Gamers come in all shapes, sizes and yes, even genders. Those who play video games, whether casually or consistently, already have to deal with being stereotyped for their hobby. Now there is potential for even more stereotypes to explain away with GameCrush, a new social entertainment website offering solo gamers the chance to play with an attractive, flirtatious companion. For a price.
“It combines social networking with multi-player gaming, with an option for a monetary exchange to facilitate a social exchange,” said Eric Strasser, Marketing and Business Relations Representative for GameCrush, who compares the interaction to buying a drink for someone at a bar. “While the site is designed for adults, we do not consider ourselves to be part of the ‘adult industry businesses,’” he said.
There are two types of users on the site; “Players” choose from simple games on the GameCrush website, like Checkers and Battleship, where they can interact with a “PlayDate” utilizing a webcam or via their headsets on Microsoft’s XBOX Live with games like Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. The company plans to expand to Sony’s PlayStation 3, World of Warcraft, and other online games as time progresses.
Players pay around $7 for ten minutes of gameplay and PlayDates receive a percentage of this amount. Upon signing up, PlayDates must make a selection on their profiles to signify themselves as either “flirty” or “dirty.” After the game is over, Players rate their encounter and the top PlayDates are rewarded with site promotion and other benefits.
“About two years ago, I and my fellow gamer colleagues saw that there was a clear need for adults gamers to be able to meet and communicate with others online in a safe and private environment,” said Strasser.
So what exactly will “adult” gamers be doing in this “safe and private environment?" Basically, anything they want. “GameCrush does not monitor or control the interaction between its users,” said Strasser.
On it’s surface, GameCrush is a website where you can pay for a gaming companion, but delve a bit deeper and some find a more questionable marketing plan.
“It's like prostitution for gamers,” said gamer Melissa Kay, who spends an average of twenty hours a week with video games. “Either way you want to look at it, you're paying to 'play' with girls.”
Although she isn’t offended by the idea, Meagan VanBurkleo, Associate Editor at Game Informer, won’t be registering any time soon. “While I don’t hold it against the girls who do decide to participate, I’m not interested in exploiting that aspect of myself for cash.” And no doubt, cash is a factor.
“Who's going to pay nearly $70 an hour for this?” said Luke Brown, Writer for GamerVision and The Quarter Bin. Though he would consider being a PlayDate, “Anytime someone gives you a chance to make $30 an hour playing video games with complete strangers in either "flirty" or "dirty" settings, you've got to take it.” However, he said he couldn’t imagine the market for male PlayDates being very strong.
PlayDates can be male or female but that’s not what the developers aimed for.
“GameCrush initially placed ads seeking female gamers on a number of posting boards including under the talent section on Craig's List,” said Strasser. “Whereas only a chosen few can be a SuicideGirl, anybody can be a PlayDate on GameCrush.”
Even those who can see the appeal are skeptical. “While I fully support the idea of playing video games with attractive women,” said Blair Herter, host of G4’s X-Play, “I think this is a little less ‘experience some online awesomeness’ and more ‘thinly veiled attempt to sucker a very specific target audience out of their hard-earned cash.’”
“I think it's an ingenious idea,” said Earnest “Nex” Cavalli, a freelance gaming journalist, commenting on the monetary potential. “The real question is what it will say about gamers if the service is successful,”
Brown worries too. “GameCrush's mission statement, or whatever you want to call it, puts forth this idea that the only way people who play video games can meet people of the opposite sex is by paying for it. It's a bit insulting to think that this is what people still think of gamers as a whole,” he said adding, “Nothing is more pathetic than exploiting stereotypes for monetary gain.
“I thought women already had trouble being treated like serious gamers,” said Wendy Kays, author of Game Widow. “It's not a dating site to find someone with similar interests with whom to have a respectful relationship. I don't think anyone using the service can fool themselves, or anyone else, that GameCrush is anything more high class than a digital pimping service.”
When asked if there was ever a discussion of making the site closer to that of an online dating website, where everyone pays to be matched with a partner, Strasser reiterated that anyone, male or female, could be a PlayDate. “Because there is a supply and demand imbalance between male and female gamers it is natural to anticipate men will pay to play women more often than the other way around.”
But is the gender gap in gaming really that large? “It's not the needle-in-a-haystack scenario that many people think it is,” said Cavalli. “Girls game, it's old news,” said Kay, who recommends tournaments, conventions and even game stores to find a partner for free.
The Entertainment Software Association backs up their claims. According to the site, 40 percent of all gamers and 43 percent of online gamers are female.
Herter says the biggest obstacle for the countless women he knows in and outside the gaming industry is the stereotype that women don’t play or aren’t as good as men at video games. “This company puts that hurdle at the top of the proverbial Tower of Babel.”
Although “anything” goes on GameCrush, “anything” could very well amount to “nothing.” PlayDates can block or report users for any reason. “I'm operating under the assumption that the interactions [Players] pay for are going to be far different than the ones they expect,” says Herter.
He could be right. Since there is no “friendly” option, merely “flirty” or “dirty,” there is an inherent level of expectation in the PlayDates behavior.
“I can see it easily vaulting the women who are willing to participate in more risqué behavior up to the top of the charts, and then as a result, perpetuating the belief that that type of behavior is required,” said VanBurkleo.
For some, part of the problem is presentation. “At least with the other sites, like a Suicide Girls, which is this bizarre and wonderful amalgamation of porn and geek culture, and a geek dating site like Geek2Geek, where the primary purpose is getting two geeks together, you know immediately from the start what you're getting,” said Brown.
Will GameCrush succeed and perpetuate the stereotypes or fail and break them?
“Girls who are awesome to play with are earned, not ordered online like blowup dolls,” said Kays. “If you aren't willing to be cool and put in the work of being a friend, you'll have to pay like a John.”