Benton wasn’t trying to innovate on the text adventure genre so much as he was iterating from a pattern of pre-existing games. Many of the game’s cleverest features have the quality of introductory programming exercises: playing the blackjack and slot machine simulators, spending and earning money, a question and answer scenario using basic programming routines, and graffiti on a bathroom wall represented like ASCII art. The game was a silly thing, programmed and play-tested on the weekends, but Benton’s guy friends took a liking to it and encouraged him to publish it.
There’s a gawkiness to Benton’s lines and lines of textual description, from the “swinging singles disco” full of “guys and gals doin’ the best steps in town,” to the prostitute’s bedroom, where “the bed’s a mess and the hooker’s about the same!” For all of Softporn’s exhausting chauvinism and wearied sexism, the game is absent of actual obscenity, and earnest to a fault. Even Eve, the final girl sought by the player, is sketched in little more than boyish exuberance: “What a beautiful face!!! She’s leaning back in the jacuzzi with her eyes closed and seems extremely relaxed. The water is bubbling up around her….A ‘10’!! She’s so beautiful………….A guy really could fall in love with a girl like this.”
What is remarkable about Softporn isn’t that it existed, but that it was commercially sold. Erotic content had circulated freely on mainframes and minicomputers for decades, whether in the form of dirty joke generators or ASCII print outs of the Playboy bunny head. Raunchy code on a mainframe was available to any curious, specialist user poking around in the file systems. It wasn’t unlike a pin-up girl on the office wall: It could affirm the standard notions of what was and wasn’t desirable among male co-workers, but wasn’t necessarily intended to provoke sexual activity. In contrast, microcomputers had an unforeseen potential for privacy, individual use, and personal ownership of code. Eroticism in this context could be illicit and furtive. Softporn was the computational equivalent of a Penthouse stash.