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, Sweety and Babs came to me in the first place. I’m not being modest here: my profile just doesn’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 the beautiful sexual spectrum of gamers, yet the gender ratio filling my inbox is highly skewed towards women, when it’s understood that games, and to a larger extent sex 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 even a 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's almost 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 are primed to guiltlessly embrace galleries of 64 by 64 flesh-toned pixels. Interestingly however, all photos must be approved by Shag a Gamer's support team, who it seems are all too ready to wave 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 expression Louis Theroux would have while investigating a porn studio or interviewing a dominatrix or something, I reach for my credit card with raw journalism in mind - having first confirmed with my employer that he would indeed cover 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're ripe for 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 supposed context 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.”
So Shag 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 person genuinely signed up looking to stick it in or be stuck into by somebody 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 monetised across 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 will continue. 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 human what you've done.