These days, it’s fairly commonplace to acknowledge that the pornography industry plays a huge role in the world of technology innovation. Wholly unsurprising, given how much effort is expended trying to block spam email, cookies, and comments, while an equal amount of energy is spent by those trying to develop better versions of the same. Given this cultural context, it’s fascinating to unearth a piece of history in which computer programmers themselves were defending the computer as “an essentially sexless tool.”

The Atlantic’s history of Softporn, the first mass-marketed pornographic video game, provides a genuinely fascinating look at the development, sale, and reception of this product. It’s interesting on a number of levels: the incredibly simplistic yet groundbreaking nature of those early games; the way in which the first advertisements were developed and sold; and the historical context of the predictable outcry over the mass distribution of adult content in a previously drab publication. But author Laine Nooney hits on something especially noteworthy: the way in which the debate over Softporn mirrors contemporary anxieties about the cultural role of technology, and its uses and abuses. This runs the gamut from concerns over privacy (as Nooney notes, the women posing topless in a hot tub for the game’s ad never “imagined Time magazine on the other end of the lens”) to the recent furor around gaming and diversity (the forums debating the game “show that the world of computing was once more diverse than we’ve ever imagined.”)


Or, if you don’t cotton to the serious stuff, you’re welcome to laugh at some top-flight text-based silliness: