With the imminent releases of Gears of War 2 and Fallout 3, it's time to think back to the criticism levied against the last round of "hyper-realistic" graphics. It seems the closer games get to uber-fidelity, the more gamers realize exactly what this entails. The cost of ultra-realism will take its toll: on artistic direction, on level design and, worst of all, on the boobs.

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Digital boobs are the unsung heroes of the graphical arms race. They're the harbinger of new technology as well as the most abused part of any physics engine. Boobs brighten our day, make us chuckle as they swing with ludicrous motion and on occasion arouse us in ways we would never admit - especially to our significant others. We love boobs.

Back in gaming's infancy, boobs were little more than properly placed pairs of the letter C, pointing in whatever direction the programmer desired. In these early days, boobs were abused constantly, thanks to lax production standards; your very own pair was only a few lines of code away, no matter how poorly implemented or out of place. There were plenty of famous titles, but considerably fewer famous titties.

One of the earliest examples of breasts in a videogame is Bachelor Party, an absolute horror of a game created for the Atari 2600. In Bachelor Party, you control what seems to be a nude man as he bounces up against what appear to be nude women - his erection makes them vanish, which lends the game some much needed realism. But the breasts! The cone-like monstrosities hardly even qualify.

Even then, however, graphics were making leaps and bounds over themselves. The Nintendo Entertainment System was the first to feature a comparatively sharp eight-bit resolution that allowed for crisp lines, well-defined characters and, of course, more curvaceous boobs. Bubble Bath Babes and Peek-A-Boo Poker both graced the screen to considerably better reception than their predecessors. In each, breasts were hand-drawn with loving care, but they were still simply static images. We took what we could get. After all, boobs are boobs, and in America, digital boobs were about to vanish completely.

The late 1980's saw the rise of child advocate groups in the U.S. who campaigned for stricter regulations and increased censorship of media. Like the music and film industries, videogames were able to avoid trouble through self-censorship - and digital breasts were the first to go. It was probably for the best - after all, even with the dawn of the 16-bit era, what were we really missing?

Not much, it turns out. Overseas, where sexuality is a different matter entirely, Japanese gamers were flooded with exactly what you might expect - catfights and dating simulators. Each offered the discerning gamer a chance to see boobs - but dating simulators were little more than digital comic books with an interactive twist. Only the catfight games forged the technology ahead. Strip Fighter featured the classic Street Fighter style with a heavy focus on bouncing cleavage. Defeat your opponent, and you were rewarded with a digitized photo of boobs.

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