The things that the old computer saw…
It’s easy to assume that lewd games are a relatively recent addition to the gaming landscape. A lot of people attribute the rise in their popularity to Japan’s adoption of fanservice-heavy anime-style games in the PlayStation 3 and subsequent Vita eras — but they’ve been around for a lot longer than you might think, in both the East and West. And now, decades on, much like pin-up, grindhouse and retro porn, there’s a certain vintage aesthetic to these works that demands renewed study.
My earliest ever encounter with a lewd game was at quite a young age. Among our collection of questionably acquired software for the Atari 8-bit – everyone who owned an 8-bit home computer had a collection of questionably acquired software – we had a game simply called “Strip Poker”, developed in 1983 by an American company called This was an adaptation of ﬁve- card draw poker in which you competed against one of two virtual girls — one of them was named Suzy, the other was Melissa. I always liked Suzy best, although the garter Melissa wore around one thigh always intrigued me.
I was a bit young to truly appreciate what was going on at the time, I think, but I knew that it was a game I probably shouldn’t let my parents see me playing. On the school playground, we’d heard tell of this mysterious game called “Strip Poker” — which, being stupid children, we initially assumed was a game where you got naked and poked one another — but this was my ﬁrst understanding of what it actually was. It was probably also one of my ﬁrst encounters with gambling. Thoroughly wholesome stuﬀ for a young child to be interacting with, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I don’t know if I want to describe my time as a child with Strip Poker as a sexual awakening, but it was certainly something I found fascinating at the time while simultaneously being aware that it was “wrong”. Or was it? After all, this was a game which, if you hadn’t already pirated it from your local “computer club”, you could go out and buy in a shop or order from a distributor. So surely sexy games were, in fact, nothing to be ashamed of. Such were my ill-formed thoughts at the time, anyway.
The appeal of strip poker
I found Strip Poker oddly compelling, because it was obvious that the game had made a certain amount of eﬀort to give the girls “personalities” through little one-liners that appeared in a text display on the screen. This was not something I’d really seen done before, and I really appreciated it; it made me feel like I wasn’t just sitting in front of my computer — I was actually competing against a character that I could interact with.
This feeling of “attachment” to an on-screen character is something that will be very familiar to fans of visual novels and other story-heavy games — and while Strip Poker doesn’t exactly have a “story” or any really meaningful character development, it was one of the ﬁrst games I ever saw where the characters involved actually addressed you, the player, directly.
Fast forward a few years and both my brother and father are writing articles for an Atari magazine called Page 6, with most of their attention being paid to Atari ST software. Every couple of months, we’d get a box of review copies in, and my brother would take on the games while my father explored the more “serious” software and ﬂight simulators.
One month in 1988, we got a copy of a game called Teenage Queen by French developer ERE Informatique. This one sticks in my mind for several quite diﬀerent reasons. Firstly, it was the birth of my love for thigh-high stockings on girls, since the titular Queen in the game sports a rather fetching white pair that is one of the last things to come oﬀ. Secondly, I picked up the gameplay very easily because it was just ﬁve-card draw poker again. Thirdly, I discovered by happy accident (and possibly through a conversation I overheard after I’d gone to bed one evening) that it was possible to open all of the image ﬁles for the Queen’s various states of undress in the Atari ST art package Degas Elite.
Fourthly, and perhaps most signiﬁcantly, the ﬁnal image in the sequence involved the girl not simply stripping naked, but ripping open her chest to reveal that she’s actually an android. What a delightful twist. And while I don’t think I was completely conscious of the thought at the time, in retrospect this was the beginning of my understanding that the erotic wasn’t necessarily something that had to be taken overly seriously; you could have some fun with it, too. And, indeed, over the years, erotic artists have often done just that.
After that, it wasn’t really until the age of the Internet that I got back into exploring interactive erotic material, but it was at this point in the mid-’90s that I discovered Japanese animated erotica and pornography — hentai.
I forget exactly how I came across it, but I remember discovering a site called Sushi-Worx, also known as Abyss Hentai Anime. I was intrigued by this site, because I was just starting to discover the anime medium, and I knew that anime had an “adult side”. I didn’t realise quite how adult until I started to discover some of these images, though.
I was immediately smitten; these were among some of the most erotic images I had ever seen, and owing to their hand-drawn nature, lacked the distinct air of grottiness that I’d often found oﬀputting about “real” porn. To me, they were works of art; art that I didn’t feel I could show to anyone, yes, but art nonetheless.
One thing struck me as strange, though: a lot of these images were categorised as being from “games”. I wondered exactly what sort of game would have images that were this erotic and this high of a quality, so I started to look into things a little more deeply — as well as downloading vast amounts of the Abyss Hentai Anime archive to a deeply buried subfolder on our computer’s hard drive!
Those heady early days
Eventually, I stumbled across some of these games being distributed illegally online. One of the ﬁrst I remember seeing was named Girigiri Telephone Call. It took me a while to track down what this game was called from my own vague memories — to such a degree that I questioned its very existence for a while — but it is indeed real.
I remember ﬁnding it incredibly striking. It was all in Japanese — presented to me as Windows 95’s garbled attempts to render Japanese text without a Japanese font installed — and thus I didn’t understand anything that was going on, nor did I know what any of the options that appeared occasionally meant. But by clicking randomly through these until something happened, I was treated to some of the most astonishingly ﬂuid fully animated erotic sequences I had ever seen at the time; they were quite unlike anything I had ever seen in a video game before.
Up until this point, western games had often been pursuing the far-oﬀ ideal of the “interactive cartoon” with limited success — and yet here, on my 17-inch IBM monitor, was an honest-to-goodness example of exactly that having been achieved, quietly and without any real fanfare. But no-one said a word about it because it was “porn”.
I was intrigued. I knew I wanted to see more of these erotic games — though I also felt a certain amount of anguish at the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to ﬁnd any in English, judging by the west’s apparent reluctance to localise dating sims. Or would I?
Again, I forget the circumstances under which I came across it, but sometime around 1997 I discovered a game called “Ring-Out!! Pro-Lesring” for download on a questionable site of the late ‘90s Internet — and it claimed to be in English. So I downloaded it while my parents were out, installed it, started playing it… and found myself very surprised to be wrapped up in a compelling, tragic and emotionally engaging story that just happened to feature strong (and, at times, horrifying) erotic elements.
Ring-Out!! tells the story of Aya, a young girl who is sold into slavery by the yakuza after her parents are unable to pay a debt. She is forced to participate in an all-girl sexual wrestling event for the pleasure of local masked businessmen and crime lords, and ﬁnds herself continually subject to physical and mental abuse, all of which are very explicitly depicted — albeit with what we now know as the trademark “invisible genitals” censorship of the era.
I played Ring-Out!! from start to one of its several diﬀerent conclusions in a single sitting, and stepped away from its short but intense runtime rather confused. What I’d just experienced, without a doubt, featured extremely explicit sexual imagery — but it didn’t feel quite right to call it “porn”. I’d felt a curious mix of emotions while playing — for sure, there was the unavoidable physiological reaction to strongly erotic imagery, but the narrative context made a huge diﬀerence, and meant that, not to put too ﬁne a point on it, I didn’t really want to “use” the game as porn.
Looking back on Ring-Out!! more recently, it became apparent that the story as a whole is, to a certain degree, intended as something of a sexual horror story. It’s a game that forces you to question yourself somewhat; if you’re ﬁnding what you’re seeing in some way arousing, is that “wrong”? Does that make you any better than the disgusting businessmen and yakuza who are watching Aya perform for their pleasure? Does the fact that you know it’s fantasy make a diﬀerence?
In retrospect, Ring-Out!! was a very curious choice for UK-based localiser Otaku Publishing to bring to the West, since anime was already on somewhat shaky ground in the region at the time due to heavily sexual and violent series getting a fair amount of negative media attention. The other games that they brought west — which included all-time classic dating sim True Love ‘95, comedy- sci-fi visual novel Time Stripper Mako-chan and the two “sexy slice of life” Paradise Heights games — were much tamer, but it was somehow Ring-Out!! that I stumbled across ﬁrst.
The “dating” sim
True Love ‘95, though, now that was a game. Oddly enough, this was the ﬁrst sexually explicit Japanese game that I ever felt able to “share” with others. Once again, we acquired it through morally questionable means — it will not surprise you to hear that Otaku Publishing didn’t survive long after the turn of the century due to rampant piracy of their products — but there was something about this game that caused both my university friends and I to latch on to it and not let go until we had played it to absolute death.
For me, True Love was exciting because it was the ﬁrst time I’d ever seen one of those mysterious “dating sims” I’d heard about in magazines but never actually knew anything about. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it not only provided solid characterisation and a compelling narrative, as I’d seen in earlier erotic titles, but also some gameplay beyond clicking through text boxes and making occasional choices.
Speciﬁcally, as a recent convert to the RPG genre at the time, I found its stat-building gameplay thoroughly fascinating — and having revisited it recently, it still holds up very well today from a mechanical and narrative perspective, even if its localisation, done very much on the cheap by Otaku Publishing, leaves a lot to be desired from both technical and artistic perspectives.
There are, of course, myriad other erotic games from the ‘80s and ‘90s that I could mention, but sadly available space precludes me from giving too many other examples right now.
Suffice to say, though, this is a side of gaming history that remains largely undocumented — and thus if you choose to dive in yourself, you’ll doubtless ﬁnd a variety of fascinating experiences to enjoy. And you can probably be pretty safe in the knowledge that you’re one of only a few people to have had those experiences — particularly in more recent years.
Please note: This article originally appeared in the January 2022 edition of the Dee Dee Zine. As we are no longer publishing that magazine we have republished this here for posterity.