Rated M for Mature

Rated M for Mature
Knocking Pixels: The Evolution of Cybersex

Mark Wallace | 2 May 2006 08:02
Rated M for Mature - RSS 2.0

Hot Coffee was child's play. The unlock-able sexual content hidden in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas may have caused the biggest videogame controversy of 2005, but the truth is that it was far from the most titillating or lascivious material to be found in games these days.

Single-player games have long made a habit of occasionally coloring outside the lines of "family entertainment," but the "sex" that takes places in games like Leisure Suit Larry or Playboy: The Mansion barely scratches the surface of what crops up when more than one player at a time gets together in the virtual world.

Online sexual encounters, or "cybersex," as it's often known, have of course been taking place since before games hit the internet in a big way. As soon as there were chat rooms, there were people talking dirty in them - not as a way to harass each other (though that took place, as well), but because they got off on it. The cybersex that takes place today is no different, at a fundamental level. But the advances in network and graphics technology over the last 30 years mean the world of cybersex today is a much richer and more colorful one than ever before. And that's putting it nicely.

According to Richard Bartle, who helped create the first virtual world, MUD1, in the late 1970s, it took cybersex a few years to really take off. Though the early text-based adventure worlds probably saw the occasional encounter, it was not until TinyMUD came along in 1989, Bartle says, that cybersex became a commonplace of virtual worlds, as it is today. TinyMUD was a text-based ancestor of Second Life, a virtual world with almost no "game" to it at all. Cybersex flourished there, and in its descendants. "Whether this was because the worlds or the players were more social, or because there wasn't a great deal else to do in them, is a matter for conjecture," Bartle writes in his book, Designing Virtual Worlds.

From there, it was off to the races, and though cybersex remained, for the most part, little more than dirty chat, it was only a few years before the text-based world of LambdaMOO saw an alarming instance of virtual rape, as journalist Julian Dibbell chronicles in his book, My Tiny Life. Though the rape happened only in text - via a "voodoo doll" plug-in that forced a character to perform actions that were not under its typist's control - it was a harsh example of how "real" such virtual interactions could be.

In the nearly 15 years since then, sexual interactions in cyberspace have only gotten more vivid. Even game-worlds like World of Warcraft see more than their fair share. It's not at all uncommon to hear reports of players happening upon an abandoned hut in Azeroth, only to be surprised by the nature of the chat that's being emitted from within. Though what passes for endowment in WoW is sometimes surprising: In one cybersex chat log that made the rounds of the internet recently, one of the participants took great care to link each of his weapons and pieces of armor as he disrobed, so his partner would know exactly how uber he was.

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