ChatRoulette: Night with the Voyeurs.

It’s a Friday night. I’m sitting on my couch. I’ve picked out a PG13 pajama tank top to wear. I’m hoping to discourage the type of sexual advances I’ve heard of from this site; however, I’m well aware that it’s in vain. The tank top has got thick white granny straps and my camera is angled so that it doesn’t dip below my collarbone.

“> Connected, feel free to talk now”

I’ve been “Nexted” about 10 times before someone will talk to me.

As I expected, someone has called me nigger. Next. There’s a picture of a sticky post with the word “Pervert” written on it. Next. There are three giggling blondes in what looks like a dorm room. The webcam they’re using is aimed at their breasts. Tonight they plan on making a cyber fantasy come true. Next. “Are you a Sixer’s fan, or a Lakers’ fan?” They ask. The kids look like they’re of Asian descent. Their bedroom is brightly lit. Two girls lounge on a bed. A younger-looking boy who I presume to be someone’s brother is sitting in front of the webcam with a Lakers hat on. (Neither of those teams mean much to me personally.) For kicks, I type “76ers.” They’ve come completely undone by my audacity. “Fuck you Bitch!” Next.

A man picks up his cat and shakes it vigorously into the camera. “Reuben says hi,” he says. Next. Two girls next me instantly. A few times, the webcam doesn’t register a picture before the “Stranger” has moved on.

For the most part, this is how you play Chatroulette a new video chat site. There’s a chat screen that says “You” and “Stranger.” To the left are two video spots. “You” appear on the bottom and the “Stranger” on top. In addition there’s a sound option. If your stranger is unappealing to you, no need for decorum, you’re freed from perfunctory conversation, just hit “Next.” The site was created by a 17-year-old named Andrey Ternovskiy from Russia. Like Facebook and Twitter, the approach is simplistic and straightforward. To begin, click “Play.” As a player you give Chatroulette access to your webcam. The site tells you it’s “Looking for a stranger.”

And strangers you will find.

I’ve been on the site for about 20 minutes before I get my first masturbator. He’s lying on his side, typing with one hand. The camera is facing his crotch. “Kinda hard to type with one hand,” I say. Next. There’s a girl with a University of M sweat shirt on. I can’t tell if it’s Massachusetts or Michigan. She’s so appalled by me she makes the face of a child being forced to eat her vegetables. Next.

Chatroulette can be a challenge to those with low self-esteem.

Most of these interactions last about 10 seconds. My first semi-normal interaction, and I mean someone I wouldn’t be appalled to speak with in close quarters, happens with a 19-year-old student in Chile. He’s studying sound engineering. We chat slowly because his English isn’t very good. I start using Google’ s translation tool to accompany my very basic Spanish. He’s more patient then most. A web Casanova who wants to trick me into regular conversation. He’s good looking too. But it doesn’t take me long to decipher what he wants. I’ve learned that people looking for cyber sex aren’t the really patient types.
Stranger: quieres jugar conmigo por webcam (do you want to play with me by webcam?)
You: no no quiero (no, no I don’t)


There’s also a guy from Italy. I tell him that I’ve been to Venice. Our conversation is pleasant, quick and amicable. There’s a guy from Canada. He’s a hockey player. He heard about Chatroulette over the radio and wanted to see what it was like. He had to get through twelve naked men to get to me. For him, I seem like a relief. Our conversation is like a business meeting over lunch. We hit all the basics: school, profession, location. We’re in and out.

30 minutes and a bunch of nexting later:

You: hi
Stranger: hey you are cute
You: thanks
You: how are you?
Stranger: get naked
You: not never
Stranger: i could do better

There’s another penis. This one involves a good clean shot of rubbing in tight blue briefs. The camera is so close I can see that he’s got blonde hair. He’s shaved. Prepared for this. Put some thought into the presentation.

Assimilation is starting to set in. I’m beginning to conform to the worst of my cyber-environment. “I’ve seen bigger!” I type. Next. I feel victorious, then kind of dumb. My patience for this game is wearing thin.

But then I meet this guy from Poland. We talk for about 35 minutes. He’s watching the hockey game between Canada and the US. He appears surprised that I’m not watching it as well. He’s also 19. Chatroulette’s usage demographic is mostly 18-24, white and male.

It’s 4:30am in Poland. He has some type of graphic covering his face. Once he deciphers my level of normalcy he removes it. I correct his English while we talk. “Thank you very much i need it becouse in this free summer time i want to go for job to the Ireland,” he says. My Polish friend doesn’t like Italians. “Why?” I ask. “i think they are boring becouse they eat only pasta and pizza,” he says. He’s really into emoticons and uses them constantly.

Talk of Italy and Ireland remind me of how close the European borders are. A three-hour trip in New York just takes me to more of New York. In Europe a three-hour trip can mean an entirely new country, culture and language. I’m reminded of one summer I spent in Europe on a bike tour. Traveling along the Rhine, I had breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in Lichtenstein and dinner in Germany.

We talk a little more. He wants to know where I’m from. He tells me I look like Niobe from The Matrix. He couldn’t be more wrong, but I appreciate the sentiment.

You: when you said african. are you asking me where i am from?
You: are you asking me where my family was born?
Stranger: maybe
You: it’s ok if you were.
Stranger: i love african culture…
Stranger: and food
Stranger: 😉
You: my family is from Haiti
Stranger: but i dont like nigerian?
You: why not Nigerian?
Stranger: Haiti? oh my god…
You: everybody is in the US now….my family is ok.
Stranger: i meet few od them in ireland…they werent nice ..
You: that does not mean they’re all not nice

There’s been an influx of Nigerian immigrants into Ireland in recent years and a lot of anti-immigration sentiment because of it; I think this is what’s informed his opinions.

Stranger: haiti beutiul place
You: beautiful
You: thank you
Stranger: yeah but my uncle told me that all of african people doesnt like them
Stranger: this is the same
Stranger: situation in our country
You: nobody in your country likes Nigerians?
Stranger: wait xD
Stranger: im looking for word
You: ok
Stranger: the same situation in our country, we dont like gypys…
You: ohhh….how come?
Stranger: i dont know why…just
Stranger: maybe from the history
Stranger: gypsys and jews…

Camera’s do weird things to you. I’m staring at myself, staring at a screen, staring at myself looking back at someone who is doing the same. I’ve learned that when I’m chatting sans video, I repeat what I’ve typed aloud. That’s very weird when there’s a camera locked on you. Think small stretches of silence are weird over the phone, add live footage and it’s an uncomfortable view of seat shifting, stolen glances, or full out staring. Once a conversation loses gusto there’s a whole lot of awkward smiles before someone musters up the courage to politely say good night and quickly, or abruptly “Next.”

All in all the night felt like I’d attended an International house party in my pajamas. It was kind of fun. Like Technotica says, “that some choose to use it as a low-fi version of “The Circuit” — the instant sex partner search in the movie “Logan’s Run” — just means this is the Internet.” It’s not so different from a night out in New York sans the parade of penises of course (sometimes).

I’ve been accosted with unwelcome sexual advances, sized up as unattractive or boring, and virtually, I’ve traveled to four different countries. So far the game has already spawned what Advertising Age calls an “ecosystem,” an imitation, as well as a bit of controversy about what’s appropriate for web streaming and a few urban legends. (“Did you hear the story about the guy who….”)

Play at your own risk.

  • Wow. This sounds fascinating but also a little horrifying. Like something out of a Phillip K. Dick novel. I really like your account of this though; I’ve been hearing about ChatRoulette for a while but never knew quite what it was all about. Do you see it taking off like Twitter? Or fizzling out like Friendster?

    • J. Dizzle

      We are kindred spirits, Danielle. I stumbled upon this page by Googling ‘chatroulette philip k dick’ because I just had my first experience with the website and I was thinking the exact same thing… I couldn’t handle it for more than 5 minutes or so.

  • How ironic. I heard of this for the first time today, and stumbled across your blog for the first time today. This post is exquisite, though. A gazillion times better than the morass of trash I have found strewn about the interwebs lately. Thank you.

    • that’s actually our motto: “better than the morass of trash you may find strewn around the web.”

      we don’t aim very high.

  • Suzie

    Wow. This is definitely a website I would love to check out. But, I wonder if this will make or break someone’s self-esteem? I think the guy covering his head until he assessed your level of normalcy a genius. I can not wait to hear part two of you and chatroulette. Next time wear something sexy. Then, let’s see how many times you get “nexted”

  • J. Dizzle

    Fantastic article, by the way.

    I just checked out the website for the first time myself and am urgently compelled to describe my experience in much the same way that I am often compelled to describe a surreal and horrifying dream to whomever will listen upon my awakening. It went down as follows: I sat through several minutes (or perhaps what only seemed like minutes) of flashing images of men’s genitalia. The rare appearance of an actual human face was always a welcome site, but inevitably fleeting: within seconds, the ego-shattering message “Your partner disconnected. Reconnecting…” would display in the chat box, leaving me to ponder that rejection in the dim flicker of streaming pornography and faces that followed. Before it was all over, I did manage to connect with someone who wasn’t either masturbating on camera or presumably looking for something more interesting to masturbate to than my confused and humble face: a couple of young and admittedly very attractive girls. One of them waved at me daintily and I waved back, a self-consciously awkward expression on my face. What now? All I could manage to do was type “This is word…” in an attempt to be cute, immediately realize that these strangers are unaccustomed to my sense of humor and surely assume I’m just some jerk who can’t spell or speak English, abandon all hope, close Firefox, reach for a beer, and reel at my experiences.

    *whew.* I do not recommend this site for those with social anxiety issues.

    I only wish I’d checked this website out earlier… then at least I would have had a slim chance of connecting to you field researching this article. (Yes: I am e-flirting. What a wonderful and terrifying age we live in, eh?)