Feel Chatty? Play Roulette!

The plight of the average college student to find entertainment on a weekend night is a desperate one. This is especially true in the hallowed halls of UC Irvine, where the sounds of crickets chirping can be heard around the desolate campus and the parking lots are swiftly emptied by 5 p.m. every Friday. As a result, those left behind must resort to desperate means to find a way to fill the empty void of weekend fun.

Drowning in inebriation is a method for some. Others retreat to their apartments to spend the lonely hours on their computers, playing games and social networking with other bored individuals. Recently, however, a new phenomenon  serves as a cure for late-night boredom.

ChatRoulette is a Web site that connects users so that they can chat via webcam with strangers around the globe. Upon visiting the site, a user will randomly enter into an online chat with another user, and can either continue to converse via text, audio or video; or, if uninterested, can move on to another random user by clicking the “Next” button. The idea is based on Russian Roulette, a game of chance.

Several of my friends and peers have raved about the site as a means of amusement, clicking through hundreds of chat windows to find humorous and interesting people. I decided to test it out for myself. At the very least, I figured, I could find some interesting people to talk to, perhaps learn about other cultures and lifestyles to broaden my intellectual horizons.

I sat at my computer, the words of my mother and countless anxious elementary school teachers running through my mind as I recalled the horror stories of online chatting. Nevertheless, my curiosity prevailed. I was greeted with a surprisingly simple Web site, a request to allow webcam access and a list of rules: I must be over 16 years of age, be wearing clothes (which can be left open to interpretation) and use the button to report any users who don’t meet these guidelines. Fair enough.

The first user that popped up appeared to be faceless; all that was visible was his t-shirt and shorts, his hand placed seductively on his inner thigh. Panicking, I clicked “Next” immediately.

The next user was a girl, lying sideways on a bed in a dangerously low-cut shirt. As I contemplated her age, probably somewhere around 13 or 14, I noticed that she was typing something. Excited and intrigued, I waited. “CyberSex??” was the query that appeared in the text window. So much for intelligent conversation. I considered staying on the chat and warning her about the dangers of online predators. Upon realizing that I was neither male nor interested in seeing her naked, however, she hit “Next” before I could give her a gentle, yet inspirational, pep talk about what she could do with her life instead of whoring herself out over the Internet. Oh, well.

I waited for the next user to appear. A balding, middle-aged man smiled at me when he saw my image on the screen. I smiled back, politely, and asked where he was from. We made small talk for a few short minutes before he cut to the chase and asked me to take my shirt off for the camera. When I declined, he began to strip off his own dirty v-neck. I hit the next button quickly, horrified, only to find the following user to be another faceless man, this time naked, masturbating visibly in front of the camera. Next!

Retinas burning, I nearly decided to call it quits, but the next individual seemed relatively normal, and we had made it to a full thirty seconds of conversation without any removal of clothing. This looked promising. Both my roommate and my boyfriend joined as me as I conversed with Antoine, a Parisian college student who seemed genuinely interested in meeting new people through ChatRoulette.

My faith in humanity was beginning to be restored when the next window loaded with a group of boisterous looking boys having a party. In a stroke of mischievous brilliance, my roommate and I decided to focus the frame on ourselves, waiting for the inevitable moment when they would ask us to flash them. It came, and we turned the camera to face my boyfriend, who lifted his shirt up and gave them the view they were asking for. They hit next on us, too.

The users that followed consisted of a frail woman who looked older than my grandmother, a smattering of teenage boys who were debatably too young to be on the site, a collection of men from around the world whose knowledge of English seemed to extend only to “Can I see you naked?” and several glimpses of unclad and excited male anatomy.

I exited the site thoroughly scarred and heavily disappointed. The majority of my encounters had been with people who looked like they’d never seen the sun, sitting in dark rooms and bathed in the neon glow of their screens.

I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about ChatRoulette: chatting with sexually frustrated teenagers and desperate old creepers isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. On this particular social phenomenon, I’m going to have to say: Next.