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The inclusion of sex and nudity in video games has been a controversial topic since the early days of the industry. While many video games have used scantily clad images or characters to sell or enhance games (see sex in advertising), this article deals with games that use sex acts or nudity as a character motivation, in-game reward, or simply as a gameplay element. These games originate worldwide, on most platforms and in most genres. While releases in Europe and North America have been sporadic, Japan has seen the emergence of a distinct genre—the eroge (or erotic game).
One of the earliest video games (if not the first) to feature sexual themes was the 1981 text-based Softporn Adventure, published by On-Line Systems for the Apple II. Despite heavy piracy the game still sold 25,000 copies, roughly equivalent to 25% of the number of Apple II's sold at the time. In a 1981 article in Time Magazine, On-Line reported that they were making a version of the game for straight women, though this never materialized.
In 1982, Japan's Koei, founded by husband-and-wife team Yoichi and Keiko Erikawa (and later known for strategy video games), released the first erotic computer game with sexually explicit graphics, Night Life, an early graphic adventure game for the NEC PC-8801. That same year, Koei released another erotic title, Danchi Tsuma no Yuwaku (Seduction of the Condominium Wife), which was an early role-playing adventure game with colour graphics, owing to the eight-color palette of the NEC PC-8001 computer. It became a hit, helping Koei become a major software company.
Also in 1982, the video game company Mystique released three unlicensed games for the Atari 2600; Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em, Custer's Revenge, and Bachelor Party. The games were noted for their negative reception, particularly Custer's Revenge for its depiction of (what was perceived as) General Custer raping Native American women. Despite the increased sales (due to one of the first instances of video game controversy), Mystique went out of business after only releasing these three games. A company named Playaround began distributing these games packaged in 2-in-1 "double-ender" cartridges. These games also included re-worked versions with female protagonists, Philly Flasher (Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em), Bachelorette Party (Bachelor Party), and General Retreat (Custer's Revenge). The re-released version of Custer's Revenge was titled Westward Ho!, and featured slight modifications, such as the Native American woman beckoning to indicate that she welcomed Custer's advances. They released four new titles, Burning Desire/Jungle Fever and Cathouse Blues/Gigolo. 1983 saw the release of another Atari 2600 game, X-Man. X-man features the player as a nude man working through a maze toward a pink door in the center, past antagonistic crabs, teeth and scissors. Players that reached the pink door were rewarded with a controllable sex scene.
Like with Koei, several other now-famous Japanese companies such as Enix, Square and Nihon Falcom also released erotic adult games for the PC-8801 computer in the early 1980s before they became mainstream. Early eroge usually had simplistic stories and extreme sexual content, such as rape. These factors often led to widespread condemnation from the Japanese media. In some of the early erotic games, the erotic content is meaningfully integrated into a thoughtful and mature storyline, though others often used it as simply an excuse for pornography. Erotic games made the PC-8801 popular, but customers quickly tired of paying 8800 yen ($85) for such simple games. Soon, new genres were invented. ASCII's Chaos Angels, a role-playing eroge, inspired titles such as Dragon Knight by Elf and Rance by AliceSoft.
In 1986 On-line Systems (now called Sierra On-Line) asked game designer Al Lowe to create an adult game in the graphical adventure style made popular by their King's Quest series. Lowe took the basic elements of Softporn Adventure, greatly expanded it, and released it as the 1987 game Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Sierra didn't advertise the game and retailers were loath to carry it, so initial sales were low. However word-of-mouth spread and soon the Leisure Suit Larry series was a success, spawning two sequels before the end of the decade, 1988's Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), and 1989's Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals.
With CD-ROM and multimedia based games in the 1990s, most adult games featured video clips with limited interactivity. Both pre-rendered and real-time 3D graphics were also used. While most games could be considered nothing more than pornography, some attempted to include actual story and plot. This can be seen in some games with less explicit content, equal to an R or PG-13 rated movie.
1990 saw the release of the first game in the Gals Panic series. The game derived gameplay elements off an older title called Qix, which notably didn't have sexual images. The object of the games is to slowly remove pieces of the playing field while avoiding an enemy or groups of enemies. Removing the playing field slowly revealed a pictures of models in escalating states of undress. The game had nine sequels throughout the 90s (with a final game in 2002).
In 1992, Elf released Dōkyūsei. In it, before any eroticism, the user has to first win the affection of one of a number of female characters, making the story into an interactive romance novel. Thus, the love simulation genre was invented. Soon afterwards, the video game Otogirisou on the Super Famicom attracted the attention of many Japanese gamers. Otogirisou was a standard adventure game but had multiple endings. This concept was called a "sound novel."
In 1996, the new software publisher Leaf expanded on this idea, calling it a visual novel and releasing their first successful game, Shizuku, a horror story starring a rapist high school student, with very highly reviewed writing and music. Their next game, Kizuato, was almost as dark. However, in 1997, they released To Heart, a sweetly sentimental story of high school love that became one of the most famous and trendsetting eroge ever. To Heart's music was so popular it was added to karaoke machines throughout Japan—a first for eroge.
After a similar game by Tactics, One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e, became a hit in 1998, Visual Art's scouted main creative staff of One to form a new brand under them, which became Key. In 1999, Key released Kanon. It contains only about 7 brief erotic scenes in a sentimental story the size of a long novel (an all-ages version was also released afterward), but the enthusiasm of the response was unprecedented, and Kanon sold over 300,000 copies. In 2002 a 13-episode anime series was produced, as well as another 24-episode anime series in 2006. Although many eroge still market themselves primarily on sex, eroge that focus on story are now a major established part of Japanese otaku culture.
Modern console publishers often have policies against depictions of nudity and explicit sexuality, particularly Sony with its PlayStation brand of consoles. BMX XXX for the PlayStation 2 was censored, while versions on the Xbox and Nintendo GameCube were not and featured nudity. However, Sony allowed nudity in the title God of War, which was also developed by Sony.
A new generation of adult social games has emerged that bring multiple users together in sexual environments. Examples include Red Light Center, Singles: Flirt Up Your Life and Playboy: The Mansion. While it is not explicitly intended for purely adult-oriented entertainment, the virtual world of Second Life, which is made up almost entirely of player-made content, has an array of not intended adult entertainment including nudity and full-on sexual activities.
Adult games may take the form of bootlegs, circumventing mainstream publishers who may have policies against such games. Patches or hacks to mainstream non-adult games may add sexual and pornographic themes, mostly for humor, especially when sexuality was never intended in the original game. Examples include the Tomb Raider video games, the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Hot Coffee mod, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, (which both have multiple such mods), Half-Life 2's FakeFactory Cinematic Mod and ROM hacks for console emulators.
The Internet has allowed adult games to receive wider availability and recognition, including amateur games in Flash or Java. It has also allowed amateurs to create and distribute adult text adventure games, known as "Adult Interactive Fiction" or AIF.