NSFW: If you're a parent — or even just an all-round concerned citizen — and think games featuring cartoon violence and mild cussing is bad, spare a thought for me. One of the first ever games I played was about jerking off.
In 1984, and at the age of four, my father (rightly) realised that the future was home computers, and despite not being the wealthiest of families, then decided that the best way to embrace that future was by purchasing a Commodore 64.
As anyone who owned a C64 back in the day will tell you, when you bought a Commodore 64, you did not buy games to go with it. Instead, you went around to the home of another person who had a Commodore 64, and they gave you an enormous box of copied floppy disks.
That may sound scandalous now in an age of consumer litigation, region-locking and anti-piracy measures, but hey, it was the 1980s. That's how the Commodore 64 (and Amiga, and PC) userbase rolled.
So we got the C64 home, set it up, opened up our big new box of "borrowed" games and in no time flat we were marveling at the graphics of Aztec Challenge or the seemingly endless brutality of Frantic Freddie. For a family that had never really played video games before, ever, it was amazing stuff.
One day maybe a year or two later, though, things were a little different. Left to my own devices, and shown that all I had to do to play a game on my own was put the disk in and type "RUN", I had set about working my way through my new games collection one title at a time. In hindsight, I fumbled my way through some of a generation's finest games over that time: Impossible Mission and The Hobbit.
Most of those games came in lovely, mint paper sleeves, their names stencilled neatly on adhesive labels. One game at the back, though, did not. It was exposed, raw, naked except for a small sticker that had the word "Stroker" hastily scribbled on it. Intrigued one day (I'm pretty sure I was around four at the time), I slid the disk in and typed "RUN".]
You know, it's funny now, but at the time, I had no idea what was happening. Yes, there was a giant adults-only warning (one of the first games to ever self-classify in that manner), but I was four, and couldn't read it. I was kind of sure the game had a penis in it, and even chuckled a bit as what I thought was "wee" came streaming out of it at the end. I wasn't sure why the little man's face was getting so angry all the time, but put that down to a quirk of the game.
Looking back, though, that was messed up. This was a game about nothing but jerking a guy off. That's it. The intro/title screen even says as much.
Now I am a little older and a little wiser, I know why the guy's face was so furious. Many other C64 games, like Summer Olympics, had the user move the joystick as fast as they humanly could. I figured that's how they all were meant to do it, and when put in command of Stroker that's exactly what I did. It was usually over in less than a minute. I thought that was a good thing, but what a poor boy lover I'd turned out to be.
I now know how to play the game properly. Why it's good to take things slow. Why it's bad when the thing turns blue. And why it's funny as hell it has a thing called a "Peter Meter". I also know that, having for years believed it to be the work of a shady backroom coder, this was actually a commercial product.
It's not like the event scarred me (though I guess it is kooky I still remember it to this day...then again, seeing a game like this at such a young age is bound to leave an impression). Like I said, at the time I didn't really know what was going on. But looking back, I'm amazed at a number of things. One, that somebody made a game like this. Two, that somebody giving a box of games to a family with two small kids thought it was a good idea to include a game about jerking off a dick. And three, why its creator didn't go on to bigger and better things, since "Stroker" is one of the best game names of all time.
Well, except for a game my wife's uncle made called "The Penetrator". It was a shooter. But that's another story for another day.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.