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Stranger Than Fiction

A webcam game of Chatroulette can be a dicey affair—just watch!

Just when I thought that social media was prevalent enough, along comes something that changes the way the world looks at itself—one freak, geek, voyeur and “normal” person at a time.

One day I’m hard at work chasing the dream of “catching up” when a chat pops up on my Facebook page. It’s an acquaintance of mine who drops the bomb: “Have you heard about Chatroulette?” “What’s Chatroulette?” I ask. He responds with approximately four warnings all in caps, the final being, “DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.” Then he provides the URL, chatroulette.com.

I ignore his warnings, of course, and immediately go to the website, where I find a “play” button and some basic guidelines that in no way could prepare me for what I was about to experience.

While intrigued, I wasn’t born yesterday. I worry that if I click that button I might be rickrolled. So I head to Google to do a little Web-based research. A quick search or two reveals Chatroulette is a program that turns your webcam on and puts you face-to-face with a stranger. From the comfort of your home—or, in my case, the office—you are suddenly staring at a complete stranger who, if you’re lucky, is just as wide-eyed and hesitant as you are.

Scary? Yes. Intriguing? Definitely. Am I too much of a wuss to try it? Absolutely. I spend the entire following weekend talking about it and thinking about the thousands of potential weirdos lurking on the site.

After a couple days, I decide to put my fears aside and try it. As I prepare to log on for my first time, I get nervous again. What’s on the TV in the background? Does my hair and makeup look OK? Is the room clean? I consider disabling my webcam, but decide that would be cheating.

I take a deep breath, then click “play.”

My first victim—uh, subject … er, “stranger,” as they are called on the site—is a kid in his 20s. He’s blond and looks completely normal, and I ask him what brought him to the site. He says he saw it on CNN that morning. I tell him he’s too normal for me to talk to, and he laughs. But deep down, I was kind of serious.

I continue my interrogation and ask him about the weirdest thing he’s seen on Chatroulette. He tells me that, so far, it was a guy playing with his genitalia. Gross! My second random video chat connects me to a guy who is clearly doing something to himself. Eek! Disconnect! After that, my third spin of the Chatroulette wheel brings me to two teenaged girls, and they immediately disconnect. The bitches. I don’t like rejection.

Next.

Another masturbator.

Next!

Finally, someone normal: David, a 28-year-old guy who looks like Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. David lives in Germany but is originally from Spain, and what seems like it might be an interesting chat soon ends when he asks if I speak Spanish and, I have to tell him that, though I did take two years of Spanish in high school, I do not.

Next.

More guys and their junk.

Seriously? One of them asks to see my boobs—yeah, right. I’m getting bored.

Next.

My final video chats of the night are two University of Oregon students who say that being on Chatroulette on a Monday night beats going to the library. Point taken.

I quiz Tommy, a 21-year-old archaeology major and his buddy, and they tell me their craziest experience was a “girl and her boyfriend putting on a show for us, but he was in a ski mask.” It all sounds like a scene from True Blood to me.

Tommy tells me he is coming to Las Vegas in May for a friend’s 21st birthday. “So, President Obama’s comments about blowing the college fund are right?” I ask. “I already did that,” he replies, then, after I tell him to get a job, he asks if I’m hiring.

Next.

I see an Asian guy who types “w a u from” and I am convinced I am watching a freeze frame of a movie because the guy isn’t moving. Someone’s screwing with me, I’m sure. I say “Vegas” and he disconnects. Touché.

And with that, I’m done—I’ve had my dose of voyeuristic experimentalism for the day. Back to work I go.

As a social media junkie, I’m surprised it took so long for something like this to make its way to the masses—though I’m not sure what practical purpose it will come to serve. Or how they’ll get rid of all the perverts.

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