Report from CES in 1997: Among the Sex Machines

I was an editor at Wired from 1993 – 1998. In 1997, I went to CES in Las Vegas and reported on the Adult Video Exhibition there.

"Customization" and "control" are the buzzwords at this year's Adult Video Exhibition, the part of CES held at the Sands Convention Center and practically throbbing with loud music, laughter, squeals of joy, and whoops of glee.

At the Pixis booth on Friday, a man is demonstrating a new CD-ROM game called UltraVixen. With a slick Japanese anime look, UltraVixen pits a "beautiful, innocent college student" (who looks all of 14 in her schoolgirl uniform) against a "sex fiend overlord" who "tortures and enslaves young girls in his maniacal mechanical machines," the product flyer states.
While the stated goal of UltraVixen is to "destroy the sex machines forever," oddly enough, the player is also the controller of the torture devices, which include a flame thrower aimed at the woman's breasts, nipple pinchers and pullers, a large penetrating piston, and a hypodermic syringe filled with some kind of green liquid. (You can shove a robotic ball gag into her mouth to stifle her screaming if you prefer to torture her in silence.) "There's some sick stuff," says the demonstrator happily. "Look, her eyes are watering!"

Over at Digital Playground, Dave and Tammy tell me about their latest CD-ROMs. "The new generation of CDs are about interacting with a virtual girl," says Dave. "The first adult CDs were much more limited – you could maybe pick a choice, but in these CDs you can make the girl actually do something." Like what? Tammy hands me a flyer for Virtual Sex with Jenna James, featuring the porn industry's current It Girl. "In this one," explains Tammy, "you're the person doing Jenna. You tell her what to do and she does it to you."

For porn consumers who want to control a real human being, as opposed to a prerecorded video or computer animation, they can visit one of many different live one-on-one video shows transmitted over the Web. Ted Walker, who runs ("we grabbed the name after Time put out that article") tells me that his company used to make good money, "until everybody else started offering the same thing." A computer monitor sits next to Walker, displaying a small video image of a woman's torso in a red bikini. She's sitting in a chair in an otherwise empty white cubicle. Her head is not visible. A conventioneer is typing on the keyboard:

Man: Hi how are you?

Woman: (jumps up from the chair and begins tapping on her keyboard) Fine. How are you? (sits back down)

Man: Great now that I'm looking at you!

Woman: (jumps up) Mmm … Thank you! How are you?

Man: Take off your bikini.

Woman: No, sorry. You'll have to call our service for that.

Man: Can I see your face?

Woman: No, you may only see my face if you call our service. (sits down)
(man walks away)

Walker tells me that there are about 500 such companies offering "live one-on-one" service but that only "a half dozen companies supply the girls and connections, who then sell to the Web sites." He explains that the women featured in work out of Florida. "In case they get too busy and run out of girls," he says, "it rolls over to Denver, where they have more girls working."

Will customization and control over live and virtual sex objects take over porn? Tony Lovett, who works at VCA Video and has designed a game based on Shock, one of Vivid's bestselling videos, doesn't think so. "People want hi-res, where they can stop, start, and fast forward," he says. "Video is always going to be the supreme onanistic medium."