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Sex in Video Games: Landmark Moments

The progression of adult content in the gaming industry.

A steamy scene for the video game The Witches

We stand at the edge of a new era when it comes to adult content in video games. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for games aimed at mature audiences to include nudity, sex scenes, and romance options covering a range of preferences and orientations.

But this wasn’t always the case. In previous decades, the inclusion of any sexual content provoked strong reactions from critics, consumers, and rating boards. Even today, sexual themes can attract more prohibitive age and content classifications than portrayals of criminal activities or graphic violence.

Times are changing fast, however. Every year, developers break new taboos in gaming. We’ve come a long way.

How did we get here?

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

A screenshot from Leisure Suite Larry, the video game.

Sierra’s smash hit was one of the earliest graphic adventure games to feature adult themes. Players took control of 38-year-old Larry Laffer on a quest to lose his virginity in the city of Lost Wages (a parody of Las Vegas).

Adapted from the first ever adult-oriented game, the text-based Softporn Adventure (1981), LSL managed to be brash, bold, and risqué, while including only brief, partial, and heavily pixelated nudity. In spite of complaints about its adult content, the game was a huge commercial success and launched a long line of sequels and spin-offs. LSL showed the world that there was a market for adult content in video games.

Dōkyūsei

Meanwhile, in Japan, an entire genre of adult video games emerged called “eroge.” In 1992, ELF Corporation introduced Dōkyūsei, the world’s first dating sim.

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Following the adventures of a male high-school student, the game allowed players multiple romantic options that culminated in unabashed cartoon nudity. To progress, players needed to capture the heart of each chosen girl.

Inspiring countless imitators, Dōkyūsei changed the face of the industry, inventing at the same time the influential interactive romance novel. It thus paved the way for future and even more popular titles such as To Heart (1997) and Kanon (1999). Click here for a demo[NSFW].

Nude Raider

A nearly-nude Lara Croft lies provocatively on a bed.

While Japan forged ahead, past controversies left developers reluctant to risk incorporating adult content into new titles. So gamers made their own.

In 1996, Core Design’s bold and buxom adventurer Lara Croft captured gamers’ hearts and minds. Soon, false rumors about a built-in “nude code” for the game began to circulate. It wasn’t long before naked pictures of Lara, and the infamous “Nude Raider” patch, which rendered her naked in the game, appeared online.

Already under fire for what some perceived as the hypersexualization of their heroine, publisher Eidos Interative succeeded in limiting distribution of the patch. But Nude Raider established a tradition of gamer-developed patches and mods that continues today.

Second Life

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Build it, and they will come. That was the philosophy behind Linden Lab’s Second Life, which launched in 2003. SL is a massively multiplayer and three-dimensional online world emphasizing user-generated content.After its release, its player base soon grew to approximately a million members.

Users quickly discovered that, besides allowing quotidian activities such as socializing, trading goods, or even attending virtual concerts, SL was also ideal for virtual sex and provided a safe space for exploring various fetishes and fantasies.

Although avatars don’t come “equipped,” genital packs can be purchased from third parties, some of which are compatible with teledildonic sex toys—ones that can send and receive sexy transmissions over the Internet so you can feel the erotic action between avatars. SL paved the way for more adult-oriented virtual worlds, such as Red Light Center, which debuted in 2006.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Hot Coffee mod

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If these previous titles sparked heated controversies, the GTA Hot Coffee mod ignited a bonfire. When GTA San Andreas (2004) shipped, it included an inaccessible, interactive sex mini-game. Normally, when a player’s – avatar girlfriend invited him inside for “coffee,” sex was only implied. But once the game had been hacked, players could watch and control the action.

This was not the first appearance of interactive sex mini-games. For example, in the eroge Cobra Mission (1992,) players had to select different methods of stimulating a woman’s body to max out a pleasure meter. Just a few months before the mod was discovered, God of War also incorporated controllable sex, but left the action off-screen; players saw only a candle shaking on a bedside table.

The sight of polygonal bodies in GTA mashing together drove critics into a frenzy. The game’s rating was changed from M (17+) in the US to Adult’s Only, and refused classification altogether in Australia. Nonetheless, the episode went down in video game infamy. Another taboo had been broken.

In an expansion pack to the sequel (The Lost and the Damned, 2010), GTA would also be the first series to show realistic full-frontal male nudity.

Mass Effect series

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BioWare had incorporated romantic subplots into their acclaimed RPG Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and introduced same-sex romances in Jade Empire (2005). But the Mass Effect series took things to a new level, integrating coy but cinematic sex scenes and allowing players to romance alien races.

This ruffled not a few feathers, and in the sequels BioWare removed all nudity, while eventually adding same-sex romances for male as well as female protagonists. Such a strong emphasis on player choice continued in its other RPG franchise, Dragon Age, which expanded these options to include various fantasy races.

Such games integrated elements of dating sims, originating in Japanese eroge, into much broader genres. To see the scenes in Mass Effect that caused all the fuss,  click here [NSFW].

The Witcher series

Video game The Witcher features sizzling sex scenes.

Monster hunters, sorceresses, and unicorns: The Witcher series has it all—and somehow manages to fit all three of these aforementioned elements into probably the most graphic sex scenes to date.

In CD Projekt’s trilogy, based on the novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, players take control of professional monster slayer Geralt of Rivia in a massive open-world RPG. Using a fixed player-character, The Witcher excluded female protagonists and same-sex romances. But the cinematic sex scenes broke new ground. Those featuring the sorceress Triss Merigold in the ruined elven baths and Geralt’s other love-interest Yennefer riding her unicorn (not what it sounds like) set new standards for what developers could include in their games. While there was no male nudity, there was a heck of a lot of skin all round.

Although nudity was removed from the Australian version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and censored in the Japanese and Middle Eastern versions of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come that the series’ fairly explicit sex scenes (see here [NSFW]) were given a pass in North American and European markets. Games are moving forward – in adult content just as much as in other areas.

Image sources: The Witcher’s LairInPixelation, たかみたくろう, Game TrailersDutchie Furniture Second Life Marketplace, SniperTech07, Xisildorkinderstrudel

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  • Dave VR

    Hi Tom! Congrats on that post, it’s really interesting. Anyway, I think you’ll also have to mention adult virtual reality games. It’s definitely rising niche. We’re trying to create kind of Steam VR for NSFW titles, please check it out: http://gamevirt.com