A Visual History Of Attractive Video Game Characters: The ’80s

A Visual History Of Attractive Video Game Characters: The ’80s

Video games in the ’80s only depicted a certain amount of pixels on the screen. Fortunately, that didn’t hold developers back from pushing the limits of the available hardware to play with our imagination by creating beautiful, handsome characters.

This week — starting off with the ’80s — we’re going to explore the hottest, most attractive video game characters to see how gaming tastes and technology have changed over the years.

It’s not surprising to see the first few instances of popular characters represented in video games as blocky blobs. It may not seem like Smurfette and Snow White are beautiful in these images by today’s standards, but it’s what we had in the ’80s.

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle (1982)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1983)

Nintendo stuck to a formula in their early games: After beating the game, players were rewarded with an ending animation featuring a cute princess or — in Metroid‘s case — a really hot, shocking reveal.

Pauline in Donkey Kong (1981)

Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Samus Aran in Metroid (1986)

Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Things changed a bit by the end of the decade. Because of technical limitations, in most cases instead of named characters we got beautiful intros, endings or title screens. And of course there were exceptions and experiments, like the interactive movie-like Dragon’s Lair released on laserdisc or the prankish, comedic text adventure Leather Goddesses Of Phobos.

Dragon’s Lair (1983)

Leather Goddesses of Phobos (1986)

California Games (1987)

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987)

The Great Giana Sisters (1987)

Super Robin Hood (1987)

Maniac Mansion (1987)

Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1987)

Snatcher (the PC-8801 version from 1988)

Battle Chess (1988)

Street Rod (1989)

Keef The Thief (1989)

Super Monaco Grand Prix (1989)

Spellcasting 101 (1989)

Prince of Persia (1989)

It didn’t take too long to see adult games pop up and find their audiences. Although we won’t focus on them in the series, we can’t ignore their presence. Japan already had a decent library of adult games by the end of the decade, but the West took their own active part in various so-called Atari porn titles (Custer’s Revenge) and poker games. One of the earliest ones was Artworx’ Strip Poker for the Apple II.

Strip Poker: A Snizzling Game of Chance (1982)

The closest you could get to hot male characters in video games were sword & sorcery type fantasy titles, movie adaptations, run-and-gun action games or a combination of these. Basically: full of testosterone.

James Bond: A View To Kill (1983)

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (1986)

Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (1987)

Contra (1988)

Moonwalker (1989)

Super Spike Volleyball (1989)

Tomorrow we step forward to the ’90s to see how tastes evolved in that decade.

Can you recall any other great games from the ’80s that featured beautiful characters? Hit the comments!

Sources: Allen Kesinger, C64 Endings, Matt Barton, 007Museum, Highretrogamelord89, Hardcoregaming101, CDKgaming, Combolations, DavetheUsher, RagoGamer, Highretrogamelord89, Atarimania


  • Oh god the memories… I think I remember hitting puberty around the time Larry 3 came out. Many, many weeks spent playing that game just to see the poorly rended ‘sex scenes’ lol.

    • I always wondered what happened to the other clones, guess your one of them.

      I know I played the first game, and I know I played Love for Sail not sure if I played 3.

      • Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals lol. Yep played Love for Sail as well. Oddly, when I bought the combined set… that was the one that went missing after a week! Now I guess I know where it went…

    • I was about to post this.

      One minute, I should be ashamed to just be a male playing videogames because im so ‘sexist’, the next minute they’re telling me ‘check out these hot girls from videogames YEAHHHHHHHHH’.

      • If you actually look through you might notice that they’re not all female.
        It’s not about ‘hot girls’ but well drawn characters.

        • No. It is not about well drawn characters. Why not show Dirk or Larry? It is about the author’s idea of attractiveness. Where is the analysis of forms or concept. Yes the 80s was dodgy but this ‘article’ is a cut and paste of male pixel fantasy. Where is the paragraph explaining the reaction to barbarians advertising? This article EXPLORES nothing. Why do the pics of women far outweigh the token men at the end? Male protagonists were far more numerous than females in the 80s! This article is a subjective joke.

      • Clearly this is a blacklist, designed to educate us about the long history of sexism and objectification of women in games right?

  • Ahhh memories. I wonder how many hours I did sink into street rod and prince of persia

  • The Contra title screen now makes me think of a story of conjoined twins struggling against a society that rejects them

  • The Giana Sisters > Mario Brothers! Oh and Barbarian was such a epic game. Man nothing compares to the audio of the C64.

  • I still remember playing Street Rod, crashed into a rock one time, game glitched up and I had $999,999,999. The game got boring after that.

  • My first thought at seeing that first Leisure Suit Larry screen was “Oh no, Larry slip on a rubber!” (can’t believe I remembered that, beware of easy girls in spas!).

    Was Custer’s Revenge left out because of it’s theme? While a horrid concept, it was the first game to have sex and a naked character.

  • Weeks of articles calling us sexist…..Posts idolising attractive video game characters…..Weekly cosplay features showing off Japanese teenagers wearing skin tight outfits…….More articles about men objectifying women.

    Way to have your cake and eat it too Kotaku.

  • Why is there no mention of Carmen Sandiego in this article. She totally worked the trench coat and hat and remained attractive in a classy kind of way.

  • Look I’m gonna be honest – I don’t come to Kotaku for quality posts.. it’s more the one stop “what happened today in the realm of gaming interests” kinda place (and from there I break out to places like polygon etc..) but even I am confused.. what the heck is this post? it makes no sense and really just kind of looks bad..

    It’s like the author had an idea for an article, but just rushed it with ad-hoc “that will do” screenshots and really failed on the execution.

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