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Cyberpunk

Early Morning Stoned Accountant

By Joab Jackson | Posted 4/25/2001

The online game Pimpwar is as bad as you'd suspect. It certainly isn't something you'd want your kids to play with, or anyone already too Caucasian-centric. The game traffics in some of the worst gender and racial typecasting. (And no bonus points for guessing which sex and which race.) But perhaps most worrisome of all, just like the first-person-shooter video games that glorify violence, Pimpwar enshrines questionable behavior: It turns outlaw players into database managers.

I came across the ethically challenged but eminently playable game through a mailing list of buddies. I wouldn't call Pimpwar an underground phenomenon--anyone with a Web browser can participate (at least until the player quotas are reached; after that you have to wait until the next round)--but it has rather limited commercial prospects. The established gaming industry is under enough pressure defending their first-person shoot-'em-ups from the John Ashcrofts of the world to offer anything more controversial than, say, Deer Hunter. It took two savvy kids from Florida, Ron Jamison and "Zavon," to fuse hip-hop culture with online gaming, to put the language of Kid Rock and Eminem into an interactive dimension. Who cares if the country's biggest real pimps are white guys in Nevada, or that the kids shooting up schools are suburban crackers? On Pimpwar's log-in page, it's a purple-suited, gold-chain-wearing brother who backhands a woman. "Bitch, give me my fuckin' money," he whines.

"Pimpwar is a very controversial game [in the online gaming community]," Chris Krueger, one of the curators for the Multiplayer Online Games Directory, tells me in an e-mail interview. The directory almost didn't list the game, Krueger says, but ultimately decided to include in in the interest of free speech. It describes Pimpwar as "not intended for the weak-minded."

Here's how the game works: When signing in for the first time you get a small stable of hos and thugs and a few thousand in cash, which you'll need to buy supplies (condoms, medicine, beer). Players take turns, during which your hos bring in money from tricks and your thugs protect your ass from other pimps trying to move in on your territory. But periodically you need to use your turn to scout for new hos and thugs, or make crack to keep your hookers happy and beholden to you, lest they switch to another pimp.

"Success for a pimp is calculated in a simple equation. Hos = Money," the site's introduction states. "The more hos you have the more money you make."

As you've probably already guessed, this whole column would be moot if Pimpwar wasn't so addictive. It's hypocritical of me to take a moral stand when I've already spent many a morning, just before work, dispatching thugs in lowriders to attack other pimps and bring back the booty.

All in all, it's had an odd effect on me. I haven't felt the urge to raffle off some young lass' chaste charms, nor have I started calling my friends "homey." I have, however, found myself doing a lot of mental calculating, the kind I'm loath to do when it comes to, say, balancing my checkbook. Would it be more fiscally sound to use my turns making crack, or should I buy it from "Pip's Deals on Wheels" and use the time saved to scout for more hos? Do I have the correct ratio of hos to thugs? Too few thugs would leave me open to attack, but you can't have too many, unless you break the bank on bullets and booze. Without enough guns to play with or beer to drink, your crew is liable to abandon you.

In other words, Pimpwar is essentially a numbers game. Up in the top ranks, the pushing and shoving get rough, with pimps forming alliances and going to war, but I bet that you could ask all 17,000 or so players about the game and each one would ultimately break it down to a matter of stats. Tjames Madison, a player on a mailing list I'm on, has even put together a cogent essay ("Who Wants to Be a Pimp?") that details the game's mathematical variables. "Pistols get one shot off, shotguns two, Tek-9s nine, AKs 30," Madison writes. "But this is not expressed in a linear sense of value within the game. Shotguns cost nine times as much as pistols. Tek-9s cost a little less than three times what shotguns cost, and provide 4.5 times the firepower. AKs cost three times what Tek-9s cost, and provide more then three times the firepower." Translation: You'd have to be a stone-cold sucka not to invest your green in AKs.

What I gradually realized is that, when you strip it of the hip-hop trappings, Pimpwar is just a massive database, Microsoft Access or Oracle writ large. Instead of spitting out mailing addresses in response to tightly defined queries, this one responds yea or nay to the number of crack rocks offered up to steal hos away from someone else's crib. You can't even call it a game of probabilities. Very little is left to chance here; the only uncontrollable factor is the other players' aggressiveness. Even when indulging in outlaw culture, us computer geeks still revel in computation. "The street has its own use for things," sci-fi author William Gibson once wrote; now the tech set has its own use for the street.

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