Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Geek Prostitution

When I first encountered the gaming social site GameCrush, I thought it seemed like a cool concept. It's often difficult to meet someone with the same interests and hobbies as you, and doing things like playing a game together helps break the ice. On the surface, it seemed like a great idea, but I was apprehensive. First, this is the picture that greets visitors to their website:

Call me silly, but it doesn't look like she's talking about gaming here. 

But not being the type to judge something on outward appearance alone, I decided to look closer at the site. Unfortunately nothing I read quelled my apprehension. Reading through the FAQ brought me these gems:
  • GameCrush is a fun and inviting way to meet, match, and play other gamers. You can browse profiles of other gamers, chat with them, and decide if you want to play. You can play any sort of game, all with a video cam of the person you are playing. You can play casual games here on the site, webcam-enabled PC games through our GCam client, or set up console games. Not sure who you want to play? Visit Crush-O-Matic and get matched with a random gamer!
Ok, that sounds all right. But the webcam stuff is pretty weird for me. In fact, they insist you have a webcam in order to play with anyone. I don't know about any other female gamers, but my date appearance and my game appearance are vastly different. When I sit down to game, I have my hair pulled up, I'm in my pajamas, and I'm not wearing make up. Not exactly the ensemble I'd put together for dinner and a movie, so the idea of having a game date with a webcam makes me uncomfortable. It also makes me uncomfortable to get on webcam with a stranger, which is one reason I don't own a webcam. But again, I kept going.
  • GameCrush is free to join! Anybody can be a Player, browse profiles, and play with other gamers. To make a splash with the person you want to play, you can buy them gifts or badges using GameCrush credits. Users can buy 60 credits for a dollar, with discounts given for larger purchases. It is up to individual Players to arrange their own games, including any gifts.
  • Only GameCrush gives you the ability to give and receive virtual gifts and redeem those virtual gifts for real rewards, like games, gift cards, and even game systems! Once you have deposited credits, you can use them to buy gifts, and gifts you receive you can convert back into credits. You can redeem these credits at any time for rewards. For more details, visit the Rewards Zone.
Sending gifts to other players in order to "make a splash" with them or "impress" them is another big theme on GameCrush. So they're targeting a group of people, gamers, who are stereotypically socially awkward and encouraging them to send gifts to random people because their personalities alone aren't enough to "make a splash" or "impress." I can not see how that could go wrong at all. 
  • GameCrush is not a sex site. Users are prohibited from advertising or promising sexual content during game sessions or otherwise. It is a good idea to set expectations before starting gaming session as to what sort of interaction you are interested in. Remember, all GameCrush users are real gamers and real people, with different personalities and gaming styles so please play nice! Players who have been reported as harassing, abusive or threatening may have their account suspended.
This part leaves me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I'm glad to see that they have a strict policy about harassment and that they're attempting to make a safe environment. On the other hand, forcing players to interact via webcam already takes some of the safety out of the equation. And on another, because awesome people are allowed three hands, this doesn't jive with the picture of their poster girl. "Not a sex site?" I think that's debatable, but let's move on.
  • After you have signed in, other users can visit your profile and chat with you, or you can visit their profile to do the same. If another Player wants to play you, you will receive a game invitation which you can choose to accept or decline. After accepting the invitation, you will be taken to a game screen with video chat. You will be asked to activate your webcam and click 'allow' for the video feed to start. At that point, you and your friend can decide which game to play. If you want to increase you chances of someone accepting your invitation, why not make them feel special by sending them a virtual gift?
There they go with the pushing of the virtual gifts in the guise of wooing someone. Why not make someone feel special by being  an attentive listener, a friendly competitor, and a good sport? 

Anyway, at this point I decided I had a good understanding of what I was getting into just from reading the public information. So I took the plunge and made an account so I could see how this actually plays out in practice. 

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the profiles is that they are all really seductive. Some of the women are in bikinis (cause we totally game in bikinis, amiright?), most of them have lots of boobage showing, and nearly all of them have MySpace angles and duck face going. Like I said to my boyfriend, for being "not a sex site" there sure is a lot of flesh on display. And don't get me wrong, the guys are no better. Shirtless guys making bedroom eyes, flexing for the camera, etc. There are almost no pictures of people doing every day things, or you know, gaming. The bios didn't help the case of "not a sex site" either. Nearly all of the women's profiles said that the better the gifts, the longer the game session. Many of them stated that they will not get into a game with someone without a gift first. And on the guy's side, nearly all of the bios I read promised gifts and said things like "I'm a great gifter!" 

This brings up another point, and something that had been nagging at me from the start - the whole site is very heterosexist and heteronormative, despite the fact that you can set your profile with a preferred gender and the Crush-O-Matic lets you specify a preferred gender. Yet I found nothing that appeals to the GLBT gamer, and even the official posts on the forums are heterosexist in nature.

After browsing profiles, I took to the forums to see what was going on. Common threads include:
  • "This place is a sausage fest." 
  • "Why can't I be a PlayDate anymore?" 
  • "Why do girls insist on gifts before gaming?"
  • "This place is just a wankfest. None of these girls can game." 
I want to address all of these, but let's start with PlayDates. From my research the site launched very differently than it is now. Back then if you were a woman, you could sign up to be a PlayDate, which meant that men on the site could contact you to schedule gaming dates, and you would get paid for them. They have since done away with that program so that everyone can interact and make it more social, and they replaced payments with their rewards. Now it was making sense why they encouraged people to send all those gifts. 

Curious to know more about the PlayDate option and why it's no longer around, I wrote to GameCrush support. This is the response I got (emphasis mine):
We have leveled the playing field so there's no such thing as a "PlayDate account" anymore. We found that it was too confusing and users wanted to interact more than the Player/PlayDate setup allowed.

We still offer a way for high-demand users to earn rewards on the site. You can play games for virtual gifts, which can be exchanged for credits to be used in our store for Rewards. You can earn some pretty cool stuff like games, consoles, computers, and Pac-Man staplers.

We are also licensing our technology to a site that will not have our anti-nudity policy. That will offer per-minute payments and tipping (whichGameCrush used to offer). That site will be launching soon - if you are interested, let me know.

Hope this answers your question! If you have more questions, they might be answered in our FAQ: http://www.gamecrush.com/#page=faq
Yeah, holy poop. This site, and the upcoming site, are designated to have people exchange their time and companionship for goods and/or services, which is no different than prostitution. Though it's not explicit, the the implications are strong - these are sites geared toward gamer guys to have "hot gamer chicks" spend time gaming with them in exchange for gifts. And in this situation, no one wins.

Want to know why GameCrush is a "sausage fest?" Because women gamers are there to game. We spend so much of our time trying to avoid stuff like this, to get away from the stereotypes that we only play online games to titillate geeky guys and that we use our "assets" to get stuff from them. I'm not saying that women who are typically attractive, the kind of attractive we're told is the only kind of attractive in media and advertising, are not "real gamers," but when a woman's bio on GameCrush is more focused on what kind of gifts she likes and what she expects than on the games she plays, I'm skeptical about her motivations for being there. That skepticism is amplified if her pictures are heavy in Laura Croft cos play. 

I realize I probably sound like an anti-sex prude and I can assure you that I'm not. But I am anti-exploitation and anti-dishonesty. GameCrush presents itself as a fun place for gamers to interact with each other, possibly find someone to date, and have fun casual game dates. But underneath it all is something sleazy and smarmy, something that exploits people's desires and serves to perpetuate stereotypes. Something that is at its heart geek prostitution. And I am anti that. 


  1. Everything about this site seems wrong. The sexy girls probably couldn't do anything for you during a Statesman TF. I've said this before and I believe it more and more each year, I'm glad I found my wife the old fashion way. Nothing is wrong with on-line dating as a whole. It allows people to be more open with others but doesn't totally give good social skills that they can use in the "real world"

  2. Why not make someone feel special by being an attentive listener, a friendly competitor, and a good sport?


    I think this site could have been so much more had it been designed with less skeezy intentions.
    It seems like something made for "gamers" by people who have no idea what gaming is about or why it's fun. It's just "hey! An idea for a niche site!"

    Ridiculous. And a waste of a good idea.