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johnny cocaine. dirg. the milkman. killa. the gimp. beerhound. tantalus. kevlar skills.
    A few years ago in Phoenix, Arizona, these were the lazer-tag names chosen by some of the video game industry's most influential journalists at a junket thrown by the controversy-courting label Rockstar Games. A magazine had flown me out there to report on video game marketing. As part of a multimilllion-dollar ad push, Rockstar had paid for flights and hotels for the rest of the journalists at the Hilton Squaw Peak resort to promote their fighting game Oni. It looked like a sci-fi version of Tomb Raider, starring another bad-ass chick in a tight outfit who had boobs that Bush might mistake for weapons of mass destruction. Deriviative, boring and complicated, the game sunk like a stone as soon as it was released. But the gamers that day enjoyed themselves at the "world's largest" lazer-tag joint, a strip-mall party venue called The Stratum.

    A publicist with spiky gelled hair produced sacks of free game tokens for the arcade machines in the lobby. Like an old man feeding breadcrumbs to pigeons, he was engulfed by a flurry of action, then left empty-handed. Meanwhile, reporters dug into the Good Humor ice cream bin and scored Slushies from the snack stand that was operating free of charge. It was like a birthday party for the richest kid in town — or, as I would discover, just your average gamer junket.
    There was only one woman, and she came with her boyfriend. She did not accompany us later that night when, after several rounds of comped margaritas, the head of publicity corralled us all into two vans and drove us to a Phoenix institution: the sad little black-lit, carpeted strip club Hi-Lites, where Lara Croft's absurd proportions suddenly seemed realistic. "Whatever you want, guys — it's on us!" the rep told us all, and he meant it. He bought rounds of drinks and dealt out $20 bills like playing cards to every hardworking journalist in the bunch. "Lap dances," he said, "are on us."
    Soon, strippers with names like types of wood (Mahogany, Cherry) were grinding and groping the nervous boys to Lil' Kim. Most of the young journalists, barely out of college, looked very uncomfortable. But some were clearly veterans.
    "These girls are hooottt," one particularly oily journalist told me, well into his fifth or sixth free whiskey. "But this ain't nothin' like what we saw in Texas last year. Remember?" He tapped the shoulder of a pleasantly distracted colleague. "What was the name of that game we were there for?" And then, as
Larry was a middle-aged loser in bad suits who desperately wanted to have sex with cartoon women.
the women gyrated for dollars, everyone — sweet, innocent young guys for the most part — went back to talking about who kicked ass that day in lazer-tag, and about the strange junketeer from some magazine who kept bragging that he held records in obscure arcade games (and carried the record-book in his backpack to prove it). That depressing night, I realized that if the game industry was growing up, it was growing very, very slowly. The business — which uses tag-lines like "they put the ass back in assassin" — clearly had a long way to go.
    It reminds me of a woman I once dated, who said that she'd learned everything she knew about sex from Prince songs. "Darling Nikki." "Lovesexy." "Kiss." It was a great line, and I wanted to get into her pants as soon as I heard it. She was an amazing woman, smart and funny, but if she had learned anything from Prince, it seemed to me, it was how to stay quiet while others put on a show. My ex had learned something from the Artist about sex, but somehow it was not enough. I think I've learned about as much about sex from video games.
    Ah, The Odyssey, ColecoVision, Atari 2600 . . . (This is the required portion of any nostalgic video game piece in which the geeky author name-checks ancient systems so that you, dear reader, may nod knowingly or stare blankly.) Pong and Frogger didn't exactly spur on my sexual curiosity, so I'll skip over them. Rather, as I grew up, it was all about computers. And when I got my first disk drive, a friend of mine, a horny pimpled Dark Crystal fan and Q*Bert expert, gave me a bootleg copy of the 1987 game Leisure Suit Larry: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards.
    The game was based on a 1981 Apple II text-based game titled Softporn Adventure, which had three naked women in a hot tub on the cover, and supposedly sold 20,000 copies when there were
only 100,000 Apple IIs on the market. The game I played was an improvement, in that it actually had graphics, puzzles, multiple-choice games and a star, Larry,
Larry's lines made Little Annie Fannie read like Henry Miller.
who seemed like a pixelated Rick Moranis: a weird, balding, middle-aged loser in bad suits who desperately wanted to have sex with cartoon women. This was oddly appealing. For someone who couldn't drive, or leave the house without parents, or really conceive of asking a girl out, the thought of seducing a woman without leaving my bedroom or actually having to meet anyone presented obvious attractions.
    But as I played the game, I soon discovered that sex was not what John Hughes, MTV, and the 1984 Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner film Romancing the Stone had led me to believe; that is, an adventureland safari, a lacy Madonna fetish, or a perfumed encounter with a shy Molly Ringwald who deep down really wanted it. No, sex was weird, nearly impossible, and completely ridiculous: a dumb dirty joke in which I, or at least my geeky avatar, was the punchline. In Leisure Suit Larry, sex was a cruel, dorky game with a pathetic nerdy little twerp on one side and dumb sluts with big hair and bigger boobs who humiliated him on the other. Repeatedly. With bad puns.
    I know the word "pervy" is out of fashion now, much as Larry's leisure suit was then. And I suppose I should attempt to recover Leisure Suit Larry as Alice Walker rediscovered Zora Neale Hurston. I could anoint him as some unsung voice
of the sexually repressed and as an emblem of all the downtrodden computer geeks like me who ever wanted to get laid but didn't know how to start. But Larry's lines made Playboy's Little Annie Fannie comics read like Henry Miller. The gameplay was on par with the nudie video-poker at bad airport bars, and the pixels were so giant back then that even when you got a cartoon girl into a cartoon hot tub, you couldn't tell the square soap bubbles from her square nipples. So, Larry was not a folk hero. He was just a pervy toy created by some idiots, one of those novelty wind-up tin toys that you ratchet and watch as it humps a sheep with some metal erection until it clatters to a halt.
    Now, I think of him as part of that whole generation of creepy computer geek-boy culture that tends to make me feel as if I should wash my hands after using a common computer terminal. I started thinking of Leisure Suit Larry a while back when an acne-pocked IT guy who who used to work at my office kept inviting a coworker to join his girlfriend for a threesome. He may have learned his pick-up lines from Larry. One was "I want to see your big black cock." That's the kind of line Leisure Suit Larry might prepare you to deliver, and which might work in a bad video game or dumb internet chat room, but only there.
    Larry was my first encounter with pathetic game sex, but not my last. His legacy lives on everywhere. You see echoes of Larry's gal Passionate Patti in the boobalicious game babes Joanna
Dark and Lara Croft. You see his legacy in the adjustable boobs of Outlaw Volleyball, which allow players to modify the firmness or buoyancy of their avatars' breasts, so that they bob differently within the game's engine. I've battled my way to the end of the Dead or Alive fighting games only to be rewarded with goofy scenes of my fierce warriors stripping down in a steamy shower. In the online community Second Life, I was invited into a Larry-like hot tub tryst
Right now, video game sex remains the equivalent of a kid who doodles dirty drawings in his notebook.
with a truly virtual stranger. And I've watched as the dumb BMX XXX flopped miserably after a marketing campaign based around a non-nude video starring Scores strippers.
    What I've noticed, I realize, is just a fraction of what's out there. Poor Hillary Clinton would be shocked. We've all seen strip poker machines and Tetris games that form pics of nude girls in bars, but there's so much more. allows you to film your own sex scene with Jenna Jameson, by pasting your face onto the skin of a model who has sex with her (you can even hear her say your name if yours is prerecorded in her database). You can download naked skin for your Sims and watch them go at it in the dorky Sims: Nightlife, or even apply nude skins to your Quake warriors or to the Britney Spears figure in the kid's game Britney's Dance Beat — all downloadable at I even found a title called LoveChess, which to me is the epitome of geek sex: a game of chess in which your rook can take someone's pawn and fuck it. Why? I don't know. And I honestly can't say that I find any of these plasticene simulations any more erotic than, say, the Claymation of Wallace & Gromit.
    Of course, the graphics continue to get more realistic, so maybe things are changing. But right now, video game sex remains the equivalent of a kid who doodles dirty pictures in his notebook. Take the the infamous "Hot Coffee" mod for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that caught certain politicians' attention this summer. Added to the game by Rockstar Games — the same folks who took all those journalists to the carpeted Phoenix strip club — the feature allowed players who knew to jiggle the controller up and down in the right rhythm to explore the kama sutra with any woman in the game. It was a silly gag, certainly not worth a Senate subcomittee. But then again, neither are most dirty jokes.
    And that's fairly standard for video game sex right now. Even Leisure Suit Larry is back, revived in 3-D but just as moronic, in a sequel called Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. In the game, you play Larry's nephew, who runs panty raids and plays drinking games in order seduce girls like "Barbara Jo Bimbo" or "Luba Licious," a bodacious teen whose "turn-ons" are "blow-job shots and gravity bongs." Even as soft-porn goes, Larry is still unbearably stupid.
    Recently, Steven Spielberg made headlines with his re-entry into the video game business, as his new host Electronic Arts noted that we still haven't seen a video game that makes you cry. Well, as much fun as I have playing games, I'm still looking for one that can turn me on.  

  Logan Hill is a contributing writer at New York magazine. He has contributed to Wired, The Nation, The New York Post, The New York Press and The Village Voice.

©2005 Logan Hill and
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