Since people have been playing games, they've found inventive ways to do it naked. In ancient Greece, sports were performed in the buff: "Gymnasium" and "gymnast" are derived from the Greek gymnos, meaning naked. There was even a yearly festival in Sparta called Gymnopaedia celebrating nudity and games, which fared much better than our current "Getnakedween." Since then, it's been common knowledge that a bit of starkers can liven up even the dullest game. From strip poker to strip Parcheesi, no game is so sacrosanct that it can't be improved with a couple less layers. This gives us two insights into human civilization as a whole: It wants to slip into something more comfortable. And it wants to win at Twister.
No surprise, then, that as games move into the digital realm, players have been up to the same tricks. One of the oldest and most enduring applications of user-generated content is the nude patch. Designed to alter a character's outer layer, or "skin," to show off skin of a different sort, these player-made patches have been rearranging bits and bytes to show off bits and pieces since the medium was young. The notion was popularized by an apocryphal cheat rumored to be in the original Tomb Raider, called "Nude Raider." It was complete fiction, but that didn't stop enterprising modders from turning their hand to the task. Today, an assortment of virtual vixens have received the same treatment from a player base less interested in freeing them from castles than freeing them from their clothes.
Before setting out to write an article on some of the more unusual content in gaming's short history, I took all the necessary precautions. Faced with the prospect of downloading a handful of questionable patches, I bulked up my virus security. (When dealing with this sort of thing, it never hurts to use protection.) I also decided to give my wife, Colleen, a friendly heads-up.
"I'll be doing some research for The Escapist. You may find some ... weird things on the computer."
Colleen was skeptical. "How weird? Unforgivable?"
I gave it some thought. "No. Just ... inexplicable."
That seems to be the word for it. Looking at some of the older, rougher attempts at polygonal pornography fills me with neither moral outrage nor bodice-tearing lust, just a vague sense of confusion. Some have only achieved nudity in the most abstract sense, like a Rorschach test that relies upon an eye sharpened for naked ladies. An unfortunate fact about projects such as these is that the characters in question are not exactly paragons of anatomy; dressing them up in flesh and blood is sometimes that last nudge down the slippery slope into the uncanny valley. And then there are those that are downright Frankensteinian: In some cases, obvious bulges of clothing are simply re-colored as skin, producing an end product looking something like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.