It has been said that every time a new technology is developed, the first thing people attempt to use it for is to commune with the dead. I don’t know if I entirely agree with that. From where I sit, it’s more like, every time a new technology is developed, the first thing people attempt to use it for is jacking it. I betcha, within minutes of ole mate Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone, he was using it to get his rocks off.

Case in point? From the dawn of video gaming, developers have been producing graphic, er, graphics, honing new ways to digitally render the naked human form. Of course, that sexuality is often rather softcore – think the illogically buxom Lara Croft of the early Tomb Raider games, or the gaggle of barely-clothed fighters in Mortal Kombat. But every now and then, developers decide to go for it and create some hardcore gaming – triple A titles that are about as sleazy as a sex shop’s worth of smut.

Not, mind you, that developers seem to understand how human sex actually works. In the overstuffed history of commercial video game production, no major publisher has ever nailed a sensual, truly erotic sex scene. Instead, perhaps assuming their audience is nothing but a gaggle of horny nerds with about as much understanding of nuance as a pitbull pumped with Viagra, developers have instead repeatedly programmed leery, unpleasant sex scenes that denigrate both women at large, and the very people playing them.

Leisure Suit Larry

One of the earliest examples of developers going whole hog and programming explicit content in their games is the extraordinarily racist and tone deaf Custer’s Revenge. In it, you play as Custer, he of the doomed last stand. Sporting nothing but a bandana, a cowboy hat, some boots, and a disproportionately large erection, you must make your way through a gauntlet of arrows, so that you might wheedle your way up to a native American woman tied to a pole on the opposite end of the screen and sleep with her. It’s gross, distinctly icky stuff – there’s a reason that the game was recently voted one of the worst ever made, beating out even the widely despised E.T. Atari game.

It also caused the first real anti-video games stir in the mainstream media – and for good reason. Although the game’s instructional booklet advised that if children were to see the explicit ending of Custer’s Revenge, they should be told that “Custer and the maiden are just dancing”, the game was criticised by women’s rights groups, Native American advocacy groups, and the press at large.

It was years before the next major video games scandal broke into popular consciousness. Rather than being stirred by content in the actual game, however, this next bout of moral furore was prompted by a hidden level – namely, the “Hot Coffee” secret stuffed into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In this “normally inaccessible” section of the game, players invite their girlfriend around for “coffee” only to then engage in blocky, pixelated intercourse with them.

At least this time around the digital sex scene was considerably less offensive. Indeed, these days the screenshots from the then offensive material look endearingly quaint: you can barely see anything, so ill-defined and blurry are the characters, and their sex is about as erotic as two dolls being bumped up against one another.

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But even as graphics have improved, and games have grown increasingly beautiful to the eye, still sex in video games is uniformly grotty. Of all the examples of recent years, perhaps none is more egregious than the opening of the recent-ish Duke Nukem: Forever, in which the main character receives a bout of fellatio from a pair of distinctly young-looking twins.

As the world at large becomes less and less conservative, and becomes increasingly open to nuanced depictions of sex between consenting adults, it seems that video games are still trapped back in the dark ages. After all, the mascot for adult video game entertainment is a wide-collared, slicked back, distinctly leery creep named Leisure Suit Larry. That should tell one everything they need to know about where games are at, and how far they have to come.

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