A History of Sex & Games

A History of Sex & Games
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James Matson dives headfirst into the world of sex and gaming, discovering that despite the censorship, controversy and regularly tragic game design, there’s no pulling these two apart.

The greatest game of all time has been on the shelves for ages.

With more subscribers than World of Warcraft and a development cycle spanning millions of years, sex is the game everyone wants to play and no one wants to lose. Sex takes the best ploys and gambits from real-time strategy and the heart-stopping action of a first-person shooter and mashes it all into a seamless multiplayer experience.

More than just our biological imperative, sex is an unrivalled form of communication, expression and interaction; one that most of us want fast, slow, hard, soft and often.

Video gaming – as a prime example of interaction tied up in entertainment – should gravitate towards sex with the ease of two lovers hitting each other up for sweaty action, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Sex and gaming spent the infancy of their relationship as cold strangers. While the sexual world now nests comfortably in film, literature and music, video gaming has long held it at arms-length, even as it embraced the dogs of war. Weigh up the last time you spilled blood while thrashing through the latest PC or console game, versus the last time you loaded up a title containing pixilated sex toys. Violence has been a part of gaming since we first laid the smack down on aliens in Space Invaders, but digital sexuality took longer to reveal itself due in part to early gaming history being the domain
of kids.

As games transitioned from arcade boards into our lounge rooms, via early entertainment units like the Commodore 64 in the ‘80s, the gaming scene was largely the forté of children. The Interactive Australia 2007 study revealed the average age of the Australian gamer today is 28, but that same adult was likely a joystick-thrashing child of the ‘80s, a demographic without the hunger for sex games.

Despite an entertainment medium built on a generation of children, in 1982 a software company called Mystique became a misguided trailblazer, birthing a string of adult video games including one of the most bizarre in history: Custer’s Revenge. Released for the Atari 2600, Custer’s Revenge put simulated sex in a context that crossed all boundaries. Playing as the American civil war icon General Custer, you traversed the screen in only boots and holster – all three pixels of penis visible – while attempting to dodge obstacles. Your reward for completing the level consisted of having your way with an unwilling Native American girl tied to a post.

With rape the reward for level completion, Custer’s Revenge became a footnote to bad taste, drawing widespread criticism from women’s rights groups, anti-pornography groups, Native American community organisations, and the public at large. Most stores refused to stock the game and those that did served it surreptitiously from under the counter.

After the abortive efforts of Mystique Software, it’s amazing we didn’t shut up shop there and then, but the gaming public – playing the perfect voyeur – watched, waited, matured and liked what they saw.

The text adventure Leather Goddess of Phobos (circa 1986) gave fans as much raunchy suggestion and titillation as a non-graphical environment could allow, as players attempted to save the population of Earth from being turned into mindless sex slaves.

Then, in 1987 MacPlaymate came to the incredibly un-sexy MacPlus platform. It was part of a genre colloquially dubbed ‘Poke the doll’ due to simulating sexual interaction via your cursor – MacPlaymate had players wielding everything from the vanilla vibrator to the ‘Mighty Mo Throbbin’ in the quest to satisfy an on-screen girl.

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With monochrome graphics offering you alternatives of grey or white, black hair suits Maxie just fine.

In the same year Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards brought players a unique brand of cheeky innuendo, combining lewd suggestion with tame sexual imagery. By packaging sex in cheesy characters and comedic situations, Leisure Suit Larry managed to explore sex while attracting gamers perhaps too embarrassed or uncomfortable to fire up more explicit games like MacPlaymate. The series proved vastly popular spawning seven sequels by 2004, with a mobile version currently
in development.

While fun, oddball and occasionally disturbing, these early games weren’t particularly arousing.

There were elements of delight to playing them – the naughty buzz that comes from participating in anything lewd – but beyond that did little to arouse the player. The human mind is a device of imagination, but these early forays into video game sex didn’t plant the right seed to leave us panting. In essence, the world was coming to terms with the fact sex games could exist – but by virtue of the technology available couldn’t make them truly exciting. But all that was about to change.

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This feature appeared in the September, 2007 issue of Atomic Magazine

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