Like many people, I recently became obsessed with a new website you called Chatroulette.com – The idea is simple, there are two videos feeds, one of you on the bottom of the page and one of a random stranger from anywhere in the world at the top, connected via webcam and text chat. It is possible you may be connected to the person of your voyeuristic wildest dreams, but far likelier to find someone or something from your worst nightmare. At any point, either party can hit can hit the “NEXT” button at any point to try again with someone else.
The essence of the site asks each individual user “What do you say or do when momentarily connected to a complete stranger who you will never see again?”. The answers to that question range from the amazing to surprising to obscene and often bizarre. In order to try to understand more about why this idea has captivated so many people (myself included) I decided to attempt to have an actual conversation with 10 people on Chatroulette – something easier said than done.
The rules of this experiment were simple, I was not going to hit “NEXT” at any time (I ended up doing it four times when connected to a minor and one time to a person who was not talking). I would attempt to talk to every person that came up, no matter who they were or what they were doing. For the purposes of this experiment, a conversation needed to go on for at least one minute.
I did this experiment on a Friday night around 9:00 pm PST. The time of the experiment may say a lot about who I found, but probably says more about me since I would imagine that most really cool people aren’t doing experiments at any time (let alone on a Friday night).
—This is video of me getting NEXTed on Chatroulette.
Before I get to the 10 people I met, here are some interesting facts about my experiment:
– Before getting to talk to ten people for at least a minute, I ended up being NEXTed 84 times, 79 times by men and 5 times by women. Usually, I am NEXTed before I even say a word or wave hello. I found myself relieved when the men would NEXT me, but I found that I was very insulted when a woman NEXTs me – it’s as if she’s saying I’m not good enough to talk to her.
– In the couple of hours it took me to talk to these 10 people, I only saw one penis and two guys in their underwear. This is a statistical anomaly because, as anyone who spent more than 10 minutes on chatroulette will tell you, there are a lot of dicks on chatroulette (both literally and figuratively). However, this did save me for many potentially awkward conversations that the rules of this experiment would not allowed me to “NEXT”.
– More often than not, any attempt to say hello to a fellow young man was not received well. In fact, it seemed to make just about every guy mad that I didn’t immediately hit the NEXT button upon seeing him. 99% of these guys are looking for women and specifically women who will take off their tops. Some have signs asking to trade BOOBS for a glimpse of their penis or even for a donation to Haitian relief efforts. In my fleeting conversations with these guys, I was cursed at and called various different politically incorrect names before they NEXT me. A few made fun of my shirt and one guy made fun of my pencil. I said hello to one guy and he gave me the finger. I asked “What did I do?” and he replied sincerely, “Nothing, it’s not your fault” and then NEXTed me too.
– I found that if more than one person is in a room, it was almost certain that they would make fun of me. In fact, the more people in the room, the higher the likelihood people would start yelling out wisecracks at me. This phenomenon increases exponentially for every additional guy in the room or young girl at a slumber party.
Here are the 10 people I met on Chatroulette:
1) Two college dudes in a dorm room in Denver – After being NEXTed at first sight about a dozen times off the bat, two guys in a dorm room decide to give me a chance. They have a dart board and one is wearing a derby hat. They seem normal or as normal as anybody else I’ve seen on Chatroulette. I ask them what is the craziest thing they have seen on Chatroulette and they mention the male genitals they’ve seen because this is ALWAYS the answer. They go on to tell me about a story where they were connected to a guy who was burning his girlfriend with cigarettes. They didn’t know whether it was real or not and they just hit NEXT. They seem to like Chatroulette though they seem a little bit bored. Our rather normal and pleasant conversation ends abruptly – either they nexted me without warning (like a virtual ejector seat) or there was a problem with the site (which happens quite all too often).
2) A man in his 50’s in NYC – The second person I ended up speaking with was an older guy with thick black rimmed glasses, who looks a bit like Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie “Capote”. He types to me that he cannot use his microphone because his wife is asleep and he prefers that we type to each other. He seems to think that there is someone else in the room with me and I reassure him that there is not. He asks me where I am and I tell him that I’m in Los Angeles. He points out how Los Angeles is very liberal, which I note is a very curious response. I am quite sure I am being hit on.
He notices that I have an exercise bike and comments that he has one too. He asks me if I would like to ride the exercise bike and he suggests that I wear spandex. I politely decline. We make a little more small talk about the snow and the site, he feels like he is the oldest person using Chatroulette (though I have found there is a large older male population on chatroulette, whom overwhelmingly are all perverts).
He makes a passing comment about my “hotness” before I ask him what was the craziest thing he has seen on Chatroulette. I soon realize a question this open ended would be a mistake. He replies “Yu, dancing to Byonce’s SIngle Ladies in the nude (wishfulthinking :))”. I found this really odd on a number of levels. It’s not enough that I am being sexually harassed, but he’s looking for me to sing and dance as well? Secondly, I hate when people use emoticons on Chatroulette. There is no need to use text to smile, wink, lol, or make the tongue hanging out of your mouth sign like 😛 – BECAUSE I CAN SEE YOUR FACE! I politely replied that I was going to see what else was out there on Chatroulette before hitting NEXT.
3) 2 Girls in College in San Francisco – After being NEXTed several more times I end up finding two girls in a dorm hallway in San Francisco. They look smart and seem happy to see me. The girl on the left is very plain looking, maybe like a really poor man’s version of Elizabeth Moss from “Mad Men”. The other girl is cuter (but in a nerdy way) with glasses and wears a collared white shirt underneath a black sweater. They can hear me talk clearly but for some reason they need to type their responses to me. People are walking by in the background and can hear what I’m saying. I ask them if they’re worried that they will stumble onto something crazy and potentially embarrassing while holding a laptop in such a public place. They tell me “I mean, no one here is judging crazy people”. Apparently, Los Angeles isn’t the only California city so liberal.
I find out that the girl with the glasses is named Cassandra. They ask me if I want to see a video. Though I mention my reservations that this could be a link to “2 Girls, 1 Cup”, they reassure me it’s not. It turns out the video is a link to their friend’s audition video for “Glee”. I don’t know why they’re showing me this since I am neither a Gleek nor do I have any pull with the casting of that series.
I asked them what they were looking for on Chatroulette and they were hoping to find normal looking people. I made a joke along the lines of I was looking for people who wouldn’t yell at me and they told me about their friend who is quite shy in real life, but insults everybody on Chatroulette. They theorize that the site is an outlet for people. I think that we’re on to something because to me, THIS idea best explains the universal appeal of Chatroulette. This site is a place where you can be crazy or abusive or sexual in a way you normally wouldn’t and then just hit NEXT and it’s as if it never happened. I tell the girls that I hope they have a good life and we part ways.
4) A 20-something lady in Pennsylvania – I find a woman from Pennsylvania who appears to be the kind of a girl you would expect to be home alone on a Friday night watching Moulin Rouge (which she is). She looks like a young Kathy Bates but is very nice. She seems bored after several hours on Chatroulette. I ask her about some of the things she’s seen and she tells me about a four-act play that a group of people performed for her earlier that night. She claimed the performance lasted over ten minutes and had included act breaks and closing credits. I then ask her what was the worst thing she has seen, though I already know the answer will somehow involve a naked man. For her, the worst thing she has seen was a guy who was pushing Q-tips into the opening of his penis. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe this is the proper usage of Q-tips or a penis.
5) A Young Man in France – I am NEXTed several more times until I end up talking to a young guy in a room that is in the daylight. I find out that he is in France, which presents a problem since I do not speak French. I learn that he speaks a little bit of English, which I have discovered is the case with almost every foreigner on Chatroulette. I say “Chatoulette?” and then point my thumb up in the air and then down towards the ground. He replies thumbs down. I try to explain that Roulette is a French game and therefore it is unpatriotic for him to not like Chatroulette. He has no idea what I’m talking about and there is an extended period of somewhat awkward silence. He types something to me in French. After staring at the sentence for a moment I try to get to babelfish to decode the message, but he NEXTs me before I ever find out.
6) Some Boston Douchebags – “Dad? Dad? Daddy?” is what I’m asked by a guy who appears to be a 20-year old in a paneled basement with a Boston Red Sox poster. I am confused. “Dad? Dad?” he asks again. I try to decipher if he’s talking to me by asking, “Am I the dad?”. He holds up a phone to the camera showing a contact listed as “Dad”. I ask if that is supposed to be my Dad’s phone number in the phone and he explains that I am his Dad and I realize that this is SUPPOSED TO BE a joke. I point out the fact that showing me the phone makes no sense because Dad’s number in the phone is not my phone number. He asks me if I want to make a bet and I tell him that I very much would like to make that bet.
This goes on for several more excruciating minutes. There is another guy in the room off camera who occasionally laughs but I suspect that he didn’t think this was particularly funny either. I am now being peppered with a bunch of questions about regarding my sexuality, which I think are unfounded since I’m not the guy holed up in a basement with another guy and a webcam. This line of questioning continues for several more excruciating minutes. I feel as though enough time has passed and I tell the douche I’m moving on. He replies “Bye, Dad”.
7) A Bunch of Girls, Age Unknown – There is no video or maybe the lens cap is on the camera and there is a song playing loudly. The only words I can make out in the song are “penis” and “vagina”. I hear laughter from a bunch of girls. They are chanting something like “Go, Go, Go!” I am asked if I like the song but they don’t appear interested in my response since they are all talking at the same time. It seems as though Chatroulette has become the new popular game to be played at sleepover parties.
They finally turn the song off to hear what I’m saying. We talk a little bit about Chatroulette while one particularly annoying girl attempts the chant again in the background. IThey start talking about all the naked men they have seen on the site, I give them a response which contains the phrase “statistical probability” and the annoying girl pounces. This is her opportunity to start making fun of me and apparently, I am her outlet. The girls seem pretty bored with me and tell me they are going to move on. I am relieved.
8) A Chinese Girl – In a dimly lit room I meet a Chinese girl, around 20 with long straight hair and thick black glasses. The camera is uncomfortably close to her face. Though she speaks a little bit of English we have difficulties communicating. I find out that her name is ShanShan. ShanShan asks me if I do e-mail. I reply that I indeed do e-mail. She then asks me if we can do friends. I try to change the subject because I don’t know the full implications of giving my e-mail address out to people in China on Chatroulette.
Shanshan tells me she likes the USA which seems to make me happy. In fact, I have never met someone on Chatroulette in a foreign country who said they did not like the USA. Maybe Obama really HAS changed everything. We make a little more small talk. She says that she is excited to talk to a foreigner. I try to start to wrap things up before she asks for my e-mail again. I don’t know why she’s so eager to e-mail when we can barely hold a conversation face to face. It is my hope that someday ShanShan can find a nice foreigner to do e-mail with.
9) A House of Young People in Australia – I end up talking to a guy who looks about 20 years old, he is Australian and is practically bouncing up and down. It’s daytime for him and there seems to be about seven people walking around his house. I can hear him but he types to me because there is too much commotion to hear me. He asks me “Are you be jew?” and I reply that I’m actually in the United States in Los Angeles. Upon hearing Los Angeles he asks me a lot of questions about seeing celebrities (which is apparently what happens every time you mention that you’re from Los Angeles on Chatroulette).
The guy seems to be in a pretty good mood. He explains some of the other people in the background are going to a birthday party while others are going to a dinner party but everybody is “getting boozed”. The girls are wearing dresses and he points the webcam at a girl’s cleavage. She doesn’t’ seem to mind. I ask him about how he likes Chatroulette and he says “I usually just sit here with the cam off and perve on randoms”, but I don’t really know what that means. We talk for a little bit more and at one point he tries to put the camera up a girl’s dress who does seem to mind. Everything happens so fast that all I see is a blur. He tells me that he is going to move on because “we’re going to try find some random weirdos that are probably naked”. On Chatroulette, that is considered setting yourself up for success.
10) A guy with an 80’s mullet wig and glasses – After being NEXTed many more times, I ended up chatting with a guy in a wig. I don’t know why he wore a wig but costumes are actually quite popular on Chatroulette. Between all the costumes, flashing and random debauchery, Chatroulette is not unlike one big virtual Mardi Gras – without the beads and $2 hurricanes.
My conversation with Wig Guy is pretty mundane and he seems eager to get rid of me. I end up engaging him in a minutes worth of conversation and he tells me he’s going to move on. Before we say goodbye, he pulls out a professional looking still camera. Wig Guy asks me if he could take a picture of me. I think this is odd because, from what I can tell, Wig Guy doesn’t really like me. I tell him that it’s okay and he snaps a picture of me on the screen. Wig Guy says he needs to go now but I ask him why he took my picture. Wig Guy says that he is collecting pictures of people on Chatroulette so he can have an album of complete strangers. Though this is unusual, I find it to be a really interesting idea. I ask him if most people let him take the picture and Wig Guy tells me that actually most people get pretty pissed off because they don’t want to be filmed.
Though ironic (since they’re ON a webcam), this contradiction does make sense. If Chatroulette really is a release for people, a place where you can do anything you want without repercussions, Wig Guy’s camera destroys that fantasy. How can you do and say whatever you want to people when Wig Guy is putting it all down in his scrap book?
I think the name Chatroulette is a misnomer because this “game” is nothing like roulette. If anything, this is more like a slot machine. A highly addictive, one-armed bandit, that keeps you hoping that the next spin will be a beautiful woman, an interesting guy or maybe a four-act play but the odds dictate that you’re far more likely to see a Q-tip inserted into a urethra.
Chatroulette is pretty much a worldwide game of Virtual “Go-Fish”. When you start Chatroulette you pick up your first card. If you like what you see, you keep it for as long as the other person wants to keep you. If not, you and the other person are both thrown into the gigantic discard pile of people who were rejected. Some people say that there are only weirdos and perverts on Chatroulette, but that’s hard to prove. It might just be all the good people and naked girls are out there, it’s just that nobody is throwing them back.
If you haven’t done it by now, I encourage everyone to give Chatroulette a try. The site is both a window out to the rest of the world but also a mirror back into our own. Once you start, you are forced to decide what to show the world when the webcam light goes on. Do you remain the real you? Is it an outlet for your frustration? Do you create an alternate fantastic identity? Or do you take off your clothes and begin masturbating like there’s no tomorrow? Maybe one day I’ll see you and we’ll both find out.
Rob Cesternino is a new media writer and producer who would love to hear some of your own Chatroulette experiences. Leave your comments here or on twitter @robcesternino
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