Bumpin’ & Grindin’ in Realtime, or:
Gaming Gets Nekkid?
by Thom Pugh
PSM Magazine struck gaming news gold in their April issue when San Francisco-based 1-Up Studios gave the publication an exclusive look at its upcoming Playstation title, Valkyrie Wilde: Full Frontal Assault. Though clearly a Tomb Raider rip-off – right down to the crumbling antediluvian temples and, uhh, dual pistol-packing heroine – what sets Valkyrie Wilde apart from everything else released in the twenty-odd-year history of console gaming is that the title character will be wearing less than a tank top and brown hoochie shorts. A whole lot less, actually.
What 1-Up hopes to cash in on is something hygienically challenged fan boys have been silently praying for for years: the world’s first fully nude console game.
Besides the quintessential utility belt and dual semi-automatics, Val will be raiding tombs dressed in the same manner in which she came into the world. If you ask me, realistic light sourcing and underwater levels (complete with their gravity-defying properties) have never been better used. Before Valkryie Wilde, adult games were strictly PC-based affairs and only available via mail order or at those creepy, poorly lit shops in the section of town Mom always warned you to avoid. The ESRB does indeed have an "A," or "Adults Only," rating, but this year will mark the first time it’s ever been implemented on a console game. For those not in the know, the gaming industry polices itself much like the MPAA polices Hollywood, utilizing a ratings system based on the letters "E" ("Everyone"), "T" ("Teen"), "M" ("Mature") and the aforementioned "A."
Despite the inevitable controversy Valkyrie Wilde is bound to ignite, there’s quite a few sexually frustrated geeks out there with money to burn. The game may not sell like the latest Playboy spread, but it will definitely turn a profit. Sony has even given 1-Up its full support, according to Valkyrie co-creator Jeff Chen. Eventually these "T&Action" titles (a name Chen’s partner, Eric Marcoullier, has applied to the infant genre), or "burned" copies for those with a decent mod chip, may someday be sharing space with the stack of Larry Flynt publications under Junior’s mattress.
At this point I suppose it’s only fair to let you readers in on a little secret: you’ve been had. There is, in fact, no such thing as Valkyrie Wilde, nor is it likely that Sony would have openly supported creating such a game at this time. PSM originally ran the article as an April Fool’s Day joke, though the gag was pulled off so well that television news programs from coast to coast were reporting the title’s existence as fact. While I may have just collectively blue-balled hundreds of drooling gamers, sexuality still plays a significant role in game design and marketing these days—and the trend shows signs of only growing increasingly more risqué. Is a real Valkyrie Wilde indeed possible in the foreseeable future?
Is it sexist? Perhaps. Misogynistic? I wouldn’t go that far. Silly? You betcha. On the other hand, gaming has historically been more or less a boys’ club, and the truth of the matter is that sex sells (pixilated or otherwise). Looking back, if Valkyrie Wilde was indeed the real deal, it would simply be the curvy Omega Point for a gradual evolution in games using titillation to sell more copies.
Some of the earliest titles containing randy subject matter belong to a franchise where this kind of notoriety certainly comes as a surprise: Final Fantasy. The fourth installment in the popular cross-console role-playing series (labeled Final Fantasy II in the U.S.) featured a secret room where players were met by sprites representing members of the game’s design team. By rummaging through one particular corner, the player could discover a hidden stash of Japanese porn magazines the programmers read while on the job. Players have the option to pick one up and leaf through its naughty goodness, though the game responds by turning the screen red. This is, perhaps, in reference to a common symbolic feature in manga (Japanese comic books), where having a bloody nose represents that a male character may be thinking less than pure thoughts about a female cohort. Despite the fact that no actual pornographic content appears in FF IV, and none of the characters truly declare that the magazines are of an adult nature, this sequence was removed from the game for its American release.
Final Fantasy VI (III in the States) grew even more risqué—if one could call it that—as it featured a character known only as Madonna (appropriate, don’t you think?) and a half-feral creature called an Esper getting down to a bit of the freaky-nasty. In spite of what you may be thinking, all the lusty human-magical being action was represented by two moving balls of light. Don’t let that get you down though, folks, they were pretty hot moving balls of light. Flash forward a few years to Final Fantasy VII, a title more gamers are likely to recall, which featured a sultry, polygon-based mama named Tifa Lockheart, who did battle with the forces of evil wearing little more than a shrunken mid-riff t-shirt and pair of Daisy Dukes.
While scarce in the States, Japan has been mass-producing adult PC games for years. Called hentai (literally meaning "pervert"), this popular gaming genre runs the gamut from silly erotic soap operas to riskier themes far too tasteless to mention. For years, one of the more recognizable titles in the U.S. was Cobra Mission, an RPG where the player must infiltrate a terrorist-plagued island, slay ridiculously easy baddies (who said people bought ‘em for the challenging gameplay?), and rescue loose women. Apparently, the damsels in distress are so impressed by trigger-happy brute men that each completed level is followed by an interlude of virtual hanky panky. For a land under siege, motel rooms are surprisingly abundant and affordable on Cobra Island. The title gained a decent amount popularity in the West, and for years, when many fan boys thought of hentai, they may very well have thought of Cobra Mission. Admit it, hardcore gamers, who doesn’t recall the demo being passed around among a number of high school computer clubs? Not that I ever played it…
U.S. computer game publishers did their share of the dirty work, as well. Digital Pictures’ short-lived title, Night Trap, caused a furor that television and print media outlets quickly gobbled up as part of their "violent games = pint-sized Hannibal Lecters" campaign. Night Trap, one of the early so-called "interactive films," revolved around the player rescuing scantily-clad women held hostage by a group of murderous vampires. Some of the hostages suffer grisly deaths at the hands of their undead captors, and it was from this plot element that the controversy stemmed. Sierra’s first-person adventure/horror game, Phantasmagoria, caused such a stir that large national retailers like CompUSA refused to carry it. In an odd twist to the story, Roberta Williams, a Sierra regular best known for creating the storylines for the family-friendly King’s Quest series, penned the game’s script. At a whopping eight CD-ROMs, Phantasmagoria is also one of the longest games of its kind ever produced. A less successful and even racier follow-up, Phantasmagoria 2, (which CompUSA did carry) featured brief toplessness and scenes of sado-masochism.
Perhaps no game revolutionized sex as a focal point in the industry more than Eidos’ uber-successful Tomb Raider quartet. Gamers around the world have thrilled (among other sensations) to the antics of high society bimbo-cum-amateur archaeologist, Lara Croft. The series proved that even mediocre gameplay and derivative plots would be overlooked by the masses when the heroine sported a perpetual wedgie. New elements such as underwater exploration and snowmobiling through dangerous mountain passages were incorporated into the sequels, less for introducing fresh and innovative gameplay, and more as an excuse to dress Miss Croft in progressively sexier outfits.
My personal experience with the game, however, is limited to numerous unsuccessful attempts to jump up to a ledge in the first level, followed by my getting extremely pissed off and consoling myself by wandering in circles shooting endangered Bengal tigers. Since getting on Gloria Steinem’s nasty side apparently wasn’t enough for Eidos, they decided to give PETA the raspberry as well. I suppose you can’t accuse the company of not having any cajones.
While its fifteen minutes may have reached their peak, the property still holds water in the industry and has spawned a sea of merchandise ranging from action figures to swimsuit calendars (check out that computer rendered g-string!).
So what have we learned from this brief history lesson, gamers and gamettes? Very little, but it was a damn fun excuse to write about tits and ass, wouldn’t you say? If any wisdom can be gained from titles like Tomb Raider and the wave of copycat cash-ins that followed, it’s that mixing testosterone-charged action or the gleeful satori of solving some brain-busting puzzle with our inherent glandular urges can pack a powerful commercial punch. It also means that my proposed Crack Whore RPG may finally see the light of day…