw that. I’m here to solve puzzles and save the day! Giddy up, pardners!
Leaving the pharmacy begins chapter two of our ridiculous saga.
Willy pops up as narrator again and gives us the poop—I mean scoop—about the nasty farting horses Smithie told Freddie about, warning that Freddie better do something fast before the whole town is gassed to death.
I do the standard adventure game thing and visit every location again to see if things have changed or people have different dialogue options. I mean, I read the entry about “Flatulence” when I perused the manual before starting the game, so I know that you can determine the cause of flatulence by collecting some fart gas. And Freddy has an alcohol burner and a spectrometer in his lab. So I had a good idea about the solution. But I wanted to see what else was going down in Coarsegold first.
The schoolhouse was my first stop, but the kids were gone and the door was locked. Everyone’s probably inside to survive the onslaught of horrible horse flatulence—the horses that are tied up on each screen of main street let out the most lovely fart noises every once in a while. Still, in the absence of children I see that the ladder to the slide is somewhat highlighted, just inviting me to click on it.
Giving me some serious Space Quest III vibes, Freddy takes the ladder and jams it in his pocket.
It turns out that everyone is useless, though. Freddy can go from shop to shop and warn everyone to stay inside, but that’s it. Penelope is at Mom’s with some friends. Sal is still cutting the same guy’s hair. The Sheriff tells Freddy to just wait. Doc at the saloon is predictably usless. There’s nothing to do at the mercantile shop, and Smithie’s smith is boarded up. But when I get to that screen, Freddy succumbs to the deadly ass gasses.
|The gals at Mom’s.|
Okay, enough farting around. Time to get the gas from the horse’s ass and fix them up some anti-fart medicine. Only when I click the paper bag I took from the mercantile store last session, I’m informed Freddy can’t get close enough due to the gas.
Okay, fair enough . . . but now what? I try the ladder, thinking I can rise above the farts, but that doesn’t work. I poke around the rest of town in the limited time I have. Nothing. I try sticking the melted candle wax in Freddy’s nose. Nothing. I check the manual, at first excited by the entry about “Nausea,” but it’s not helpful and there’s nothing I can concoct to keep Freddy from dying of equine methane inhalation sickness. Frustrated, and because my play time and writing time is really limited, I shamefully peek at the walkthrough again. And the solution is really kind of unfair.
You know that can I poked holes in with the icepick in my first play post? Well, you need to go to Smithie’s former place of business and get some coal from his old forge and put it in that can. Next, on the wall behind Freddy in that screenshot are a barely visible old horse strap and rope. The rope isn’t used for this puzzle, but the strap is: you need to use it on the holey can with the coal in, loop it through, and make a primitive gasmask.
Yeah, “devilishly good work” my ass. Afterwards, I recall in my own memory banks something about charcoal being used in early gasmasks, but is this supposed to be common knowledge? There’s nothing in the manual that I saw hinting at this. Am I just too stupid to have intuited this on my own? I suppose I could have spent even more of Freddy’s limited time dying, restoring, and clicking everything on every screen, but I didn’t and this solution feels hollow to me.
But—you knew there’d be a but here, didn’t you?—I’m calling foul on this solution.
Anyway, the gasmask lets you gain temporary relief when you click it on Freddy, enough to make it to a horse and, waiting for one of the horses to move its tail, use the paper bag on its posterior to collect some fart gas.
|Quite possibly the greatest screenshot in any adventure game I’ve ever played.|
|Quite possibly the greatest inventory item in any adventure game I’ve ever played.|
Fart gas in tow, I head to the laboratory to get to work . . . my smelly, disgusting, yet oddly hilarious, work.
I try to light the alcohol burner with the matches in Freddy’s workshop, but there is no fuel. Good thing I have Dad Gum’s elixir, which is 95% alcohol! I fill up the burner with it, light it with the matches, and use the fart gas on the spectrometer to discover the chemical composition of the horse’s gas.
|This is real science, folks. Dr. Brain, eat your heart out.|
I compare that image with the five examples given in the sepia-toned manual and discover that the cause of the horse’s agita is lentils, which can be cured with a dose of Aminophyllic Citrate, “[A]n extremely powerful cure for temporary (non-acute) flatulence in man or beast.” Wait a minute: if the flatulence was temporary, then wasn’t the Sheriff right that we should just wait until this whole thing blows over (har har)? But nah. I’m a hero. I don’t wait problems out. I solve them. So I whip up the medicine. I’ll spare you the details save that it’s a bit more involved than the other medicines I’ve whipped up so far.
Freddy automatically puts the medicine in each of the horse’s feeding troughs and saves Coarsegold from a fate worse than death: death by horse farts.
A satisfying puzzle, save for the whole gasmask thing. And Freddy throws the gasmask away anyway.
|“Town inbreeds.” Look, another white people joke!|
One of the town’s children is running up and down Main Street, warning the good people of Coarsegold of a stampede that’ll wreck the town . . . in a week-and-a-half. You see, it’s a stampede of SNAILS.
Man, I actually really enjoy this game’s sense of humor. To those of you who poo-poo video games as an art form, I can tell you that, so far, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist is shaping up to be a true work of fart.
I’m terribly sorry about that last pun, but I just couldn’t help myself.
Session Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Inventory: melted candle, key, ladder, $4.87, rope
Score: 614 of 999
Fart Jokes: 3