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A Deep Look At The Evolution of Pornographic Video Games

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DISCLAIMER: In this post, I will be examining the history of porn video games, and how they have evolved over time. While the content matter of these games is most definitely NSFW 18+ I will be aimed at having a civil discourse about them and how they fit into the broader landscape of games, including multiple examples. It is an attempt to have a PG-13 discussion about an X-Rated sub-genre (or theme might be a better term). The first section of this is purely history of porn games, the second portion is discussing how modern porn games have evolved and stand out significantly from how they were once perceived.


History


Porn & Video Games

For nearly as long as there's been a mass market for video games, there's been attempts at making pornographic games, from the earliest Apple II and Atari systems, we've seen games like Custer's Revenge and Softporn Adventure (a relatively tame humorous text-based game). This trend never truly died out, and while it's remained largely underground and niche, the world of pornographic games has been a truly remarkable one in it's evolution.

What makes a game pornographic? Well intent largely, is it intended to be sexually explicit and titillating? It might be tempting to include certain mainstream games among the discussion such as the Mass Effect or Witcher series which are a bit infamous for their sex scenes. Yet just as steamy sex scenes don't make a romance novel into erotica, neither does softcore bumping and grinding cutscenes make a porn game. No for it to really count, the porn aspect has to be tied to the gameplay, or at very least be it's reward, and a core aspect of it's appeal.

1980s & 90s: Porn Games Arise

While I was alive, as someone who did not turn 18 until after the new millennium, I cannot be the perfect historian for the experience of these classic games, though I have played a few, I can only speak anecdotally based off observation rather than first-hand accounts.

During the last 15 years or so of the 20th Century, porn games were largely simple affairs. They largely consisted of remade versions of normal games with sexual graphics such as X-Tetris which replaced shapes with naked people who would engage sexually when aligned properly. There were several simplistic versions of games like Strip Poker, yet where porn games really shined was Japan. With Visual Novels being quite popular in that country, a subgenre known as Eroge was born, which featured stories featuring sexual CGs as rewards for completing particular routes, particularly in dating sims. While very few of these games made it out of Japan, they were quite prolific, and there exists a large number of eroge games and the respective studios that made them which began in the 90s.

Porn games remained relatively obscure during this time due to the way they were distributed, often through ads in the back of magazines, or sold through mom & pop software stores. They were not easily found, even if you were looking for them.

2000 – 2010: Porn and the Internet

With the internet largely becoming a worldwide phenomenon by the turn of the century, the distribution of porn, and likewise porn games became almost ubiquitous with the online experience. The advent of Macromedia's Flash as a web development tool, the era of Flash Porn Games began in earnest, and likely continues to color people's perspective for what porn games continue to be even today (which we'll discover is not true). Flash allowed even amateurs with little art or coding skill to create animations, and simple interactive games. This gave rise to literally tens of thousands of simple flash porn games which were often short unsophisticated arcade style clicker games which required you to do things like click rapidly to fill a bar, shake your mouse vigorously, find the secret spot to click on an image, or answer correct multiple choice questions to proceed. You were often rewarded with a short scene, sometimes multiple, few of which were anything spectacular or worthwhile. They worked well as porn for those inclined towards cartoonish representations, yet were extremely lackluster as actual games, and most of them couldn't even really turn a profit, so were released for free, with a few exceptions.

Online Flash Games were not the only player on the sex game block in this decade though. With the rise of game development software and easy to use modding tools, there was a rise in hobbyist game designers taking these tools to often create pornographic mods for existing games, as well as making simple erotic games with the likes of GameMaker, Adventure Game Studio, Ren'Py and RPGMaker. The adult modding scene is one that continues to this day, and even during this period there were many notable mods that gained attention, from the likes of Lara Croft nude skins to adding actual sex animations in The Sims. The game creation scene while it did have it's releases, did not fully break out of it's niche corridors until a bit later.

Japan also continued to innovate the porn game genre. While Eroge games continued to be made and be popular, especially with the internet helping their market outreach, it was no longer the only game in town. A company known as Illusion began creating full 3D animated porn games, including one that gained some notoriety due to it's non consensual depictions of sex, with the rather accurate name of RapeLay. Though Illusion also made several other titles such as the Sexy Beach, Artificial Girl, and Schoolmate series which while never officially released internationally gained a rather dedicated following in the west from those who released fan-translated patches for those games.

Japan wasn't the only one making 3D adult video games, in 2008 D-Dub Software made BoneTown, a 3D open world action-adventure porn game with very juvenile and offensive humor. There were also several subscription based online 3D games often affiliated with porn studios which acted as simulators that let you interact and have sex through browser-based plug-ins. There were also several mainstream games that arrived on PC and Consoles that began to more openly approach sex, two notable examples being Playboy: The Mansion and Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude both of which featuring topless nudity, and softcore depictions of sex acts.

While the internet gave a new audience to these games, they largely stayed among isolated communities

2011 – Present: Game Platforms, Crowd Funding, Artistry, and Shovelware

So now we're up to this most recent decade, what could have really changed? Well there's been several significant changes that have occurred, not just in how games are made, but how audiences find them and interact with them, and their development.

Game making programs continued to advance considerably not just in what they could do, but their user-friendliness, and the communities for them expanded. More and more people who grew up playing games became indie game developers, and with a whole suite of tools which made the solo game developer a more practical option, many were free to pursue passion projects, including those featuring porn. It is because of this that in this last decade we see less and less actual traditional game development companies tackling adult games, though they certainly still exist, but that smaller decentralized indie groups and solo developers account for much more of the market.

Japanese game devs continue on making Eroge and 3D Sex Simulators, the core difference beyond the increased graphical fidelity of these games is that these companies have learned there is a western audience, and what was largely locked to Japan before became profitable to localize and export elsewhere. Companies like Fakku! and MangaGamer provided a store-front and localization effort for many Eroges and even some Illusion games that after 2 decades finally had officially licensed localization of their games.

In the west, the advent of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon allowed many small indie developers to rise to prominence. Particularly when paired with the modern state of early-access games, episodic content, and post-release support, this allowed many hobbyists to use crowd funding to focus purely on developing their game with an actual budget and release playable state copies to their supporters as the game is being worked on.

Between crowdfunding platforms and the rise of gaming storefronts as digital platforms, several of which have relaxed rules on pornographic content, Adult games have never had a greater presence and access than before. In 2018 the most popular PC Digital Platform, Steam, completely removed their restrictions on adult games, causing a massive surge in games commonly using the nudity and sexual content tags to flood the market. While it's easy to see that much like the plague of low-effort Flash games from the past, that 90% of these games are shovelware using simple concepts with titillating artwork at low prices to make quick money. Yet for anyone willing to dig through the trash, there actually exist remarkable gems within this sea.


Evolution


Below I'll examine numerous porn games and describe how they evolved the genre of porn games, and some of their impact.

HuniePop – This game was kickstarted in 2016 and later released on Steam with an optional patch for it's more hardcore content (a common practice prior to Steam loosening it's restrictions). While on the surface it follows the similar conventions of past adult games using simple puzzle mechanics tied to porn-as-reward, HuniePop set itself apart from the rest by it's level of polish and content. It is a Match-3 game that not only borrows the concept, but innovates upon it in ways that make it even more fun to play than some of the very games that spawned it. Tied in with a dating sim meta-game, your dates involve a color-tile matching game where combining the right type of tokens (divided up as Lust, Romance, Talent, and Flirtation) rewards you with the points necessary to complete a successful date, and further your goal of getting rewarded with the sex CG at the end. In addition to the polished visuals, with some limited animation, the game is also 100% voiced, and was popular enough to not only spawn a sequel, but multiple imitators some of which also proved popular such as Mirror and microtransaction heavy versions by companies like Nutaku

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Summertime Saga is more successful on Patreon than the NoClip Documentary team and the guy who makes Dwarf Fortress by a factor of over 500% both in terms of patrons AND revenue. As of this writing they are earning over $70,000 PER MONTH. While these is a small team (about 7 people) involved in this, that's an insane amount of money for a porn game. So what makes Summertime Saga worth it? Well one could say it's wholesome storyline and likeable characters help a lot, and hey for a porn game, that's a fair beat, it definitely shies away from the darker aspects that other porn games are notorious for, but it's hardly the only porn game that's got decent writing. It's production value is top notch, again a running theme you'll see among several of these games. While it features 15 main routes which can be done concurrently, it has well over 50 animated sex scenes, and a huge cast of characters all done in an original 2D Western Art Style. While it's done in Ren'Py, a Visual Novel game maker, it features non-linear gameplay, dozens of mini-games and while several fans may find consternation at their release schedule, are fairly prolific, releasing about 3 major content updates per year.

Fenoxo is an indie developer who decided rather than focus on innovating in graphics or presentation, would create immersion, detail, and roleplay potential. He is responsible for creating Corruption of Champions (which has a sequel) and his current project Trials in Tainted Space which are text-driven RPGs, That's right, all text, and while there are some versions with static character portraits, they are fan-sourced. The main game is told through large chunks of detailed text, and plop you into worlds full of magic or futuristic tech with outlandish aliens or monsters, many of whom you can have a variety of erotic entanglements with, ranging from vanilla, to topics that'll get you looked at funny in a Furry convention. If Dungeons & Dragons had a source book on smut, this would be it's interactive offspring.

Princess & Conquest while RPGMaker games are more often terrible or uninspired, which could be said for most porn games, what if I told you that one of the best RPGMaker games out there is a porn game? Yes, move over To The Moon and Last Dream. P&C was born from Towergirls, a forum-based community game that spawned on 4-Chan, yet has gone on to become it's own separate entity divorced from it's inspiration, yet clearly wears it's origin to any who know what they are looking at. What is it? It's an open world action RPG where you play as a knight in a divided kingdom ruled by monster girl princesses who are constantly on the brink of war and other problems. Well solving problems is what knights do, so choose your sides, choose your princesses, and get sucked into a strategy war meta-game with dating sim elements where you can woo and romance dozens of princesses, have casual flings with the many denizens of their kingdoms, and even breed progeny similar to Poke'mon. It's got a ridiculously fast update schedule where new content drops almost monthly. Fully animated 2D sex scenes, dozens of costumes for each of the dozens of different princesses, which you can interact with in a staggering number of ways, from serving their kingdom, to sneaking in at night to sire an heir with them so they can abdicate their throne, to overthrowing their kingdom, forcing them into slavery, then buying them at a goblin auction, just to join your party. It's almost a shame that it's a monster girl porn game, because beyond it there is a substantial amount of game here.

Being a DIK – If Summertime Saga is a game that pushes the limits of what a program like Ren'Py can do, Being a DIK is what happens when you make utilize all the tools to make a masterpiece. This game belongs on the shelves next to college humor legends like American Pie, Porky's, and Meatballs. It is a choice-driven multiple route story of a college freshman who finds himself looking to join a fraternity, and gets quickly caught up in a huge amount of drama, and beautiful women. The game tasks you with trying to balance college life between attending classes (each with requisite mini-games that remind me of Bully), trying to complete your hazing to join your fraternity, and spending time wooing one of many beautiful girls who has taken a liking to you. All the while you manage a morality meter that goes between CHICK and DIK for each action you take, which all amounts to consequences and choices that actually affect the outcome. Despite it's sophomoric premise, it actually manages to be heartfelt and emotional at times, taking you through quite a ride showing that even a game filled with college humor and sex can have a soul. It has 6 released chapters so far of substantial length already.

Breeders of the Nephelym – You know all those stories you hear of lone indie developers making a huge game all by themselves? Well here's the smut equivalent. Breeders of the Nephelym aims to be a "porn-first" type of game, where you aren't locked into long routes or hours upon hours of gameplay just to get your reward. Within 10 minutes you are already going out into the world, having sex with monsters, and capturing them for your farm to breed them. While the gameplay here is a bit lacking, the presentation and polish is staggering. There's systems here that can be built upon, and it delivers on it's promise of porn first. There's over a dozen different types of monsters to catch, each with unique skins and body traits visible on their fully 3D rendered and animated bodies, and they can be bred with any other monster, many of which can result in hybrids between the two monster races. You can even breed them with your character, either as a human or in a spirit form version of any monster you choose. There's little more to this game beyond capturing and breeding monsters, yet it is breathtakingly gorgeous with a modestly sized open world to explore, beautiful scenery, great animations, and lots of variety. Might also be a good time to mention that due to the success of their Patreon, this game, like Summertime Saga and Fenoxo's games are released totally free.

House Party is a 3D first-person adventure game where you guessed it, you're invited to a house party. In it you interact with various partygoers and undertake various objectives that have you searching the house for items and interactive elements, and timing everything just right to finish each route. With multiple characters, and separate chapters you have a lot of story here, some of which is rather basic, but the gameplay is akin to those popular Walking Simulators like What Remains of Edith Finch (if that game were about boning chicks at a party…)

Max Gentlemen: Sexy Business! an economic clicker-style sim where you manage a business in a mock parody of Victorian England. Did I also mention is has smut? If you want it to. You recruit several executives to help you overthrow rival companies (through public bouts of fisticuffs) and along the way you can woo and date them (and there's men AND women in equal measure for you to pursue). These dates often form small mini-games, and reward you with new costumes and ultimately steamy encounters. The game is thoughtful enough in it's provocativeness giving you several layers of censorship you can opt to turn on, if you so choose, giving you full agency over how much you see or deal with.

Haydee is perhaps the tamest game on this list, but needs to be mentioned because it is pure fan-service mixed with competent game design. What do you get when you mix a THICC-as-a-BRICK android, Dead or Alive Jiggle Physics, and Valve-esque 3D platforming? Haydee has you playing as a very buxom busty faceless android who must navigate through a deadly maze that looks like it came right out of Portal. She is there solely as fan-service of course, but also to distract you as you try to keep her jiggly-ness from dying. It is an extremely challenging platformer with several action set-pieces where you must fight deadly robots using very limited ammunition, or find a way to sneak past them. It's puzzle solving, competent platforming, and challenging action all well designed with a robot who walked right out of a teenage boy's wet dream.

Shady Lewd Kart is a Kart Racer… an actually somewhat decent one. Which goes full meta and features racers and characters from numerous other adult-porn games, and combines it all with a dating sim mechanic where you collect date items on courses to further unlock new scenes and characters. While the art style of the kart racing is certainly not what one would call erotic, what makes this noteworthy is not so much it's lewd content, but it's position as a competent game in it's own right, and it's community draw in how it brings in characters from multiple other adult games.


The Discussion


Like it or hate it, porn games are here to stay, and while they will always exist (perhaps rightly so) in the underground behind closed doors and spoken only of in hushed terms, they are undoubtedly part of the wider gaming landscape, and one that I feel deserves a spotlight and discussion. So while I don't necessarily want to lead this discussion any particular way, I thought a good place to start is with the general perception of porn games. Obviously those who have a problem with porn, won't play these games, and it's perfectly fair to criticize the sexual content of games if you dislike it (though I'm hoping for something more constructive here) but for those who have experienced such games, or been open minded about sexual content within games, I am the most curious how aware of the evolution of these games they are. I meet many who believe that porn games never grew beyond the shovelware flash games era, and even today it's easy to see why that perception remains, yet there still exists gems within that mire that act as actual games, ones that can be critically examined on the basis of being a video game rather than just as porn. We've gone beyond just quick cash grabs, and simple mechanic games to layers of complexity and polish previously unheard or seen, some of which rivals or trumps the more popular mainstream indie scene.

What has been your personal experiences (if any) and/or perceptions of games focused on sexual content either in the past or present?

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