Yesterday I posted about Jack the Ripper, a 1987 text adventure by the mysterious St Bride's School. The game's gory scenes, rendered in four colors at low resolution, were then enough to earn the game tabloid scandal, an "18" rating from British censors, and all the resulting cachet. Looking at the images now it seems incredible that authorities responded so hysterically to these pixelated GIF-like thumbnails, so I went down the rabbit hole on "obscene" material rendered on computers before credible photographic reproduction was technically possible. And I noticed that Dmitrii Eliuseev only hours ago posted an article about rendering nudes on early personal computers! "Was it possible?" he asks.
the PCX, GIF or JPEG image formats were at this moment just not introduced yet. Highly likely, some custom made image formats were available — the encoding was simple and almost every student or programmer was able to make a simple viewer of the monochrome images. Even more, image viewers were available on CP/M OS, which was in use before MS-DOS. So, I am pretty sure that some "adult images" may have been shared between PC users, for example on campuses, but I was not able to find any proof of that. I was able to find different image viewers for MS-DOS, but all of them were made later, in the 90s:
It seems to me that the publisher making those old "gory photo" games (the earliest was in 1984!) might well have devised an internal image format to handle digitized photos. Maybe a good place to look for an early systematic approach to the problem, at least.
Nowadays, the hand-pixelated blood of Jack the Ripper looks so silly, like jam on a polaroid.
But I must admit that they seemed more realistic in 1987. They did register to my 8-year-old eye as scary, weird photographs.
I imagine that the magazines or newspapers I saw them in did things to make them look more photorealistic, such as publishing blurry photos of television sets running the game instead of crisp screenshots. Just reproducing it in black and white with a halftone screen, for example, has the magic effect, even if it looks disarmingly like someone threw a drink at Tim Allen.
But I also read that the first audience to hear a gramophone freaked out upon learning that it was not an orchestra; plus ça change.