Reflecting On Re-Reading Game Advertisements

By Harrison Charles on February 21st, 2024

A Prior Context

Throughout my PhD journey as an emerging researcher in games studies, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to explore a textually rich field filled with the fascinatingly curious, the provocatively controversial and shocking…and the entirely wild and explicit. As a researcher who IS exploring this “explicit side” to videogames – namely, the genre of adult videogames – I have become aware to the kinds of game content one might see, the cultural discourses and perceptions that are around them, and the kinds of experiences they seek to offer their players. Though most of my interest lies within the game texts themselves, I had found myself also becoming interested in their histories, their platforming, and how these games were promoted or distributed: an interest in what occasionally feels like its own “adult gaming indie-economy.”

Initially, this interest into the wider elements and material to adult videogame texts had started upon some reading around early console box art that had been exploring the 1980s “erotic” games company Mystique. (Mills, 2015) What the piece had touched upon was some of the gendered constructions within these “advertisements for the games,” where potential avid buyers would be seeing images such as a female seductively licking an ice cream cone or women “provocatively” dressed to be “eye-catching.” Though, these were early console games so the graphics themselves were not as “detailed” as its artwork, yet still maintained an extent of graphical fidelity that we can see what they were implying. (Krzywinska, 2015) It wouldn’t be amiss to suggest that the box art was there to sell a fantasy, that perhaps was not even in the game itself, but to be alluring enough to convince a potential buyer to purchase and indulgence in their “sexual” entertainment. Though who was it that these were aimed towards: at the time, I thought it was pretty obvious that this sexual referencing was trying to appeal to its heterosexual male gamer audience.

Such interest in the gendered constructions of these game advertisements and their intentionality was enough inspiration to continue exploring game adverts more generally. Soon enough, by chance of exploring the internet, I had found myself in a deep-dive of game advertisement archives. I had come across some publicly-accessible online archives people had been making (via social network platforms, archival websites etc.) that had seemingly been dedicated to the (digital) preservation and nostalgic-sharing of game ads from across its history. These sites had uploaded, shared individual adverts and collections from different publications, countries and time periods. What I had found myself doing was noting (“collecting” in my mind landscape) adverts that I had deemed being “sexual” in nature, containing some form of sexual representation or content and ones I considered as sitting comfortability within the scope of my thesis frame. I was so sure that many had been following a similar path to those like Mystique, aiming towards heterosexual male gamers (and wider het-audiences even!) but upon building a corpus of game advertisements that I have only recently gone back to re-exploring, some seemed to be a bit more ambiguous than I had previously thought.


Approaching a Re-Reading

So far in my travels, I have documented over 100 game adverts, with it continuing to expand in its own time. One might even consider it to now be a a hobbyist endeavor by a researcher. Many of which contain content that could be read as sexual innuendo or referencing, or erotic representations of game characters/models. Again, I had been considering this as being framed around heterosexual desire, and a gender norm intention: the placing of the female character/model in some form of sexual representation becomes an object of desire for the straight (white) male audience’s gaze and fantasy. In some extent, I had considered some of these adverts at the time as solely having an imagined cisgendered heterosexual male audience, that these were the also the ways we were meant to academically read them. However, upon closer inspection, there are a few that I have been reconsidering to them not just featuring this heterosexual frame, but in fact offer more interesting alternate readings.

Game Advertisement for “Miami Nights: Singles in the City” (2006) Superjuegos Xtreme [Spain] Nov 2006 #169

Take for example, this advertisement for the 2006 game “Miami Nights: Singles in the City” (Gameloft Bucharest, 2006), a “dating simulation” game that was released on multiple platforms (though this advert is primarily advertising its mobile version). In the advertisement, we see a very glamorous landscape, with a male and female character/game avatar. The male character is centralized in the image, constructed in this stylized “fashionable” suit aesthetic in some attempt to make him as glamorous as the setting itself. Differently, the female character is purposely constructed to be wearing a bikini and be performing some suggestive pose. On an initial read, the advert seems to make a clear indicative effort to make her the supposed “eye-catching” element of the advert. Yet, there is a degree in which she is not fully embodied in the landscape itself, almost entirely separate from it. Despite the more obvious sexual representation of her, the implicit sexual construction of the male figure arguably makes him more embodied in the game/advert setting. The male figure becomes a centralised point of allure for the advert, drawing a different kind of gaze to its fantasy alongside the female character. (Even more suggested with some conscious design choice to “hide” aspects of the female figure’s body with game information which could be read as building further “teasing” allure but I wonder if this does indeed change the “object of desire” from the female figure to the male one?). It seems then that a surface level reading of this advert frames it as appealing to heterosexual (male) desire, though upon closer inspection, there appears to be some other layers interplayed with them: he is instead the “selling point” that is trying to capture our (consumer) desire, not her. Or even further, expanding from previous heterocentric notions, is she not also positioned to be capturing non-heterosexual audience too? One could even suggest that there are homoerotic and queer sensibilities to such an advert, as it would be amiss and assumptive to suggest that the advert only appeals to straight male gamers. Who then is this advert aimed at? Who is the intended audience, and whose desire is it trying to capture?

It is in this re-reading of game adverts to these alternate framings that I am most interested in exploring currently. Previous literature on game advertisements has had a tendency to approach them as solely something heterocentric and focused on “male” and “female” gamers, characters and audiences (e.g., Summers and Miller, 2014). That is not to say that such gendered discourse that this prior research explores is not present – it most certainly is! – as it has been well established already on its connection to masculine subjectivities and desire (Burrill, 2008; Bootes, 2024). However, upon closer inspection and reconsidering some of these constructions, alternate interpretations become visible. Though these are elements initially perceived as being overtly heterosexual, adverts like these seem to reposition our desire to make more nuanced readings visible. It seems that through a re-reading of some of these adverts, we can open up our discussion of them from beyond limited hegemonic assumptions that we have become somewhat accustomed to within games literature in discussing these materials.



Bootes, R. (2024) Adolescent Masculinity and the Geek Aesthetic: A Study of Gaming Magazine Imagery 1982 to 1993. In Videogame Sciences and Arts: 13th International Conference, VJ 2023, Aveiro, Portugal, November 28–30, 2023, edited by L.V. Costa, N. Zagalo, A.I. Veloso, E. Clua, S. Arnab, M. Vairinhos, and D. Gomes. Cham: Springer, pp. 217-237.

Burrill, D. (2008) Die tryin’: Videogames, Masculinity, Culture. New York: Peter Lang.

Krzywinska, T. (2015) The Strange Case of the Misappearance of Sex in Videogames. In Wysocki, M. and Lauteria, E. (eds.) Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 105–118.

Mills, D. (2015) Explicit Sexual Content in Early Console Video Games. In Wysocki, M. and Lauteria, E. (eds.) Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 75–101.

Summers, A. and Miller, M.K. (2014) From Damsels in Distress to Sexy Superheroes: How the portrayal of sexism in video game magazines has changed in the last twenty years. Feminist Media Studies, 14(6): 1028-1040, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2014.882371.