Despite the efforts of publishers like Atari, Nintendo and Apple, there has always been sex on videogame consoles. Because of these companies’ efforts, however, sex games have been constantly stifled in the past two decades. So far, the iPhone has been just another step in the tangled, murky and mostly dead-end relationship that gaming has long had with adult entertainment; but it has the potential to be much more.
Apple has been pretty strict about what’s allowed on the iPhone, requiring developers to submit their products for the company’s approval before they’re listed on the App Store. No full-frontal nudity or displays of sex are allowed, and Apple isn’t afraid to crack down on violators, such as when they recently banned the app Hottest Girls from their App Store due to its inclusion of pictures of naked and topless women.
This is far from the first time a publisher has taken a direct role in regulating sexual content on its platform. In the 1980s, a company named Mystique made a name for itself peddling some infamously sleazy games for the Atari 2600. These games were generally versions of older titles such as Kaboom! or Pong, but with the player controlling pixelated versions of naked men and women.
Spooked by Mystique’s antics, Nintendo would later carefully scrutinize every game made for the NES. Much like Apple today, the company rigorously censored each game before granting an “Official Nintendo Seal of Quality.” This still didn’t stop a publisher called Panesian from releasing titles like Peek-A-Boo Poker, which featured 8-bit lasses with names like “Full-House Francine” who were more than willing to reward players with some skin depending on how skilled a card shark they were. All of Mystique and Panesian’s games were considered bootlegs, unauthorized by either Atari or Nintendo.
Unlike Mystique and Panesian’s titles, there are adult games available on the iPhone that aren’t bootlegs, but legitimately released pieces of software. Today, any iPhone owner can log on to the App Store and freely purchase several different types of strip poker (though again, without nudity) as well as other games with titillating content.
Take iGirl, for example. Subtitled “She Obeys,” iGirl lets you put a 3-D model of your dream girl in the palm of your hand. You begin by customizing your lady friend’s appearance however you wish; after that, you can push a button to make her dance, or blow on the iPhone’s microphone to make her strike Marilyn Monroe’s famous pose. It’s more creepy than titillating; your iGirl mostly just stands there and recites the occasional quip, more in line with The Stepford Wives than Weird Science.
iGirl, lacking as it is in anything approaching nudity, is obviously much tamer than consumer demand may dictate, a necessary condition of its placement on the App Store. A lot of people, however, question the point of Apple keeping out the steamy stuff, since the iPhone’s Safari browser allows unrestricted access to the internet. What’s the point of censoring a naughty app if someone can log on to Booble.com anytime (and anywhere) they want?
Steven Weitz, an instructor of media arts at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Carbon Community College, sees this practice as “hypocritical.” “The fact that you can get to [practically] any pornographic material on the web via the Safari browser … completely contradicts Apple’s ‘no adult material’ policy,” he says.
It’s this frustration that has led some, much like in the days of Mystique and Panesian, to look for options outside Apple’s walled garden. Do you want your iPhone to display a pair of bouncing breasts whose appearance you can manipulate right down to the color and size of each areola? Do you want to use your iPhone as a vibrator? Then you, my friend, will have to jailbreak it.
“Jailbreaking” refers to the practice of hacking an iPhone or iPod Touch to allow it to load unauthorized third-party applications. Apple touts the practice as illegal, though it hasn’t yet enforced this claim. Jailbroken iPhones even have their own unsanctioned marketplace, the Cydia Store, which allows for the buying and selling of homebrewed iPhone apps.
A lot of apps for jailbroken iPhones are pretty innocuous, such as ones allowing you to record video using the iPhone’s camera. There are a number of programmers, however, who see it as a chance to develop more risqué content for the platform. According to a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year, renegade marketplaces similar to the Cydia Store are in development, including an as yet unnamed one that will specialize in selling adult games. Just like in the days of Atari and Nintendo, there are people vigorously at work trying to fill the void of sex games on their platform of choice.
As it currently stands, however, adult games on the iPhone haven’t evolved much beyond their Atari and NES equivalents. Just like Peek-a-Boo Poker, iPhone sex games are largely copycats of other titles with the addition of some extra cheese- or beefcake as a reward. iHottie, for example, is a digital version of a sliding tile game, but with pictures of Asian models instead of dinosaurs or flowers. Sexy Hangman is the classic word game with your choice of a picture of a hunk or babe in underwear for your trouble. Marine Girls is for all those who are into chicks with Qix.
Even iGirl is derivative of a previous game, coincidentally enough for the Macintosh computer. MacPlaymate was released in 1986 and was the first game in a genre which Brenda Brathwaite, author of the book Sex in Video Games, calls “the virtual woman.” In the game, players use digitized representations of body parts or sex toys to bring an onscreen woman to orgasm. MacPlaymate inspired dozens of imitators with names like Orgasm Girl, 3D Playmate and Virtual Hottie. iGirl is simply the newest and most portable in a long line of MacPlaymate derivatives.
In a recent email conversation, Brenda Brathwaite attributes this creative stagnation in sex games partly to the marketplace. “Devs are hampered by the retail channel which largely avoids sexually-themed material and definitely avoids sexually explicit material,” she says. The market has never fully embraced sex-related games, hence why adult games have never evolved past sensationalism like iGirl and strip poker. If an innovative sex game ever became a breakout hit, it could lead to a sea change in the industry’s perception of the genre.
By allowing developers to bypass traditional retail outlets, the iPhone could theoretically be the ideal platform for sex games. There’s clearly a market for it, and the iPhone’s online connectivity means the platform isn’t beholden to potentially squeamish brick-and-mortar outlets. Furthermore, the iPhone’s third operating system update, released earlier this year, allows Apple to flag certain applications as “mature” and offers parental control on the device. As Weitz points out, with this system in place “Apple no longer has an excuse to censor apps,” since users can easily block the content they find offensive.
Allowed to create titles without fear of censorship or outright exclusion from the App Store, developers could one day create a new, more sophisticated kind of sex game for the iPhone, breaking out of the rut the genre’s been in since its inception. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Apple will turn around and permit sexually explicit content on its platform. Under the right circumstances, however, this garden could grow some most enticing fruit.
Robert Stoneback is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his blog at 1up.com. Robert would like to give particular thanks to Steven Weitz and Rob Zacny for their help with this article.