Released in 1981, Softporn Adventure was controversial, cheesy, and earnest to a fault. It also presaged today’s ongoing debates about who computers and games are for.
On October 5, 1981, Time magazine ran a story called “Software for the Masses”—a retrospective meditation on how computing became personal. If 1970s computer ownership had been limited to hobbyists who built and programmed their own machines, the 1980s were reeling in a new world of potential, non-specialist users: small business owners, housewives, children. The possibilities were endless, and for many consumers, overwhelming.
“Software for the Masses” might have been an otherwise arid tech story, buried and forgettable. But it ran with a warm, risqué photo of three brunettes in an outdoor hot tub, their breasts bobbing and nudging the waterline. This image was the promotional photography for the “computer fantasy game” Softporn, in which “players seek to seduce three women, while avoiding hazards, such as getting killed by a bouncer in a disco.” For $29.95 (plus $1 shipping and handling) a company named On-Line Systems would mail out this “funny, provocative, challenging adventure game for adults only!” on a single 5.25-inch floppy disk. Time reported that 4,000 copies had already been sold, making each and every purchaser the proud, unsuspecting owner of America’s first commercially-released pornographic computer game.
As an erotic episode, Softporn would leave much to the imagination. Softporn was a text-based adventure game, meaning it had no graphics. Upon booting the floppy disk, the player was given control of a “puppet,” a human male through which the player executes textual commands. PLAY SLOTS. BUY WHISKEY. WEAR CONDOM. SCREW HOOKER. Softporn is set in a vague, 70s-infused urban dystopia entirely comprised of a bar, a casino, and a disco. Computer games had escorted players into underground caves, realms of starry space, and sport fields of every kind since the 1960s. Softporn captures a different kind of aspirational landscape, a contorted, pulpy vision of a bachelor’s night on the town.
Softporn was the creation of Massachusetts-based programmer Chuck Benton, an unlikely man to herald the erotic software revolution. A self-described “conservative New Englander,” Benton was a single guy in his late twenties at the time, and he initially designed the game as an exercise to teach himself programming on the Apple II. He intended the game as satire, a self-amused catalog of the unique sufferings of his species—the embarrassment of buying a pack of condoms, or accidentally going home with someone who ties you up and steals your cash (Benton claims parts of the game were drawn from his own experience, but has never fessed up to which parts). Read more >