Retrosexual: Rating Gaming's Earliest Video Game Hunks

By Matt Wales on at

As with most things in life, it all started with Doom Guy. There we were, admiring this article about Brenda and John Romero on Kotaku UK, when I noticed that—hey—Doom Guy is showing a surprising amount of flesh.

I mean, sure, he's pure iconic video game space marine, but that glimpse of midriff—where his unexpectedly figure-hugging (and, on closer inspection, highly impractical) t-shirt rips open to reveal his glistening six-pack—is far more provocative than I remember it. And that’s not even mentioning his saucily exposed inner thigh.

I ran it past everyone else and, yes, we all agreed, Doom Guy is an unheralded beefcake. Could he in fact, we wondered, be video gaming’s proto male pin-up? These days, you can’t move for exhaustingly chiselled man-meat in gaming culture—your Nathan Drakes, Dantes, Joels, and Chris Redfields—but where did it all begin?

One hour of fascinating research later (hey, I don’t tell you what to do with your day), we realised that Doom Guy is but a pretender to the crown, a sweet-lipped Johnny-come-lately. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sexy gents have adorned the bright, beguiling boxes of video games past, and there was no way we could find them all.

Atari, though, seemed like a great place to put down our man-flag. The company realised early on that screenshots weren’t going to cut it when their fledgling form of entertainment was up against cinematic titans such as Star Wars and Rocky.

Unlike the earlier Magnavox Odyssey, which advertised itself as some creator of abstract geometrical wonder-worlds, Atari would put flesh and thrills front-and-centre of its marketing. After all, let’s say our pitch is: "Come see my amazing space thing, filled with handsome rogues, bewitching space princesses, and epic battles!” Are you more likely to spend your money on this?

Or this?

We all know what gets our juices going. Atari did the sensible thing in the end, and gave us covers filled with intoxicating promise. Asteroids, under this far smarter approach, become something a little more thrilling:

Atari's covers might not have been especially indicative of the game you’d be getting inside the box, but they weren't supposed to be; they were designed to get you to pick the box up in the first place. And if all those flashy spaceships, airbrushed ladies and strapping men did their job, who cared if it was all cheeky misdirection?

Late '70s and early '80s Hollywood churned out male power fantasy after male power fantasy—the likes of Rocky, Rambo, and Conan—and so video games were compelled to follow suit. Box art was inspired by cinema posters, quivering with testosterone, full of thick-necked men firing guns in the air, and sharp-suited Lotharios with a woman draped off each shoulder.

And so was born the swaggering male video game pin-up, all bulging biceps and smouldering looks, which gave us a good place to start in our search for the sexiest video gaming cover gentlemen of the 1980s—as nominated by various members of the Kotaku UK team. For the purposes of this article, we stuck wholly to Atari, primarily because of its place in history as the earliest mainstream console manufacturer, but also as a pioneer of intoxicating cover art.

So join us on our impromptu journey to uncover the sexiest male cover star of gaming’s earliest days. We will, of course, be expecting you to vote on your preferred dreamboat at the very end of this article.

WARLORDS (1981)

Unlike most other gentlemen featured in this article, the cover art star of Warlords does a lot with very little. Most other men attempt to dazzle with sheer testosterone force, all rippling pecs and perky nipples. Not Warren though (I think that’s what I’ll call him); instead, the only skin he's prepared to show is that square inch of flesh around his face. But what a dashing face it is. Strong, and sultry, with nothing but the erotic pull of pure determination in his eyes.

VIDEO CHECKERS (1980)

Video Checkers was, as you can probably surmise, an attempt to create the full, intoxicating thrill of one of the world’s oldest games on a home computer. Someone, somewhere, however, apparently felt that an image of the board wasn’t enough. Instead, we were treated to this baffling mini-narrative in which a bemused king surveys his realm from atop his tower, one regal eyebrow arched quizzically upon his distinguished face—at, I assume, his wife and son. I’m not sure why the king gets pride of place on the cover, seeing as he's not even playing checkers, but Rich enjoyed his general demeanour enough to nominate him for this article.

IKARI WARRIORS (1989)

Ikari Warriors has everything. It’s got guns! Grenades! Helicopters! Fire! Helicopters on fire! And the cover’s a winner because you get two meat-slab hunks for the price of one. At least, I think you do—there’s a very slim chance that they may actually be the same person, given the identical haircuts, jackets, and jeans. This whole thing is obviously inspired by Commando, but those sexy pecs are pure Playgirl—and let’s not miss that delicious little touch of keeping a spare mag in his chest pocket. Perhaps our gentleman friends are little too stylised to really get you going, but you certainly can't deny the power of those shiny jeans.

OUTLAW (1978)

Lots of sexy men to choose from here, but the eye is drawn to our prime figure, a truer John Marston, a cowpoke so realistic that he appears to be sunburned everywhere his hat doesn’t cover. And this gets down to what a man is. Does a real man pose with guns? HELL NO SON. A real man poses with TWO guns pointing in different directions. Does a real man ride horses? DAMN SON NO. He whips ‘em! Does a real man respect the law? BY TARNATION SON, HE’S AN OUTLAW!

SUPER BREAKOUT (1978)

Space Captain Jack D. Bauble is a man’s man. He graduated from Yale in 2022, and was immediately inundated with offers from the army, the navy, the Army & Navy Store. In the end though, he followed his dream, and blasted into space in 2025. Disaster struck almost immediately though, when his maiden voyage was besieged by an evil alien race of coloured bricks. Thankfully, he’d remembered his space bat, so everything turned out okay. To be honest, I’m really only including this one because the Breakout cover art that DIDN’T make the cut (as seen in the wonderful The Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino) is amazing, and quite possibly the best and sexiest cover art of them all. You're voting for the guy above, not below though:

HUMAN CANNONBALL (1978)

Yes, it does look like Mr Cannonball has an unusually-shaped member and is demonstrating his erotic dominance by launching an homonculus. But in fact this is a concept cover, showing the two stages of a true '70s man. There he is up top; nice grin, beautiful handlebar moustache, kids in the creche and not a care in the world. Then BAM MOTHERFUCKER, I’m a human cannonball! I’m going so fast the artist doesn’t even know how to communicate the speed properly! My grin’s got even bigger and these goggles are from the Ralph Lauren collection! At the bottom, hidden in shadows, we see the common man, trapped in his own misery, staring at the pinnacle of human achievement and wishing only that he, one day, might be a human cannonball too.

BLACK JACK (1977)

“Rules,” laughs the man with the large bow-tie. “I’ve heard of them, sure.” Don’t be fooled because this guy DGAF about the rules! He sees all the cards, he's even laying his own down on the lucky lady in the blue dress, and he knows that the king of black jack wears large bow ties. Look at the background: Ace Jack. It’s perfect! Time to retire. Look at him fantasising about that massive dollar sign. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing can touch the only real man in this article. Black Jack, incidentally, is the oldest Atari game on this list, so our bow-tied friend here could well be the actual proto-hottie. If you decide he really IS a hottie, of  course.

BERZERK (1982)

With Berzerk, you get a veritable cavalcade of hotties. The first cover was for the Atari 2600 version, and the other was for the Atari 5200. There's one inescapable through-line, however: the pervasive figure-hugging, one-piece body suit. In space, apparently, no-one can see your seam. Funnily enough, both variants appear to follow the same basic design principles as the outfit worn by Doom Guy, who started all this. Which is to say that approximately 97 per cent of the outfit couldn’t withstand assault from anything stronger than a stern word. The good news though, is that if any incoming shots are aimed directly at shoulder level, you’ll be fine. You’ll be voting on the solo guy in the first image, by the way—as erotically charged as the cameltoe is in picture number two, that original hair bob just seals the deal.

KRULL (1983)

Krull, says the box, was a major motion picture. Well, it’s not a motion picture I’VE ever heard of before. However, Wikipedia tells me that it was a 1983 British-American science fantasy film directed by Peter Yates, and starring Ken Marshall. As such, I’m going to assume that either i) they didn’t bother to licence Ken Marshall’s face, or ii) the artist had never heard of Ken Marshall. Because, other than the fact they both have beards—and, I guess, bodies—they really don’t look that alike at all. Still, fake-Ken was making beards cool way before the Last of Us’ Joel was on the scene, so I guess he deserves some credit for that. And those are some beautifully-delineated arms, great vein work.

SUBMARINE COMMANDER (1982)

You know who drives a submarine? That’s right, a SEXY NAVY MAN. Is drive even the right word? Whatever. No room for lily-waisted pansy-munching swords down here, we’re talking real MAN combat in a vessel that leaves you with zero hope of rescue if anything goes wrong. But could anything go wrong with this guy at the helm? Look at that expression of grim concentration, as he consigns hundreds of fellow human beings to an explodey death. Nothing gets past this guy. Look at the goatee. Sharp? This thing shaves the rest of the crew’s razorblades. The sensible wooly jumper! The dashing formality of the hat! Oh take me, submariner, and show me the watery depths.

SWORDQUEST: WATERWORLD (1983)

The Swordquest series did not, it's fair to say, fall short on the hunk (or indeed hunkess) front. Three Swordquest games were released in total—subtitled EarthWorld (1982), FireWorld (1982), and WaterWorld (1983)—and each one starred saucilicious male and female twins Tarra and Torr. Both twins managed to make the cover of the series' earliest games, as you can see below:

Sadly, however, Tarra was relieved of her cover star duties by the time that part three rolled around, leaving Torr to draw the crowds on his own. You can't accuse him of failing to step up to the challenge though, and WaterWorld gave us perhaps the hunkiest hunk (or at least the least dressed hunk) to grace the cover of an Atari game. That poor octopus barely got a second glance.

Funnily enough, the only man to come anywhere close to besting Torr's rather shocking state of undress was Torr himself—this time on the cover of the sadly unreleased fourth series entry, Swordquest: AirWorld, which you can see below. For our purposes, however, 'unreleased' means 'ineligible', so you'll be voting on Torr's third cover in our poll. Nice wingspan though.

So that's your lot! Help us decide gaming's true proto-hunk with our handy hi-tech Twitter poll thing below. We'll reveal the results (which you'll undoubtedly all be eager to hear) next week.

Sources: All cover art is taken from the wonderful Atarimania.com.