Sexual content in entertainment is typically frowned upon, but it’s not exactly an alien concept that just sprouted thanks to the fruits of modernity. You’ll find plenty of old comic books and even romance novels spliced with erotica before computers were invented. So naturally, once humans have managed to create a digital space filled with digital humans, sexual content in video games soon follows.
They’re a lot more prevalent and persistent than you think. Each decade after the birth of the first gaming consoles even has its own trendsetters for sexual content in video games. As digital technology improved and laid the groundwork for more realistic and lifelike simulations, sexual content in video games grew even more advanced.
Let’s all take a look back at how some mainstream video game creators in history wanted to ensure that you got the ‘bang’ for your buck.
Atari Attempts (1980s)
Some of the very first video games that featured adult-themed entertainment or sexual content appeared a few years after the release of the Atari 2600. Atari 2600, or the VCS, somewhat revolutionized the concept of video game consoles since it was the first of them to be able to connect to television sets.
In the early 1980s, out came some pornographic games like X-Man (unrelated to Marvel’s X-Men), Bachelor Party, and the scandalous Custer’s Revenge, which depicted a cowboy in post-colonial America violating a Native American woman after dodging some arrows.
Needless to say, they were crude (some even problematic) and had neither a good video game story nor a sensible context. These are games centered around sexual content rather than including them as an integral part of a story or as a gameplay ice-breaker.
The aforementioned titles would later fade into obscurity as the more mainstream and family-friendly ones took the spotlight.
Leisure Suit Larry’s ‘Love’ Lectures (1980s Onwards)
Video games in the 1990s didn’t fare much better than games in the 1980s when it came to incorporating mature and responsible sexual content. Apart from the coy and rather softcore portrayals of anime girls in Gals Panic, the other title to foster a semblance of a legacy would be the Leisure Suit Larry series.
Well, technically, this series began in the late 1980s, but it had plenty of sleeper hit titles all the way to the year 2020. As far as sexual content goes, Leisure Suit Larry mostly showcases some highly suggestive gameplay sequences where the titular sleazy protagonist keeps comedically trying to bed voluptuous women (and succeeding with some of them).
The sexual payoffs became more and more explicit as digital technology improved to a point where they could finally afford fully animated sex scenes.
Hot Coffee Controversy (2004)
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that video game developers tried to push the boundaries of what would be possible or permissible as sexual content in video games.
The Grand Theft Auto series from Rockstar Games was already making bolder strides with their portrayal of sex. And it’s worth noting that the studio was no stranger to criticism from conservative groups due to its gameplay and story centered around criminal activity.
Grand Theft Auto 3 and even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City even featured censored sex minigames where players could pick up prostitutes on the street and pay them for their services.
Then in 2004, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ensured that Rockstar Games found themselves in their biggest legal trouble. The developers jokingly created an explicit sex minigame for San Andreas called ‘Hot Coffee’ where the protagonist, CJ, can have sexual intercourse with his girlfriend(s), and it was a fully-controllable sequence.
They deactivated the content prior to release, but some eagle–eyed players managed to find a way to reactivate it using a mod or modification. This landed Rockstar Studios in trouble. They initially tried to blame “hackers” for the Hot Coffee minigame, but their defense was later disproven after authorities discovered a pre-existing code for it.
The debacle led to San Andreas getting a stricter rating from ‘Mature’ to ‘Adults Only’ until Rockstar released a ‘cleaner’ version. Still, the damage had already been done, and politicians and lobbyists had already laid out a new law for video game ratings.
God of War’s Greek Gallivanting (2005 Onwards)
Following Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ success, God of War (the first one) was released a year later in 2005 as a PlayStation 2 exclusive. It featured one angry Spartan warrior named Kratos who went on a hellbent rage quest against the Olympian Pantheon for revenge.
To add to Kratos’ testosterone-fueling adventures, the game’s creators also made cleverly censored minigames where Kratos initiates sexual intercourse with several women while players must focus on hitting the right buttons in a quick-time event (QTE).
By the third mainline game, Kratos’ sexual escapades had moved up in the hotness hierarchy all the way to Aphrodite (which was weird since she’s his great-aunt).
It wasn’t as controversial as San Andreas’ Hot Coffee minigame since the actual act of sex wasn’t explicitly shown, and players were only given minimal control.
Both this and San Andreas’ venturesome approach to sexual content in AAA video games probably inspired many developers to use less censorship for their own intellectual properties.
Things Got Hot In Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy (2005)
Again in 2005, a game called Fahrenheit or Indigo Prophecy (which later had a remaster called Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy) also chimed in on their own depiction of sexual content. Fahrenheit is an action-adventure game where you need to rescue a child to prevent an apocalypse.
Along the way, your character, Lucas Kane, managed to get lucky with one of his ex-girlfriends and thus followed a rather steamy sex scene in which players could even use the analog stick to control some of the action.
Sadly, this scene was banned from the US version of the game, which was expected following the height of the GTA: San Andreas’ Hot Coffee controversy.
Still, Fahrenheit, God of War, and San Andreas’ contributions to sexual content in video games proved to be significant to the gaming industry, especially when they also incorporated button cues and input from the players. These developments have made sexual content more interactive.
QTE Quality Time from Heavy Rain (2010)
Heavy Rain, a QTE-driven game that’s heavy on the serial killer narrative, also took a lot of cues from how the previous 2000s games handled their sexual content.
Here, there’s a full-blown– but censored sex scene similar to how Hollywood films depict theirs, and the players can even fail or progress the coitus. But it was still somewhat tame compared to Fahrenheit and San Andreas’ portrayals, perhaps because too much would have detracted from the game’s suspenseful atmosphere.
The Bioware Boldness (2007 onwards)
In 2007, Bioware released its sci-fi RPG epic, Mass Effect, and it wove the RPG elements into the sexual content where players can pick who to romance or bed.
The succeeding Mass Effect games further explored Commander Shepard’s sexuality and expanded his LGBTQ+ options.
Meanwhile, Dragon Age titles– Mass Effect’s spiritual fantasy variant, also had similar developments for their sexual content and inclusivity for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
You couldn’t control how the sex went, unlike in GTA: San Andreas or Heavy Rain; having more control over who you could romance proved to be a more exciting selling point for a lot of players, but the pre-rendered sex scenes served as rewards for their dating sim attempts.
Bioware’s efforts not just in sex but also in representing romance for different genders and sexual orientations was commendable progress for sexual content in video games– one that didn’t end in much controversy compared to earlier attempts.
The Witcher Pulls an HBO (2010s)
The first Witcher game back in 2007 was an RPG about a monster slayer who was shunned by his society and was forced to adopt a child in the source material. Its sexual content shares an almost comedic likeness to Pokemon; the protagonist Geralt of Rivia, was given porn-magazine-esque cards after picking the right dialog and performing the right quests for certain maidens in a dark fantasy sexual conquest.
Needless to say, it did not hold a candle to Mass Effect or Dragon Age’s romance and sexual content– and those are The Witcher franchise’s biggest competitors in the RPG scene.
That’s why developer CD Projekt RED upped their game in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, where their sex scenes are more animated and more explicit with some creative or playful contexts. Still, it was missing the dynamic and deep choices for romantic partners in Bioware games.
So in the third and final game, The Witcher 3, the developers made sex more daring and more exciting for onlookers, with Geralt having several potential sexual partners (who aren’t cookie-cutter prostitute flings) and two major love interests. It rivaled the sensuality and confidence of sexual content flagbearers in media like HBO’s Game of Thrones.
More importantly, The Witcher 3’s sexual content was the cherry on top of a masterpiece cake that would eventually become a template for many other RPGs that followed and wanted a piece of that success pie.
Coitus Copycats, Quantity Over Quality (2010s)
Thanks to The Witcher 3, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age’s success as RPGs and flagbearers of sensible sexual content in video games (mainstream video games, at least), a lot of other studios followed suit.
The most notable derivative was Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Being set in Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars, it was a timeline ripe for sexual experimentation.
‘Choice’ was not a shortage in Odyssey as it presented all kinds of romantic and sexual partners for players regardless of whether they were Alexios (male protagonist) or Kassandra (female protagonist).
Even so, most of these relationships lacked depth, sadly; Odyssey favored quantity over quality in its game design, and the animations for their sexual content didn’t really look like labors of love (pun intended) compared to The Witcher 3 or Bioware games.
The only other big RPG with sexual content apart from Assassin’s Creed titles of the recent past would be Cyberpunk 2077, which was also developed by The Witcher’s creators. But it too fell into the quantity-over-quality trap of game design with its nauseating shock value for Night City’s sex ads while also falling short with deep romantic options.
Baldur’s Gate 3’s Bear Necessities (2023)
Now in our current decade, which is still in its early stages, another flagbearer for sexual content in video games is raising its colors high. That would be Baldur’s Gate 3, with an even more creative depiction of romance and sex compared to the past titles we mentioned.
Because, for once, its ideas were adventurous after a lull in innovation and some game off-shoots with their disappointing understanding of sexual content (and romance). In Baldur’s Gate 3, your character can have sex and pursue a fling with a druid who can shapeshift into a bear before, during, or after the deed! That’s something only Dungeons and Dragons players can joke about in their drunken tabletop sessions.
Of course, there’s also normal vanilla stuff. But the idea here is that another RPG and trendsetter is willing to be undaunted and curious once more about how they could innovate with sexual content in video games being the cherry on top.
It would be interesting to see how video game developers proceed from here on out. It’s a great time to be alive for gamers, regardless.