?Since its formation in the early ’90s, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has been cheerfully slapping those familiar black-and-white content ratings on any game looking to make money in the good ol’ US of A. Like the MPAA, the ESRB has developed a system that separates games by appropriate age groups and lists specific examples of potentially offensive content (fun fact: we almost got a similar system for music. And also like the MPAA, the ESRB often finds itself in negotiations with developers to adjust their products in order to receive more marketable ratings. In most cases, a game with a high amount of “questionable content” is changed or canceled before release. But for those developers that do decide to stick to their guns (or don’t and change their minds later) there is the fabled Adults Only rating, the monochrome kiss of commercial death that has only been awarded 23 times in the past 18 years.
Unlike the X rating, which carries with it some allure, nobody even talks about most AO games. They are embarrassments, and yes, this is largely because a lot of them are shitty slices of interactive cheesecake spat out by Playboy or whoever. Even the entries on this list you have probably heard of are just slightly more explicit versions of existing games that had their naughty bits reattached after being validated by commercial success (or removed due to government pressure). But anyone who considers themselves a serious gamer must have at least been curious at one point. Forget about the straight-up porn, the Japanese eroges and the Phillips CD-i version of The Joy of Sex. What kind of AO-rated titles can you find that actually resemble a playable videogame? Let’s find out. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, this list features cartoon sexuality and may be NSFW.
Semi-Honorable Mention: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
We’ll get this one out of the way, since it’s kind of a technicality and it’s the one example everybody knows. 2005: Rockstar releases their latest installment in the enormously popular Grand Theft Auto series. It gets an M rating and all is right with the world until the infamous “Hot Coffee” mod is discovered, unlocking six different interactive (but non-nude) sex scenes. The public is outraged, there’s rioting in the streets, and the game is retroactively assigned the AO. So while the original version of San Andreas was not really released with this rating, the game was sold with it for a period of time. Of course, after sales and distribution dropped, the Hot Coffee scenes were successfully removed, bringing the game back down to the M it currently enjoys. I guess one dry-humping mini-game is all it takes to get you those two letters of shame. Regardless, this is without a doubt the most well-known game to receive the rating, and no discussion of AO is complete without giving Coffeegate a mention. Now on to the list proper.
6) Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude Uncut and Uncensored
It seems I must talk about Leisure Suit Larry, and so I become a compendium of sighs. The original six games (there was no Larry 4, remember) weren’t very funny, but they were traditional adventure games through and through, they knew it, and they acted like it. Plus, like them or not, they are part of the Sierra Golden Age and helped shaped the industry. Magna Cum Laude, the first CG entry in the series, is like somebody who pretends they know your favorite band just to impress you but can’t give enough of a shit to actually listen to them, except in this case it’s not even that good of a band to begin with. Anyone who loves the original games will hate it, anyone who doesn’t probably won’t find it that much fun either. But, as Zac Bertschy pointed out in his TR list many moons ago, man will put up with nearly anything for the merest wisp of a promise of cartoon titty, and so we have an “uncut” version with all the same tedious minigames and fast-action sequences, plus terrible soul-destroying CG nudity. I understand there are those who really like this game, and I have no quarrel with you if you do, but I do find it hard to believe that anyone could get significantly aroused by the quality of animation here. I mean, seriously, how bad does a game have to be for Al Lowe to not want to be involved? That’s your tip-off right there. BMX XXX was more creative than this.
5) Lula 3D
Oh yeah, the classy little action/adventure game from Germany that proudly and shamelessly trumpeted its “Bouncin’ Boobs Technology” on the game box. Can’t forget this one. The sixth in a series that began with Wet: The Sexy Empire (which also received the AO), Lula follows the titular (HA!) porn star character on a quest to rescue her three missing porn star friends, traveling across the U.S. with her pet dog in tow like a slutty Tintin. Interestingly enough, each game in the series is in a different genre, and Lula has featured in business sims, pornographic arcade games, an intergalactic RPG and a Tamagotchi, which would make her one of the most prolific videogame characters of all time ever if anyone really cared.
4) Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Director’s Cut
Let’s be honest: acclaimed adventure game and Heavy Rain precursor Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy is not ruined by the exclusion of this interactive sex scene. It isn’t very long or even a major plot point, just a kind of bonus for navigating a certain dialogue and action sequence correctly. Lucas still wakes up alone. The only real difference is the amount of emotional satisfaction points you get. All the same, it caused enough of a bru-ha-ha on this side of the Atlantic to warrant removal from the original U.S. release. A few other sex scenes were toned down, and the character of Carla even had her nipples removed via a new skin substitution. The result is this Adults Only “Director’s Cut”, which is basically the same as the original European version.
3) Manhunt 2
One lesson you should take from this list is that badly rendered cartoons of female nipples are infinitely more harmful to our nation’s moral fiber than blood and gore: the AO has only been given to two games for violent content, and of those two, only one ever saw daylight. That was Manhunt 2 (the other one, in case you’re interested, was the notorious Thrill Kill which was canceled before it could become the scandal the ESRB predicted). Rockstar struck again with this very intense psychological thriller about a Man With a Dark Past who must Face His Demons etc. Naturally, this involves a lot of garroting. Here’s a fun game: play the above YouTube clip at full volume, then open another tab and try to get some work done. The Foley artists really went to town on this one. Nice work, guys. Not surprisingly, Manhunt 2 was edited and re-rated M later.
2) Peak Entertainment Casinos
And in the midst of all this sex and carnage, a game given the big one for… gambling? Fully-clothed regular person gambling? It’s true. Most internet gambling sites don’t even bother submitting their software for rating, but someone at Peak Entertainment must have really wanted to get invited to Jack Thompson’s Christmas party or something. Their casino games (including Omni Casino and Sunpoker) were reviewed to the ESRB even though they didn’t need to be, and unlike all the other developers here, Peak Entertainment actually wanted their rating because it “reflects Peak’s stance against underage gambling”. Well, good for them, I guess. I’m sure it’s positively stonewalled all those 15-year olds dying to play video slots.
1) Riana Rouge
When I was in middle school, I remember wandering into the back of our local video store and glancing over at some VHS called The Best of Sex and Violence. Maybe you’ve heard of it, Internet. The cover had a red background, lots of mist, and a macho bearded guy loaded down with ammo grabbing a woman in a bikini. Without having actually played it, I think I can safely say that Riana Rouge feels like it was made by a gang of 13-year-olds after careful study of that same VHS cover. Which is strange, all things considered. I mean, it was written by a woman, Nancy Oliver, and it seems to be some sort of feminist parable, but it goes so far in that direction as to break straight back into exploitation. Just look at this thing. It’s tough to even know what to say. Gillian Bonner “stars” as a demure secretary who gets launched into a bizarre sub-Outworld fantasyland after being thrown out of a window by her rapist boss. Naturally this results in her becoming some sort of Heavy Metal-esque slipstream asskicker. Apparently, there’s no full frontal, but there was at least enough “sensual action” to get this black-and-white listed, not to mention lots and lots of bloody death scenes. I usually stick up for the game in this situation, but maybe the limited release this one got did all of us a favor. The Best of Sex and Violence indeed…