GameCrush – Female Gamers as Commodities

GameCrush Site Header
A portion of GameCrush’s site header; a painted target on a grey background, with a heart for the bull’s-eye, and the company name.

You know, once upon a time in a webcomic I’ve since fallen out of reading, a crafty character put her entrepreneurial skills to use by starting a geek-phone-sex company, staffed by women who could “talk geek” with gamer and geek men, and also have phone sex with them.  And we laughed, and it was funny, and all was well.  Until now, when someone has decided to put it into practice in the real world.

Enter GameCrush.com, a site where (male, by the language of the site) gamers can sign up to play with female “PlayDates” for a preset list of either casual PC browser games (like checkers, Battleship, or Connect Four), which come with live video chat, or Xbox 360 games (they currently list Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: Modern

Warfare 2, GTA IV, and Halo 3), which come with voice chat.  You can request that your PlayDate be “Flirty”, “Dirty”, or both.  You set a time, pay $8 for each 6-10 minutes of gaming time depending on the game type, and when you’re done, you rate your escort date on her gaming skill, flirtiness, dirtiness, and hotness, along with an overall score.

I’m sorry, what? Just a quick scan nets me evidence of FAIL on heterosexism, women-as-commodities, and serious reinforcement of gamer stereotypes for both male and female gamers.  GameCrush assumes that the bulk of gamers are male and heterosexual, and that those male gamers are nerdy shut-ins who tremble at the sight of a real live woman and who have never developed the social skills to interact with women in person, so they need to purchase time with them in the only social arena they are comfortable.  It also assumes that female gamers are such rarely-sighted unicorns that the assumedly-dorky male gamers will be willing to pay for the unique, previously-unknown pleasure of playing video games with a woman.   Of course, it’s more than just being able to play a video game with a female opponent.  These women are not only women you can game with, but women who will flirt with you, and if you pay more, they’ll even talk dirty, something you can’t require of the women you might normally be playing against.

The women-as-commodities fail comes into play for me with the rating system.  I was already squicked to begin with, but when I found a PlayDate’s profile and read through it and saw the rating, I started making the inarticulate noises that make my fiance cautiously ask me what the conservatives have done now.  I mean, I don’t know about you, but I just love receiving a numerical rating on my ability to conform to a man’s standards hotness and how well I flirt and talk dirty.  That totally makes me feel like a whole and valued person, not just a body and a couple socially-approved subroutines for male enjoyment. </snark>

In case there was any doubt about the tone of the site, I’ll leave you with this blurb from PlayDate queenofdebt’s profile:

I am very fun and a gracious loser, and I will be sure that you enjoy talking and playing with me while you enjoy the view!

About Jadelyn

I'm a 24-yr-old bisexual white ciswoman, a pagan, a writer/blogger, a feminist, a progressive, and a gamer. My gaming runs to the console with occasional forays into tabletop, and my blogging runs to the feminist/queer activist/religious rights type. My blogging here will focus on the intersection of feminism, queer rights, and gaming culture.
This entry was posted in Casual Games, Console Games, Web and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to GameCrush – Female Gamers as Commodities

  1. Jane Doh says:

    Dear GameCrush,

    Will you pay me more if I let them win?

    What jackasses….

  2. koipond says:

    WTF? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    That totally requires a Shoryuken.

  3. Gospel X says:

    The only thing surprising here is that this service hadn’t come into existence sooner. This should have blossomed naturally from WoW, or even Everquest. Anyway, in checking out the site for myself (thank you for providing me with morbid curiosity), I’ve found that the language for signing up to be a PlayDate is free of gender. All it specifies is a love of playing games. And in checking out what kinds of PlayDates are available, I found SunnyBoy: http://join.gamecrush.com/index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=1130&Itemid=56
    I know that fewer males will become PlayDates on the site, but at least the hiring practices are fair.

    By the way, the web comic you mentioned is Something Positive: http://somethingpositive.net/

    • Jadelyn says:

      Heh, I wondered if anyone would know the comic I was referencing. ;-)

      I only flipped through a couple pages of PlayDates, so I hadn’t seen any guys. That’s interesting. However, you’ll notice that the official pics all feature hot chicks with headsets, so…eh.

  4. nanasuyl says:

    I couldn’t believe when I read this. This is wrong in so many levels! Do people really think girls don’t play games? Do they think they have to pay them to play? Have they never been to the real world?

    • koipond says:

      Let’s not forget that they’re also there to be paid so that they can talk, ‘dirty’ to them while playing.

    • koipond says:

      Stupid no edit. Teach me to type from the hip.

      Let’s not forget that the women are also there to be paid so that they can talk, ‘dirty’ to doods while playing said video games.

    • Bakka says:

      I agree with koipond in that I am less bothered by the idea of paying women to play, there are lots of reasons one might want to do this, not all of which are problematic. In this case what makes it so problematic is that women are being paid to objectify themselves while playing in order to conform to the desires of male players.

      I find it interesting that the sign-up page says you can choose whether to play flirty, dirty or both. It also says you can “earn up to $30 and hour or more” (what does that even mean? “up to” does not go together with “or more” unless one is trying to be misleading). It does not specify whether you get more for agreeing to be “dirty” rather than “flirty” but it does specify that you get more if you play the PC games rather than X-box 360 because they require video for PC games.

      I was wondering about this because it seems like they are not really paying women to play. Instead they are paying women for sex-work. So one important issue in determining how exploitative this is would be to compare how much phone sex workers and web cam sex-workers are paid.

      I did a quick search of the internet, which turns up wildly divergent rates for phone and web cam sex workers, ranging from $24-$100 per hour. The rates offered on this site fall at the extreme low end of this scale (even some PSO say they make $100, so it is not a matter of web cam vs. phone for these rates).

      One problem with the site, is that it seems coercive because it sells itself to women as paying them “to play.” In fact, though, I think a case could be made that the site is paying them to be sex-workers that cater to gamers. It seems highly misleading.

      • Jadelyn says:

        I think you’re right; what’s strange with this is the couching of sex work in “just play video games!” terms when talking to potential employees, while at the same time they’re marketing it to customers as “Hey, guys, play with a hot chick who’ll talk dirty to you!” If they were more up-front about what they required of their employees, it would be at least slightly less fucked-up. Not by much, though.

      • Alex H says:

        From IGN’s coverage of it: “GameCrush says it modeled its pricing structure after the cost of buying a girl a drink at a bar. In a bar, you’re basically buying the opportunity to chat a girl up. GameCrush is hoping players will look at their service the same way.” A co-worker linked me the article under the pretense “dating service for gamers” . . . riiiiight. . . .

        • Jadelyn says:

          So we are to take from this that buying a drink for a woman at a bar means she is obligated to be flirty and/or dirty with you, right? Ugh. Chatting with a woman in a bar != buying vid chat/phone sex time. Gross gross gross. This is most emphatically NOT a “dating service”. How disingenuous of your coworker. >.<

        • Bakka says:

          Huh, I did not realize that if I ever accept a drink from a man at a bar then he is purchasing ten minutes of my time. Now that I know, I think I will start carrying a stopwatch with me to bars. After ten minutes, I will inform men that their time is up, so they either give me another $8, or they leave. I am glad I know, because knowing is half the battle.

  5. DSimon says:

    The fail… overwhelming… *boom* my head asplode.

  6. Jargo says:

    I saw this on Kotaku first and made the mistake to read the comments. I dont recommend it.

    In the area of sucide girls, world of whorecraft and whatever this was somehow foreseeable.

    I wish Mircosoft would ban the users of this service and sue the provider somehow. I mean if its not allowed to use the word gay in my gamertag or my description why should this stuff be tolerated ?

  7. wererogue says:

    I’m absolutely offended by the site, and I think that it’s awful on *so* many levels, but I can’t really count it as a fail. Sadly, they’re going to do business, and probably enough to keep them running a while, at least until a dozen copycat businesses start splitting their market.

    • Jadelyn says:

      I doubt it’ll be a failure, but it is definitely made of FAIL.

      • Shil says:

        Seconded. Just because it might be economically viable doesn’t mean it’s not “made of FAIL”!

        Though I think that site is an abominable idea, I’m glad that I saw this article. I’m teaching a course on constructions of the other, where we’re dealing with sexism, racism, ableism and others, and I think I’m going to use it as a stellar example of the phenomenon.

  8. Lake Desire says:

    Wow. So I can sell my geek-hawtness to pay for grad school.

  9. Bakka says:

    I am not sure whether anyone is interested in taking action, but I have just contacted Microsoft via email with a letter informing them of this service (which I believe violates both their code of conduct and their terms of use.

    I intend to mail a printed copy tomorrow to:

    Microsoft Corporation
    One Microsoft Way
    Redmond, WA 98052-6399
    Attn: Customer Service

    If anyone is interested I would also be happy to make the text of the letter available for free modification or use.

    • Bakka says:

      I also called the Xbox live customer service at (800) 4MY-XBOX or (800) 469-9269 and registered a ticket. Easy and only takes seconds.

      • Jadelyn says:

        Out of curiosity, can you do that if you’re not yourself an Xbox Live customer? I have a 360, but no internet to it, so no account.

        • Bakka says:

          Hi Jadelyn,

          I have an original Xbox (not online) but no 360. They did ask for my gamertag, but I explained that my concern was not a service issue, but an issue of violating their legal requirements (which stipulate that it is illegal to profit from Xbox live services without the consent of Microsoft). I also mentioned that Kotaku was billing it as “Xbox Live prostitution” and so the service seemed likely to tarnish their brand. They seemed genuinely concerned and took down my comment in great detail. When I gave websites reviewing the service and the service itself they seemed to take down the info in detail, asking for repeats of URLs.

          I don’t know what will happen, but it did not seem like one needed to be a customer to complain. I did mention the numerous other Microsoft products that I own and so on, but I think they would be interested even if only because they are not receiving a cut.

      • Bakka says:

        Here is the text of the letter I sent in case you are interested in sending your own. I am somewhat worried that given the arrangements of the website the contractors (PlayDates) might end up more liable than the arrangers (GameCrush.com) but I am not sure. Please provide feedback if you have any.

        Dear Microsoft and Xbox Live,

        I am writing to ensure that you are aware of the new service, GameCrush.com that is launching today (March 23, 2010). I thought this service might be of interest to you. First, the service might be violating some of your code of conduct and your terms of use. Second, the service intends to profit from your Xbox live service and if they have not consulted with you or arranged for you to receive a share of the profits, this seems problematic, since the Xbox Live service is owned and operated by the Microsoft Corporation and not GameCrush.com or the independent contractors hired by GameCrush.com.

        I know that Microsoft is dedicated to maintaining the high standards associated with the brand. Microsoft has been concerned to maintain an Xbox live environment that is friendly to its users and has consistently responded to user concerns. The new service, GameCrush.com undermines these values, and might be violating both code of conduct and your terms of use. GameCrush.com undermines these values by providing a service that sets customers (who pay them about $1 per minute) up with a paid PlayDate who agrees to either be flirtatious with the paying customer, talk dirty to the customer, or both.

        This service seems to be in tension with the Microsoft code of conduct that specifies:
        • “Don’t distribute, post, publish, upload, disseminate or discuss defamatory, infringing, obscene, sexual or unlawful materials like child pornography or illegal drugs, including images, audio, video, or text.”
        • “Don’t create a gamertag, profile content, or in-game content that other users may be offended by, this includes comments that look, sound like, stand for, hint at, abbreviate, or insinuate any of the following: profane words/phrases, topics or content of a sexual nature, hate speech (including but not limited to racial, ethnic, or religious slurs), illegal drugs/controlled substances, or illegal activities.”
        • “Do not use your account for commercial purposes (including but not limited to trading services or in-game content for currency or Microsoft Points).”
        • “Don’t use the forums or chats for any commercial purpose without the express consent of Xbox.com. You may only create an account for yourself as an individual. You may not create an account for your corporation or other business entity.” (quoted from http://www.xbox.com/en-us/legal/codeofconduct.htm)
        Although the service offered by GameCrush.com is not specifically a gamertag or motto, it certainly does hint at content of a sexual nature. Kotaku, for example, has reported on this service as “Xbox Live prostitution” http://kotaku.com/5499552/would-you-pay-women-to-play-xbox-games-with-you/gallery/ The breaking coverage was provided by IGN http://xboxlive.ign.com/articles/107/1079073p1.html and both of these are trusted gamer websites. Further, this company is clearly using your service for their own commercial purpose. The independent contractors (or PlayDates as GameCrush.com refers to them) intend to use the service for their own commercial gain.

        This service might violate several aspects of the terms of use that prohibit:
        • “use the Service for commercial purposes (except as expressly permitted by us);”
        • “resell or redistribute the Service, or any part of the Service;” (quoted from http://www.xbox.com/en-CA/live/legal/legal-tou.htm)

        I am aware that Microsoft is not responsible for the way that third parties might attempt to use Microsoft products. I do not hold Microsoft responsible for the launch of this website, but I am concerned that this website could tarnish the Microsoft brand and undermine the image that Microsoft has worked so hard to build and maintain.

        Thank you for considering my concerns.

  10. Maverynthia says:

    The problem I have with it is all the people on it that have already signed up as PlayDates. ,_, If more women were informed about how this impacts them I wonder if they would care more to not even bother to be a part of something like this.

    It just makes me want to beat my head against a wall and ask those women “Whyyyy!” (Though the answer will probably be “for money” and “I don’t care”)

    • Jadelyn says:

      The problem with that is the same as it would be if you said “The problem I have with strip clubs is the women who work there.” Why blame/shame/be angry at/whatever the women who work there? They’re doing what they judge necessary to make it in a patriarchal, kyriarchal society. Don’t be angry at them, be angry at the social structures which support and encourage those businesses/steer those industries in an anti-woman manner. (I add that last because I think sex work, in a just and gender-equal world, is unproblematic; my issue with it as things stand is the cultural context and what it feeds into.) This isn’t to frame female sex workers (which is really what the PlayDate women are) as victims or anything, but to point out that they make their decisions in a context that makes those decisions very profitable and perhaps necessary for those women. If you don’t like it, direct your ire at those responsible, not the employees.

      • Brinstar says:

        Agreed. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Rather than ragging on the women for the awfulness that is Game Crush, the bigger issue is the power structures that oppress women and put them in the position that they feel like making the decision to participate in this site is better than making a choice to do something else that doesn’t involve them being objectified for the whims of men. The oppressive societal structures (patriarchy/kyriarchy) that make the decision to participate in Game Crush bear far more of the blame for this than the women oppressed by those structures.

        • Maverynthia says:

          That’s true. However it’s the ones that say they “Don’t care.” are the ones that I’ve heard about. The ones that know that it might be problematic, but think it doesn’t affect them at all, because they are one of the guys. Some of them just aren’t enlightened. Which are like the people that run around in maid outfits at anime cons thinking they are “cute” rather than pandering to male sensibilities of domination and subservience as well at being a fetish.

          I think the main problem is that all these sex industries are ran by men, there aren’t enough women out there making things like this that have better terms for the people working.

  11. Mantheos says:

    I knew this would come up here as soon as I saw it on IGN. This social network doesn’t take homosexual people into account at all. It practically assumes all gamers are straight men, with the few attractive straight female gamers for the men to oogle over while they play for however many minutes they purchase. It seems very degrading towards those women and homosexuals for not even giving them a place.

    • Thefremen says:

      Calling it a “social network” is far too forgiving. It’s a virtual Geisha House, except without the fancy hair-thingies.

      • Jadelyn says:

        That’s an awesome characterization of this…service. I’m going to totally use that anytime I have to reference GameCrush from now on.

        • Thefremen says:

          Blame it on the fact I just watched “Ichi”, a gender switched version of the “Zatoichi” or blind samurai story. (Very good film btw, reminiscent of a Kurosawa film)

      • Suce-fleur says:

        This was my impression exactly, although I’d say that it’s more akin to hostess clubs (where women talk with their male customers as the primary form of entertainment, and sometimes do things like play dice games or sing karaoke), which are more prevalent.

  12. Melponeme_k says:

    So someone obviously heeded all those screeches on WoW forums for Blizzard to start a dating service to pimp out all their registered female gamers.

    • Bakka says:

      I would just like to add:”failure to launch” apparently it is still a no-go and that is great.

Comments are closed.