Porn and Pong: Sex in Video Games

More than four months ago, when Grand Theft Auto IV was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox360, the Office of Film and Literature Classification in Australia awarded the game a MA15+ rating for “strong violence, strong coarse language,” and “drug and sexual references.” But this was only for the edited version. The full adult-version of the game is visually more sexual and has received a R18+ rating in New Zealand and a M17+ in North America.

The combination of video games and sexuality is not a new thing, and now pop-culturists can read all about it in the new book, Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Modern Pop Culture. (The cover of this book may be too crude for many viewers. I would not recommend looking it up online.)

The author, Damon Brown, can be considered an expert in the area of sex and pop-culture. Brown is a regular contributor to Playboy, SPIN, the New York Post, Inc., and he writes the Inspector Gadget column for PlanetOut, the largest gay and lesbian website.

A New Thing?

Some of us may think that sexuality in video games is a relatively recent phenomenon. If that’s what you think, then you would be very wrong. Brown’s research has unearthed some interesting highlights:

The 1980s saw an influx of porn computer games. In 1981 a text-only game, Softporn Adventure, was released for the Apple II. In 1982 Strip Poker was released for the Atari 800, Apple, Commodore, and IBM, and according to Brown, “it became the standard by which all sexual party games would be measured.”

Then came Leisure Suit Larry in 1987, a video game that Brown labels “the torchbearer” of pornographic games. The game follows Larry Laffer, whose main objective is hooking up with the different women he meets. “The visuals were detailed, the plot ridiculously silly and the jokes appropriate on a truck stop bathroom wall,” Brown writes. He also comments, Larry is “obviously not from the generation that’s dealing with HIV,” noting that the game came out at the height of the awareness of the AIDS epidemic. “It’s almost like a nostalgic look at the swinging 70’s.”

The decade of the 1990s brought us Cobra Mission, with both R-rated and X-rated editions. 1996 was “a banner year” for sex in video games, according to Brown, because of the rise of the video game sex-symbol Lara Croft, of the Tomb Raider series. For the first time a character “made out of polygons” was competing with real life supermodels for poster-placement on dorm room walls.

According to Brown, the turning point between games that were influenced by culture and games that influenced culture was 2001, with the advent of Grand Theft Auto III. Since then a slew of games have been released that feature sexually alluring material, even erotic homosexual imagery—games such as Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, Bully (nicknamed “Grand Theft Auto Junior”), and Mass Effect.

Game Consoles and Internet Access

Today game consoles also have added features: Internet access. As a result, these new game systems are not only a portal for sexualized games, but for pornographic media and online sexual interaction. Recently a 10-year-old boy was playing Halo on his Xbox and got a video message from a man that showed the adult engaged in a sex act. While this is decidedly rare, using consoles to find online porn is not rare. In one blog, a child wrote, “The first thing I thought of when I downloaded the Wii browser was also porn.” And some porn sites are creating “Wii friendly” screens, reconfigured to fit the Wii and the Playstation 3.

(Consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Xbox360 do have parental controls to restrict access.)

Pornography and Technology

Wherever technology goes, pornography is not far behind, and in some cases it is the adult industry that drives the technology. The Senior Editor of Playboy, Scott Alexander, writes, “Pornography is the secret engine that drives the adoption of most modern technology, video games included.” Sadly, he is right. Several months ago Damon Brown commented on his blog,

“It seems so obvious: If we invent a machine, the first thing we are going to do—after making a profit—is use it to watch porn. When the projector was invented roughly a century ago, the first movies were not of damsels in distress tied to train tracks or Charlie Chaplin-style slapsticks; they were stilted porn shorts called stag films. VHS became the dominant standard for VCRs largely because Sony wouldn’t allow pornographers to use Betamax; the movie industry followed porn’s lead. DVDs, the Internet, cell phones. You name it, pornography planted its big flag there first, or at least shortly thereafter.”