There was this one time a videogame journalist sent an email boasting about what a brilliant feature he'd just written. Except he accidentally forgot to delete the draft notes that were attached to the end of it. Everybody who received it (and it was quickly forwarded) agreed that it provided quite a frightening insight into his psyche, full of unexpected violent threats towards 'chavs'. Imagine what people would make of the draft notes I composed for this article then. Here's a small smattering: Battle Raper; seminal; hentai; knob in your hands etc.; Custer's Revenge (first game to feature an erection?); Tomb Raider skinflick; Baldur's Gate, undressing elf; Japanese game in which you poke a girl's... Well, I think you get the picture. That's because, following my expert appraisal of hentai, Eurogamer has asked me to write a definitive history of sex and nudity in games. It would, of course, take too long to list every sexual moment, or nude patch in the history of videogames. What follows, then, is a history of the most seminal moments in the history of videogame sex, if you will. Or, if you're too young for that sort of thing, you won't.
Sex in games is now a serious business. Thanks to Eurogamer's earlier article on the subject, you'll no doubt already be aware of the hentai sub-genre, but sex is also starting to turn up in mainstream games like Mass Effect (lesbian kiss) and God of War 2 (topless females and threesome). It's also inspired fully-fledged sexy games like Playboy: The Mansion, as well as serious academic studies and one fairly mainstream book (Sex in Videogames, by Brenda Braithwate, lead designer on the aforementioned Playboy game - and on the rather less sexy Dungeons & Dragons Heroes). The IGDA has even set up a special interest group devoted to sex in videogames for any budding sexy game designers out there. In any given moment, you can rest assured that gallons of virtual body fluids are currently being spilt in a massively multiplayer universe somewhere near you. And the internet is awash with all sorts of tawdry cash-in mini-games with names like Orgy Escape, or Virtual Hottie 2 - the videogame equivalent of ringtones (Google 'sex games' if you want to see what I'm talking about. Actually, probably don't).
So where, in the words of the man from room service who found George Best cavorting, did it all go wrong? Probably as soon as someone realised that sex sells, which is at least as early as 1988, when the cover of Barbarian (or Deathsword, if you're American) fuelled countless millions of schoolboy fantasies thanks to the appearance of Page 3 stunnah Maria Whittaker (alongside Wolf from Gladiators). In October 2004, the games industry returned its debt to the soft porn industry by gracing the pages of Playboy with artistic imaginings of some of its hottest babes, like, um, BloodRayne. Heck, even middleware adverts have been spiced up with adverts that focus on erect female nipples.
Things got worse the moment the first person imagined they fancied a bunch of pixels on a screen. Chun-Li. Lara Croft. Zangief. In many ways, it's quite frightening to think that most people reading this will have fancied a videogame character at one time or another, whether they admit it or not (just to be clear, for example: I've never once fancied Dead or Alive's Lei Fang or Soul Calibur's Taki).
In fact, things got worse even before the use of pictures in videogames. Probably the earliest videogame to feature sex was Softporn Adventure, published by Online Systems in 1981. The game was a text-based adventure bearing the caveat 'For Adults Only!' above a picture of three topless females in a jacuzzi (one of whom was the game's designer and company co-founder, Roberta Williams). It wasn't the only sexy text adventure. The world's first licensed sex game was Avalon Hill's Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex, another text adventure (well, multiple choice quiz), released in 1986. That was the same year that Infocom's text adventure, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, allowed players to choose the game's level of lewdness.
One of the earliest games to feature an actual graphical depiction of sex was Custer's Revenge. It wasn't the only X-rated game released by Caballero Control Corporation in October 1982; there was also Bachelor Party and Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em. But Custer's Revenge managed to eclipse both of those titles by featuring, as a reward for dodging some crudely depicted arrows, the first example of videogame rape (and, maybe, the first display of an erect penis in a videogame). Nevertheless, in spite of the game's subsequent notoriety, it only managed to sell 80,000 copies - which was considerably less than a commercial success back then. Less controversial, and marginally less crudely depicted, was the Leisure Suit Larry series of graphic adventure games, which wowed American gamers in the late '80s - around the time that we Brits were entertained by the much more sophisticated Sam Fox Strip Poker (a game that featured 'a high degree of artificial intelligence', according to Your Sinclair).
But the arrival of the CD as a storage format introduced the limitless sexual potential of the interactive movie. One of the most notable, 1992's Night Trap, for the Sega-CD, was actually not that sexually explicit. It was basically a compilation of badly shot movies of a bunch of teenage girls at a slumber party, cobbled together into an almost-game in which you had to save them from vampires (with tights over their head). Its notoriety rests on the fact that it ended up in front of US Congress in 1993, as part of a joint hearing into the marketing of videogame violence to minors. Consequently, it sold out across the country.
An equally overstated footnote in the history of sex in games was Phantasmagoria, another interactive videogame, created by Roberta Williams (14 years after her Softporn Adventure). It, too, featured a blend of sex and violence (including rape), and spawned a sequel starring the first openly bisexual character, Curtis Craig.
But it was the introduction of polygons that really enhanced the possibilities for depicting sexy videogame characters, and since the dawn of the PlayStation era, the industry has been peppered with them. Duke Nukem achieved a certain amount of infamy thanks to its scantily clad strippers and hookers; Fear Effect's promotion push made no bones about its lesbian protagonists; and the Dead or Alive series, and its adjustable boob bounce, took its titillatory tendencies to their logical conclusion with the Beach Volleyball series. Indeed, the list is endless. The tawdry nudity in BMX XXX prompted Dave Mirra to make sure his name wasn't attached, while Fahrenheit was praised in some quarters for its mature and romantic approach to sex (although it's worth pointing out that in other quarters it was derided for featuring sex with dead people, and for playing an almost softporn-funk theme whenever a black man appeared on-screen).
The list could go on, but that would leave little room for the sexy Easter Eggs that videogame creators have gifted us with over the years. In a rare blow for sexual (and homosexual) equality, programmer Jacques Servin subverted the 1996 Maxis title, SimCopter, by replacing all the bikini-clad females with males. In an all too common blow for sexual (and homosexual) inequality, he was promptly fired. Fortunately, Konami took a less dim view when Hideo Kojima left his sexy Easter Eggs in Metal Gear Solid, leaving players free to catch a glimpse of Meryl's underwear on several occasions throughout the game (this feature was also left intact when the game was reprised on the GameCube).
And where would any history of sex in games be without a mention of all those 'unintentional' sexy moments - which doesn't include getting hold of high-definition porn for your PS3. No, this category includes stuff like the debug mode that allowed internet perverts to arrange female characters into provocative poses in Bloody Roar 3. Or the recent upskirt shots of Minna no Golf 5. Or the discovery, by females on the internet, that the Rez trance vibrator, um, vibrates. In other words this category consists of apparently innocuous games disguising offensive filth, like the female elf that you can strip down to bra and pants in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.
And oh how the industry laughed when the famously not mental Jack Thompson described The Sims 2 as a 'paedophile's playground'. While one wonders what he'd make of all the animal sex in Zoo Tycoon, he has got some semblance of a point: although a fairly innocent game in design, in execution, there's a fair amount of provocative near-nudity and disgusting flirting. It's made worse by the ready availability of nude skins to transform near-nudity into fully fledged nakedness.
Which brings us onto user patches. While the likes of Chun-Li had been wowing gamers for years, Lara Croft was the first gaming sex symbol to break into the mainstream consciousness. So it's hardly surprising that she became the subject of the first notable implementation of the nude patch (as well as the subject of several real-life porn movies, or so I'm informed). And the nude patch industry (which is presumably a bedroom one) has never looked back, with, for example, a patch for Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball recently evoking the ire of series creator Tomonobu Itagaki.
And so to Grand Theft Auto. After creating a minor furore with the interactive hookers in Grand Theft Auto III, the series went on to spawn a proper maelstrom with the release of San Andreas. An entire article could be written about the Hot Coffee user mod, but it can be summarised thus: the creators of GTA: San Andreas left an unfinished mini-game buried in the code of the game, which was discovered by some industrious hackers, who then created a mod to allow players to take control of a simulated sex scene. A storm in a teacup, really, though, unfortunately, one that sparked a controversy that still rages in the US.
Which just goes to show that, in many ways, videogame sex reflects the real world activity: Europe's more relaxed attitudes to sexual congress can be measured by its relative indifference to Hot Coffee. Sex in videogames is almost as widespread, and wide-ranging as the real thing. From upskirt photos in obscure adventure games like Michigan to the oddly enormous breasts to be found in Stretch Panic/Freakout; from hentai depravities and the likes of Battle Raper to Erotic Spot the Difference; from discreet clinches in RPGs like Planescape Torment, to elaborate fetish scenes in online games, it would appear that the gaming world and its sexual needs are well-serviced. And I even managed to make it to the end without making the knob in your hands joke. Or any reference to sexy cos-play. Maybe next time.