A weekend of ChatRoulette (Or: I play ChatRoulette so you don’t have to)
ChatRoulette has been getting lots of attention lately, notably with articles written in New York Magazine and in the New York Times. But so far, the articles have been written by men. According to the Wall Street Journal, 87% of the site’s users are male after all (and 5-8% of users are naked). The video chatting game is a completely different world for women. Female chatters get “nexted” far less often, so it’s not such a blow to the ego. It’s more fun and less desperate.
I developed an addiction to the game last weekend. If you haven’t explored the site yet, or if you want to see it through the eyes, or lens rather, of a woman, here you go.
I lost my ChatRoulette virginity on Friday night. After drinks at Burp Castle in the East Village and a big bowl of ginger-scallion noodles and fatty pork buns at Momofuku’s noodle bar, I came home full and not yet ready for bed. So I decided to give the site — that I had already written about — a try.
I donned red over-sized, goofy sunglasses with stars on them. Both because the site of first impressions rewards gimmicks to start conversations, and because I wanted to browse incognito. Even knowing I would be paired with anonymous strangers, I felt slightly uneasy and the glasses provided protection.
ChatRoulette has a very basic homepage. You click “Play” to get started, and you’re immediately connected with a stranger. When you want to find a new stranger, you click the “Next” button. There’s video, audio, and a chat box. Some people choose to disable video and audio.
I did not stumble across a single penis on this first night, though I’ve heard they are there in abundance. There were many men, though, in dark rooms, usually smoking. I tended to next them quickly.
Next: A group of people getting ready to go out in a dorm room with loud music at a college somewhere.
Next: A short but substantive conversation with a father and son in Chevy Chase outside of Washington, D.C. The son almost nexted me when I said I went to Duke. He’s a UVA frosh, typed the dad, who wears hipster glasses and a smoking jacket and looks like he would fit into a Wes Anderson movie. They ask me where I am, what I do. I tell them I used to live in D.C. and moved away because I was tired of it, and tell them why. We say goodbye.
Next: A rare woman: long blonde hair with a green shirt. Over the course of the weekend, I came across women 1 out of 20 times. She nexts me.
Next: A teenage boy who makes inappropriate gestures simulating oral sex. I next him.
Next: A pair of 20-somethings see me and say “pretty girl.” I next them.
Next: A teenage boy in a computer-generated jungle motif. I laugh, and am done.
The next day, I return with my friend Sophia. I don the glasses again as does she. Paired with another person, I’m more immature, less serious about the endeavor. It reminded me of roaming AOL chat rooms with my best friend Lauren as a middle schooler. Lauren and I would pretend to be people we were not. We got into quite a few raunchy conversations, and would end them by telling our chat partner that he had in fact been talking to a 65-year-old man, which would disgust them and leave them disturbed, we imagined. My mom once found a transcript of one of our conversations, and she was very disturbed.
Sophia and I talked to a man in Paris, another one in a dark room smoking. We told him he should give it up, and that smoking is not allowed in America. Then we nexted him.
We took the New York Times T magazine with a photo of Julianne Moore and held that up to the camera. At one point we were confronted with a young beautiful girl, which surprised us. She seemed distracted and did not respond to us. “That’s not a real person,” we said. And then the camera zoomed out to reveal that it is actually a YouTube video. It disturbed us for some reason. We hit next.
We surfed into a room with a lofted bed, and a boy brushing his teeth. He sneers at us. We nexted him.
It’s less fun to play in the afternoon, even if it’s night for some of our European partners. I opted to go to the gym instead.
We’re drawn back again Sunday; we sit on my couch, surfing separately on our Macs.
Sophia comes across a boy who looks a lot like Justin Bieber, and we joke with him about the resemblance.
Then I surf into a room with a boy who bears enough of a resemblance to Taylor Lautner for me to claim it. Then we face our computers toward each other to bring the worlds together. Justin gets out a cigarette – we admonish him for smoking given his teen idol status – but he can’t find a lighter.
Taylor says wait a minute and disappears and we think he will soon next us. But instead he returns with a lighter and holds that close to the camera. And this seems brilliant to us. And we realize it can’t really get any better than that so we say goodbye to them and we sign off.
But then hours later, we are back again. Two teenage boys tell us that we look old enough to be their mothers and that I look like the mother from Weeds — maybe I look a little like Mary Louise-Parker when I wear sunglasses. We next them.
Sophia stumbles into a penis being licked by a dog. She screams, and closes her computer.
Sophia has worse ChatRoulette luck than me. She later connects to a young boy, who writes a note saying, “Show boobies.” And we tell him he’ll never get a girlfriend if he treats women like that. Next.
We finally have a decent conversation with two 19-year-old boys in England, who are drinking pints of beer. They are in Cambridge. It is midnight there. One of them has just gotten home from working at a nightclub. We joke and say we are also in Cambridge (Massachusetts). And they’re like, no way. And we admit that we’re actually in New York. We say they look younger than 19 and one shows us his driver’s license. It’s impossible to read, but it disturbs me that someone would be displaying their license on ChatRoulette.
We joke about accents. We joke about British vs. American culture. They are playing a ChatRoulette drinking game that has already developed on Facebook. They want to play the “age game” with us, in which they will guess our age, and for every year they are away from our actual age, they have to drink a finger’s worth of beer. They underguessed our age by a good five years, and wind up finishing their pints.
One of them — Christian — was very quiet. The other — Bradley — was very talkative. I told them Christian seemed like the quiet drummer of their twosome. “He is a drummer,” says Bradley, surprised. They are in a band and send us to their MySpace page, and we talk about their music. Their band is named for a dead fox they came across on the side of the road.
The conversation is actually fun and seemingly normal, and lasted probably 20 minutes. But then Bradley disappeared and when he came back, he pulled down his pants and spread his buttcheeks for the camera. It was bizarre and unexpected, in part because they had already told us so much about themselves. We nexted them for that.
We came across a young boy in Connecticut. He had just turned 17. So we sang happy birthday to him, and then we signed off.
Overall, I’m a big fan of the site. I understand now why it’s gotten so popular so quickly. It’s reminiscent of AOL chat rooms, but far more intimate in a way, as you’re actually invited into someone’s home. You see where they live and what they look like, which makes the obfuscation of who you are much more difficult.
News organizations are already starting to write about how it’s a dangerous place for children. Fox called it a “predator’s paradise.” Indeed, kids surfing the site aren’t going to be able to avoid seeing a penis or two… or ten. And it’s easy to reveal more about yourself than you realize.
Sophia easily found Bradley on Facebook and, to my surprise, given the buttcheek incident, she friended him. He accepted her Friendship request, and to my greater surprise, expressed shock that she’d been able to find him.