In a world where all the porn you want is readily accessible within a few mouse clicks (until the British government take it away from us, at least), it’s hard to imagine anyone getting hot under the collar over animated pixels. But for a while – from the early 1980s until the late 1990s – there was a steady stream of X-rated computer games released, ranging from the simplistic to the complex (the game tie-in for Michael Ninn’s Latex was pretty much incomprehensible, as I recall), sold first on floppy disc and then on CD-ROM, the latter allowing the use of video to enhance the action. They all stem from a simple, black and white game released in 1987 called MacPlaymate.
MacPlaymate wasn’t the first adults-only game – that credit seems to belong to Custer’s Revenge, a notoriously rapey Atari game that caused considerable outrage in 1982. But MacPlaymate was different – it was PC (well, technically Mac) based, supplied on a floppy disc, and while black and white and crude, the graphics were relatively state-of-the-art for the time. It was created by artist Mike Saenz, who had previously brought the world Shatter, a science fiction comic book that was the first to be digitally created.
The gameplay in MacPlaymate was hardly complex – the player enters the bedroom of a woman called Maxine and attempts to seduce her by answering a series of questions – answer correctly, and she removes some clothing, answer wrongly and you’re shown the door – which rather makes a joke of the claims by some that the game encouraged non-consenual sexual activity with a non-human character that is under the player’s control. These are, of course, the same fears we’re currently seeing about sex robots.
Once Maxine is naked, you can dress her in stockings or fetish wear (including a ball gag), and use assorted sex toys – a gripping hand, the ‘Mighty Mo Throbber’, the ‘Deep Plunger’ or the ‘Anal Explorer’ – or add a second woman to the mix, all in order to attempt to bring her to orgasm – which is the only other aspect of game play involved.
MacPlaymate went on sale at the MacWorld show in San Francisco in January 1987, and was an immediate hit at $50 a pop. It attracted the attention of the Vice Squad, though no action was taken against it, and was the subject of a hilariously hand-wringing report in the Los Angeles Times – 1987 was, after all, a time when the sex industry was under constant attack by politicians, feminist campaigners and the media. It also attracted legal attention. MacroMind, the company behind the software used to create MacPlaymate, threatened to sue, which seems a little like Sony suing someone for filming a porn film with their camera. Playboy took exception to the name, and it was officially shortened to ‘MacPlaymat’ on packaging.
By that time though, it was too late. Like many a computer program and porn film, MacPlaymate was widely pirated – an easy task considering the entire thing fitted on a single floppy disk – and spread around the world. It was certainly a pirated copy that fell into my hands around 1991.
In 1990, Saenz created an upgraded version with a new, legally airtight name – Virtual Valerie came on CD-ROM, was in colour and had better graphics. Beyond that, the structure and gameplay were essentially the same. In 1995, Saenz’s company Reactor released Virtual Valerie 2 on CD-ROM, this time with much more modernised, cyberpunked graphics and more complex game play – too complex, in fact, as working through the various levels and bringing Valerie to orgasm suddenly became something of a chore. And by this point, CD-ROMs like Space Sirens and Virtual Vixens were offering actual video within their gameplay, making the animation of seem rather quaint. Ultimately, the game was too fiddly for anyone looking for sexual jollies and too crude for gamers. Valerie / Maxine had reached the end of her life.
Upgrades to operating systems and hardware have made these games obsolete – they are pretty much impossible to play on a modern Mac. And adult CD-ROM gaming itself is now ancient history. But with VR erotica being hyped as the next big thing, maybe we’ll yet see the return of this sexual pioneer. After all, the gameplay doesn’t seem that far removed from what is being worked on now…