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The Japanese have always had different standards when it comes to nudity and sexuality in their interactive media, as exemplified by the recent announcement of Love Death 4, a game in which “that certain part of the male body” plays a starring role by way of a USB camera.

In the U.S., video game nudity (especially full frontal) is, to put it lightly, discouraged.  The ESRB’s double standard of “violence is OK, but sex is a no-no” has been a cornerstone of the ratings system since its conception.

Recently, however, the nation’s media has become more violent, more vulgar, and more sexually explicit.  This shift to a moral-less society did not happen overnight.  It all started with a little system called the Atari 2600…

1982: Custer’s Revenge is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

Custer's Revenge Screenshot

Game developer Mystique burst onto the scene with a batch of “Swedish Erotica” games for the Atari 2600, which (according to the manuals), allow “adult players to… deal with ADULT fantasies.”  The Swedish Erotica brand name was merely a marketing ploy to make the games seem more exotic, as the games were programmed in America and manufactured in Hong Kong.

Apparently, Mystique’s first perception of an “adult fantasy” was a digital re-enaction of the early pioneers’ rape (both literally and figuratively) of the Native American Indians.

See, that was the gameplay concept behind Custer’s Revenge.  You play a sexual deviant version of General Custer (pictured on the box cover sans pants) that must dodge arrows on a quest to rape a bound-up Indian woman.

That’s it.

Dodge arrows.  Rape.  Repeat.

The technological prowess of the Atari 2600 was lacking, yet Mystique created this abomination of gaming as… what?  The sprites were too lacking in detail  to be used as visually stimulating pornography.  Likewise, the gameplay was too simplistic and repetitive to keep gamers playing.

So it wasn’t really porn, and it wasn’t really a game.  Then what was it?  Well, Custer’s Revenge was two things – it was controversial, and it was money-making.

Women’s rights groups, Native American rights groups, people with souls… everybody was offended by this game.  However, controversy sells.  Custer sold over 80,000 copies (more than twice as many as Mystique’s other games, and heretofore unheard of for a game you had to hide under the counter in a brown paper bag and ask for by name).

The funny thing is: the entire controversy was probably caused by one loud-mouthed individual that “didn’t want this filth marketed to our children!”  By publicly cursing Custer’s content, this outspoken, concerned parent gave Mystique the kind of publicity money can’t buy.  A game which may have been swept under the rug with the rest of the Atari shovelware being released in 1982 was instead raised on a dank, dirty pedestal.

People were talking about it.  People were playing it.  Most importantly for Mystique, people were actually buying it.  Maybe we were just curious Americans wanting to see what all the fuss was about.  Maybe we didn’t believe that our Pac-Man machine could be capable of such a heinous crime as showing nudity (real nudity!) in a video game.

Maybe we want to just buy anything the media presents to us, good or bad.  Such is the world in which we live.

Released on the same day as Custer’s Revenge, Mystique also put out Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em.

Beat em and Eat em Screenshot

It was just a Kaboom! clone, but instead of catching bombs dropped by the Mad Bomber, you caught sperm in your mouth released by a devious-looking, roof-dwelling masturbator.  Just ignore the fact that the fluid is yellow – perhaps the roof-man has a disease?

Open wide, and don’t miss!  The back of the box explains: “Every sperm is sacred,” and it “could have been a famous doctor or lawyer.”  Swallowing is the same as getting inseminated, right?  Right?  Apparently, taking a basic human sexuality class is not a prerequisite for being an Atari programmer… but an encyclopedic knowledge of Monty Python references is.

Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em never made the controversial impact of Custer’s Revenge, and it has been forced into footnote status in the annals of porn game history.

Finally, the last of the Mystique games before they went out of business in the video game industry crash of 1983: Bachelor Party.

Bachelor Party Screenshot

Bachelor Party‘s gameplay was similar to Breakout except instead of bricks you had naked ladies, instead of a ball you had a hot-to-trot pink guy, and instead of a paddle you had… well, you still had a paddle, but it was referred to as “Spanish Fly” in the game.  Oh, and the gameplay was sideways instead of vertical.  That made it different!

Seriously though, ANY gameplay difference between Mystique’s Swedish Erotica games and games from “real” developers is notable.  It transformed Bachelor Party from a mere clone into a certifiably new gameplay experience.

Bounce the guy to the ready-and-waiting ladies and he “scored” before returning to the Spanish Fly, complete with a newly flaccid phallus.  Bop the guy with the Fly, and he’s ready for round two.  Lather, rinse, and repeat until boredom ensues.

It would be a safe bet to say that people did not buy these games for the startlingly original gameplay mechanics.  They bought them for the perfectly pixelized penises.  To see something so shockingly vulgar affronting their home console (and to actually be able to control it) must have been quite a thrill in the days before pornography was easily accessible by a few mouse clicks on the Internet.

Oh, I’m sure some people bought these forbidden fruit games because Mom and Dad would never allow it.  Or as gag gifts.  Or just to simply broaden their already wide-ranging game collection.  Whatever the reason, they DID sell, at least a little bit.

It wasn’t long at all, however, before technological advances managed to push the adult themed games to the next level.  The next year, in 1983, Magic Carpet Software released Stroker, a “male masturbation simulator.”  Wait, we need a simulator for that?  It can’t be as fun as the real thing, can it?

Stroker Screenshot

Yep.  That’s a Commodore 64 penis.  Note the incorrect spelling of “too” in the top left corner, and the cleverly labeled “Peter Meter” along the right side.  You control the hand’s speed with two keyboard buttons or the C64 joystick.  Go too slow or fast… and, well, you won’t maximize your score.  It’s all about the timing.

After you win (lose?), you’re graded PaRappa the Rapper-style with a Rotten, Bad, So So, Fair, Good, or Great.  Slow down right before the finale to maximize your score!

Stroker was recently ported to the Wii (by a fan?), a console tailor-made for inappropriate sex games.  All that wagglin’ going on… you’d think someone would have thought of it sooner.  You can download that inappropriate time waster here.  Or, you can go play Tetris.  One doesn’t make you feel like a bad person for enjoying it.

Strangely, there was no outcry or controversy over the interracial love in the game.  Perhaps the taboo of making everyone’s dirty little secret into a game was more shocking than the ebony and ivory relationship presented.  The media can’t handle two crucifiable controversies in one game!  That would be asking too much.  Magic Carpet probably didn’t want to encroach on Madonna’s exclusive taboo turf, either.

Fast forward more than twenty years to the next (and currently last) appearance of male private parts on consoles: Grand Theft Auto IV‘s first DLC, The Lost and Damned (good luck getting 1Up’s videos to work!):

With this scene, Rockstar has pushed the M-rating to new heights.  This scene puts the Hot Coffee scandal to shame, and GTAIV:TLaD is the most explicit widely available commercial game… so far.  But what will the future hold?  It was only a few years ago that commercial games would refrain from using the F-bomb.  Now, you can find it on your little brother’s DS.

Note that I said “commercial games.”  Hentai games (see: nearly every AO-rated game in existence) are generally downloadable only from very specific sites.  Still, with the commercial success of platforms like Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network, buying smut may soon be just as simple on your TV screen as it is on your PC.

Is hardcore porn the next (il)logical step for gaming?  Or will developers just keep teasing and hinting without showing the actual act, much like Cinemax has done for the last twenty-nine years?  The GTAIV genitalia was only allowed because it was exhibited in an entirely non-sexual way, and even then, it was jaw-drop worthy.

But has Rockstar set themselves on the industry’s biggest slippery slope?  They must continue pushing the envelope with each subsequent release, because it is frankly what we have learned to expect from them.  And, honestly, where can they go from here?

Manhunt, especially in the PC AO-rated re-release, had pornographic levels of violence (making it one of the incredibly small handful of titles rated overly harshly for gore alone).  Now, Grand Theft Auto IV, one of the biggest-selling non-Wii games in recent times, features full frontal male nudity.

All too often, however, sex and violence are used in games as a substitute for quality gameplay instead of as an enhancement to the storyline.  Sex still sells, and this fact alone has caused many members of the game development community to resort to using boobs to sell an otherwise generic game (see: Barbarian, Bloodrayne, others).  It may capture the hordes of MTV-watching, Mountain Dew-drinking, X-TREEEEME frat boys, but gamers with a good head on their shoulders know to stay away.  Too bad there aren’t enough of us to keep bad game sequels from being made!

Barbarian Box art

Perhaps the industry isn’t ready to completely sexualize itself quite yet, however… when the theme for the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference Game Design Challenge was declared to be “My First Time,” Valve pulled their entrant, Kim Swift, from the competition, citing concerns over the nature of the year’s theme.  Did Valve pull out because Kim is a woman?  Did they just want to maintain their sexless, zombie-killing image?  It is unknown.

One thing is for certain: with the rate at which technology is developing, we will very shortly be able to have photo-realistic human avatars on our TV screen, if not this generation (maybe Heavy Rain?), then in the next.  Whether the world uses it to tell thought-provoking stories or merely shoves a handful of binary boobs and digital dongs into our faces is yet to be seen…

Until then, we can just hope for the best.

  1. There definitely is a culture shock to seeing peni in video games, but also it’s kind of funny how different countries view sex and nudity. Great article Nick!

  2. Great article there, well done Nick.

  3. You’ve really grasped your subject matter firmly with both hands Nick. It’s good to know that someone with such experience handling this subject has gently crafted such a strong, firm article.

    Like a true journalist you have sucked up as much information on it as you could and not spilled a drop in the process.

    Your appreciation of topic has really shone through your writing and you should be proud of taking such a controversial piece and not make it appear floppy and uninteresting.

    I applaud how you haven’t left any penis untouched in your quest for the truth about cock.

    Bravo sir.

  4. avatar Joh

    Well I never had this game in my Atari 2600 collection back in the day. And for good rosaen!! I’m pretty open about a lot of things, but this one just isn’t right. I remember the first 2 games I got for that system were Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Pitfall. I loved those two games. Oh!! I also love the game Berzerk (not sure I spelled it correctly) as I was totally into Battlestar Gallectica back then and that game reminded me of it.

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