Despite its bevy of young girls waiting patiently on their webcams, GameCrush.com doesn't want to be perceived as a sex-cam site. It doesn’t aim to be seen as a dating site either.
What it wants to be is a website where users can pay by the minute to play videogames with cute young women, a simple enough premise geared toward nerds who are as interested in girls as they are in gaming. But GameCrush—which features pouting, busty girls on its homepage and boasts that "It's time to spice up your game" in its tagline—has quickly earned a reputation for being a website where men can pay money to not only compete in videogames against girls, but see them naked, too.
In coming up with the idea for GameCrush, which launched last month, its creators saw that social-networking sites were increasingly mimicking real life's friendships, interactions, and relationships. They wanted to create a website where people felt comfortable, confident, and, its co-creator Eric Strasser says, where one can harness the value of social interaction and apply it to a community.
The site's so-called PlayDates make themselves available for chatting and competing. They're mostly girls who straddle the line between geeky and bad-ass, a look familiar to most of today's high-school students. Many have glasses and tattoos. They wear their hair straight and brightly dyed, and sport a multitude of piercings. They enjoy the geekier games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, but get paid to play casual games, like backgammon, Tic Tac Toe, and checkers. One girl, who asked to be identified as “Cookie from the East Coast," said she had made 10,268 credits over the past two weeks working 12-hour days. She says she thinks that works out to $102.68. She's a 5-foot, 3-inch baby-faced redhead with a curvy body and hazel eyes who said she was between 23 and 28 years old. In her profile, she lists videogames, scruffy beards, and nerds as her likes—and bugs, "men with large amounts of cats," and nosepickers as her dislikes. In her nine pictures, she stares seductively at the camera and shows off her breast and feet covered in videogame tattoos.
Many of the girls lay down a “no nudity” rule—but a small percentage tease the possibility that it may happen should the players play their cards right.
In their bios, many of the girls lay down a "no nudity" rule—but a small percentage tease the possibility that it may happen should the players play their cards right. "Don't expect nudity," says one. "I'm just here to game and meet some interesting people." Another explains she won't show her "vag," but could be charmed "into my undies" should a player win a game.
• Scott Steinberg: The New Revolution in VideogamesOn their profile pages, PlayDates can chat openly in a text-based chatroom with any player who stops by. These chats are public, so it’s not uncommon to have one or two other players stop in and say hello. I popped into the chatroom of a 23-year-old Canadian girl named Melanie and found myself watching a conversation she was having with an anonymous French player. It started out innocent enough—she talked about the job ("i work hard") to her love of all things sweet ("i love sugar. im a sugar eater"), but eventually switched to private mode when the Frenchman mentioned " jeux coquins"—"naughty games." In another room, a 20-year-old college student and self-described “white girl with a booty” told a player she was “wearing a long, pink sleeve shirt that kind of hangs off my shoulders,” but could always change into something sexier. “I have lingerie and see-through clothes,” she typed.
The majority of these more scandalous chats were happening in a zone identified on the site as The Edge, which the the website explains is "not for the faint of heart. This could get interesting."
The Edge, according to Strasser, is more of a back room at a late-night dance club, the area where naughty behavior is permissible, and only includes about 15 percent of the site’s overall PlayDates. A former model for the site agreed that the zone was "definitely for the exhibitionist types.”
In the rules, GameCrush specifically prohibits “advertising or promising sexual content during game sessions or otherwise.” But it could happen. The company doesn’t monitor the video chats. The site’s goal is to be a place where people can have control over how intimate of an experience they have online. This isn’t a place to find a future wife, though it could happen—a few guys have flown across the country to meet their PlayDate friends.
"The fact is we're all social human beings,” explained Strasser, saying one of our biggest needs it to talk to others. “All our site does is provide one filter that takes a monetized approach to that interaction.”
He often compares the experience to a guy (or girl) saddling up to a bar. If you're single, and there's an attractive member of the opposite sex sitting next to you, you may buy her a drink. That's a social exchange of value, and it lets you introduce yourself in a more personal way.
When they launched, the site received waves of press calling it a sexcam community for geeks, more or less. Interviewers would head into a chat in search of a story that doesn’t truly reflect what the site’s about, says Strasser, when in reality he’s doing something a little different. “We wanted to build a community for gamers. Didn’t want to make it a sex site. The press goes to town on the sexy edge, so it’s been a tough one for us."
Clearly, it was time to test out the site. I created an account, deposited $10 (612 credits), and went searching for my PlayDate.
I chose the most-recently logged-on girl, noticing her photo was the most colorful on the list. Sporting red hair and a seablue shirt with a plunging neckline in her picture, the PlayDate sat confidently on a pink and green bed with zebra stripes on the pillow behind her, looking into the camera somewhat seductively.
"Hi," she typed in the chat box. "Hello!," I wrote back.
And so it began.
Soon we were chatting about the games on the site, the photographs she uploaded, and whether she wanted to play a quick game of Tic Tac Toe or her favorite game, billiards.
Then, she had an idea: strip Tic Tac Toe. I told her I was in the office and couldn't guarantee I would be taking any clothes off. She didn't mind.
I took a sip of water, clicked "Play Now," enabled my webcam, selected billiards, and was instantly transported into the PlayDate's bedroom.
She waved, and scrambled to turn on some music from her broken iPod Touch. For the most part, she appeared as she did in her profile photo. The room was more average, however, than the Techinicolor version I first saw in her profile.
"So, you're at the office being awful?" she playfully asked. I gulped. We were no longer playfully text chatting, and it was my turn to break the rack in a simplified game of online billiards as the expectation of something more hung in the stale air between our screens.
During that first game, she kept her clothes on. We didn't even broach the subject. I asked her what she does for a living. She said she models. I asked if they get lots of creeps coming through. She said sometimes, but mentioned there was a "secret chatroom for the girls" where they warn each other of players' screen names to avoid.
Then we got quiet, and my mouth grew dry as I silently tried to angle the cue ball into the 7 for a side-pocket sinker. I missed.
"Not all of the girls get naked," she said, breaking the silence.
"Oh?" I nervously responded, and sunk the 8 ball, losing the game.
"You have to look for the ones whose profile says 'anything goes,'" she added.
I hit "Play Again."
I asked how the money was. She said it was OK, enough to provide a "nice little cushion for 'extraness.'"
Then the screen went black, and a little box popped up asking me to deposit more money. When I hit "OK," planning on depositing $6 more, there she was, sitting on the bed in a flesh-colored bra.
I nervously said something about her shirt being off, and she laughed, and we switched the game to Tic Tac Toe. I told her I only had a few more minutes before I had to go, and that I'd simply pass along the rest of the balance after that.
Tic Tac Toe is a fairly rapid-fire game. It's even quicker when your opponent removes an article of clothing every time she loses, which, in this case, was nearly every game we played.
After game one, she removed her dark jean skirt, which she had been wearing over thick, black stockings. After game two, she removed the stockings. Game three was a draw. Game four, I think I lost. Game five saw the bra hit the floor and revealed her pierced nipples. Game six saw her jump up on the bed, remove her underpants, and do a little dance before sitting back down. Game seven saw me quickly losing, saying thanks, here's the tip, and goodbye.
She was still wearing her shin-high, multi-colored socks.
I called Eric Strasser to share my experience.
"I don't want to deny that it happens," he said, admitting that if a girl's feeling frisky, it's just as if the experience was happening in a bar. And if it’s happening on their site, GameCrush, for their part, hopes to keep things safe and supportive for the PlayDate girls.
"Like any social site, you can find it if you look for it,” added Eric. "I bet you can find a nipple on MySpace."
Brian Ries is tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.