A few weeks ago, a dating website for gamers called Shag a Gamer launched. I say dating website, it’s pitched more as an underground gaming sex coven, a moist den of writhing, pale bodies whose mouths, when not wrapped around gamer genitals, occasionally stop to discuss DotA 2 tactics.
It sounded really silly, and funny, not least because of the notion that somebody pursuing anonymous, meaningless rutting would choose a partner based on trivial shared interests rather than whether or not they’ve got a nice face and the gender-specific sex-parts that they prefer kissing. But to each their own. What harm can Shag a Gamer really do? If knowing the person that you’re poking has completed Earthworm Jim 2 is the only way you can maintain an erection, more power to you, right?
You only have to scratch the surface of Shag a Gamer to reveal that the site is more than just a silly headline. In fact it’s a little cynical, absolutely misleading, downright greedy and, at worst, preys on the wallets of the woefully undersexed. I signed up to Shag a Gamer just over two weeks ago, exactly how Louis Theroux might, and in the space of a fortnight I’ve received no fewer than 330 private messages, all of them from girls with names like ‘Sweety’, ‘Babs’, ‘Lola’ and ‘Coco’ – names I’ve never heard of a real woman having before, despite knowing loads of my mum’s friends. Often, the subject headers from these women will repeat over and over again, as if generated by a sexy algorithm: “Show me the ropes?” is a common one, as well as the more relaxed sounding “I’m just taking it easy”. Yeah alright Casanovatron.Cool your jets, HAL-9000.
Surprising (and damning) too, is that Lola, Coco, Sweetyand Babscame to me in the first place. I’m not being modest here: my profile justdoesn’t have a picture, or indeed any details. I’m a default, inactive, personality-free silhouette that’s seemingly attracting almost precisely one suitor per hour over the course of two weeks. I’d also told Shag a Gamer I was bisexual, so that I might be exposed to the whole of thebeautiful sexual spectrum of gamers, yet the gender ratio filling my inbox is highly skewed towards women, whenit’s understood that games, and to a larger extentsex websites, are predominantly used by men.
Statistically speaking, Shag a Gamer’s place in that Venn diagram should endow it with somewhere between half a lady and one full lady. And she would be one terrified, or very excited, woman. There isn’t evena gender filter in the search options. Shag a Gamer is literally fixated on women (or at least on heterosexuality – updating your gender or sexuality on your profile requires that you send an email to the Shag a Gamer support team, who I can only assume are trained in drop down menus).
It’salmost as if this whole setup is geared towards making straight men click on tiny pictures of naked ladies, of which there are many, in all sorts of uncomfortable poses, quite literally splayed across the website’s front page. You’d need a cup of tea and a sit down afterwards having witnessed some of the racier thumbnails here.
But let’s be fair:this is a hook-up website after all, it assumes you’ve left your prudish conservatism at the door and areprimed to guiltlessly embrace galleries of64 by 64 flesh-toned pixels. Interestingly however, all photos must be approved by Shag a Gamer’s support team, who it seems are all tooready towave through vulva after vulva – despite the photo guidelines being quite clear about ensuring your face isn’t obscured.
When you eventually click on almost anything, the reason these joyful naked specimens are being ferried before your eyes becomes clear.
Shag a Gamer isn’t free (it never claims to be either, rather it advertises itself as “free to sign up”). You’ve got to fork over your credit card details to respond to the dubious messages you’re receiving. Quickly, this niche interest dating website begins to show its true colours: green (like money) rather than purple (like engorged genitals). Again, with precisely the same expressionLouis Theroux would have whileinvestigating a porn studio or interviewing a dominatrix orsomething, I reach for my credit card with raw journalism in mind- having first confirmed with my employer that he would indeedcover the £19.95 expense of a one month subscription.
Now, I’m a paid up member of Shag a Gamer and my inbox is heaving like so many gamer bosoms. I’ve never actually seen a bosom heave but I’m hoping to very soon.So: where all the gamers at? Ohhh, I hope they’reripefor a shagging.
Beyond Shag a Gamer’s name and logo, there’s not a single reference to videogames to be found on the website.Nobody mentions their favourite RTS, nobody complains about the lengthy cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4, nobody makes sexy puns about Final Fantasy. You can’t filter by genre or preferred console(which, okay, sounds ridiculous, but really wouldn’t be in the supposedcontext of this website). Your interests are reduced to a series of predefined interests, all of which are sexual positions and acts rather than whether or not you invert your Y-axis.This is simply a generic dating website.Nobody I’ve found on Shag a Gamer, whether they’re a spambot or a real user, plays games or is looking exclusively to have sex with gamers, which clearly flies in the face of the site’s USP.It’s almost as if this is an off the shelf website with a pre-built community of generic dating profiles built in.
That’s because Shag a Gamer is an off the shelf website with a pre-built community of generic dating profiles built in. The site is powered by a “dating platform” called White Label Dating, which hosts and sells dating site templates to folks like Nuts and The Independent, while populating these identikit sites with its own pre-made catalogue of users. Here’s an excerpt from White Label Dating’s site explaining how the system works:
”Online dating is big business. We make it easy for you to get in on the action by providing you with an intuitive, fully supported, out-of-the-box platform that enables you to launch a ready-made website built on a brand that’s unique to you.
Whether you’re an individual looking to set up your own niche dating site or an established brand looking to monetize your existing customer base, we can help you get into the online dating market quickly and efficiently – in all the major English speaking dating markets globally – without any set up fees.We provide the software, pre-populated member database, the payment processing, a dedicated customer support center, bespoke CRM program, and more. All you have to do is drive traffic to your site.”
SoShag a Gamer is not a bespoke hook-up website built for gamers after all. It’s simply a portal to a much larger community of people seeking sex. That means that, if a persongenuinely signed up looking to stick it in or be stuck into bysomebody who could recite the Konami code mid-coitus, they will find nothing but money-sucking bots, loneliness and disappointment. As an industry, the games press couldn’t help but point and laugh – at the site and at those who might use it -but this is precisely the outcome desired by the site’s founders. Every profile created on Shag a Gamer is selectively shared and monetisedacross White Label Dating’s entire portfolio, increasing its worth and its advertising power.
Now it’s time to cancel the thing.I receive an automated email from Shag a Gamer informing me that”this subscription period will end on 06 Sep 2012 and will continue automatically until you ask us to cancel.” It will end, and then it willcontinue. So it won’t end, really, until I specifically ask them to end it. Here’s the catch:ending it involves calling a freephone number and telling an actual a humanwhat you’ve done.
Calling a customer support line and asking a real woman to end your premium membership to a specialist’s swingers lounge is embarrassing, even when you’re pretending to be Louis Theroux. If you’re a genuine user, well, it’s simply a mortifying hoop to jump through. People are at best private about their sex lives (yes,even on a site like Shag a Gamer) and at worst ashamed and guilty about their online activities.Exactly how aware of that embarrassmentdo you suspect the people behind Shag a Gamerare, and how willing would they be to use that embarrassment to hold on to subscriptions?
It’s a similar practice employed by many gyms: make the cancellation process laborious, bury it behind an 0800 number that closes while you’re still at work (Shag a Gamer’s call centre openinghours are between9 and5), and make customers wait on hold while their mobile phone bill spirals ever upwards. (The difference here, of course, is that personally cancelling a gym membership is simplyan admission that you once sought to improve yourself, whilepersonally cancelling a Shag a Gamer membershipis an admission that you once sought to fingersomebody who’s found all the pigeons in GTA IV).
Getting rid of my membership was a trial, with one unfriendly customer support agent ignoring my request to cancel the auto-renewing Direct Debit they’d set up, instead “gifting” me an additional two free weeks and insisting I couldn’t cancel until three days prior to the renewal date. Here’s that conversation transcribed from a recording of the call. What’s clear, and what should’ve been very clear to the woman on the phone, was that I no longer wanted a subscription under any terms.
Me: Hello, I’d like to cancel a subscription please.
Support: ID number please.
*I give my ID number*
Support: You paid until the 6th of September, you just signed up today?
Support: Okay, as it’s your first time on site you’re automatically allowed two weeks for free. So I’m going to start off your billing now on the 6th of September, your new expiry date is the 20th of September. To cancel your subscription what we do require is a call 72 hours before the expiry date. To confirm this what I’m going to do is send you a support email through, okay?
What she’d done there, without me asking, was give me an additional two free Shag a Gamer weeks at the end of the month I’d already signed up for. In doing this she sets up a new billing period, which I then couldn’t cancel as it hadn’t yet started.
These two free weeks are crucial to understanding why I couldn’t cancel, but they’re not mentioned again. I’m not sure what about “I’d like to cancel a subscription” suggests that I haven’t had my fill of Shag a Gamer, either.
Me: Sorry, what was that? I can’t-
Support: To cancel your subscription you have to call 72 hours prior to the expiry date…
Me: I can’t cancel now?
Support: …the 20th of September, okay?
Me: I can’t cancel now?
Support: I’m going to send you a support email to remind you.
Me: I want to cancel it now, on the phone.
Support: We can’t do it today for the 20th of September unfortunately as we do require a call back but so you don’t forget you will have a support email, okay?
Me: I think it should be possible for me to do this over the phone now.
Support: Well we can’t do it today for the 20th of September, Steve, because we start billing on the 6th of September. It’s not possible, that’s why I requested a call back, and I’m going to send you a support message to remind you so you don’t forget.
Me: Can I cancel the Direct Debit from my end?
Support: I don’t think so, you have to do it from our end, definitely. To cancel your subscription you have to call 72 hours prior to your expiry date, which is 72 hours prior to the 20th of September. But for now I’m going to put your billing on the 6th of September. You’re not paying anything extra, it’s free of charge, but we still require a call 72 hours before the date. To confirm that for you you’ll have a support message so you don’t forget.
At which point I gave up, returning to study the site’s Terms of Service, which don’t mention this 72 hour window anywhere. I call back only to have a different support person re-iterate Shag a Gamer’s three-day cancellation policy. I read their Terms of Service back to them with weedy consumer pedantry before I’m interrupted.
Support: Do you not want the 14 days free of charge? Let’s get down to the important points.
Me: Absolutely not, no.
Support: Okay, that’s fine, that’s all you had to say, you’re removed now, thank you.
Me: There’ll be no-
Me: There’ll be no re-billing of my card?
Support: No re-billing, thank you, goodbye.
Right. Well I’ll be keeping a close eye on my bank statement come September 6th, let me assure you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being so specific in your sexual interests as to seek out a site like Shag a Gamer, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the core concept behind Shag a Gamer, but there is something wrong when your dating website appears to be populated by fake or illegitimate users who repeatedly send out the same messages verbatim. It is wrong to give the impression that your dating website’s userbase is made up entirely of gamers when it’s in fact a portal to a generic dating database. It’s wrong to have such an obtuse and unfriendly unsubscription process. And it’s probably wrong to mislead lonely, horny, stupid people en masse.
If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll mislead them on an individual basis by buying drinks you can’t afford and lying about what you do for a living. That’s how gamers shag and get shagged. That’s how anybody shags and gets shagged: by briefly pretending that we are not defined by a single hobby, and then by spinning our arms around until somebody believes that the only way to make us stop flailing is to take us to bed.