April 25, 2001

Geekz 4Life: On the controversial online game Pimpwar

Author: JT Smith

- By Joab Jackson -

Cyberpunk -

Yeah, Pimpwar is as bad as
you'd suspect. It certainly isn't the kind of online game you'd want your
kids to play with, or anyone who is already too Caucasian-centric. It
traffics in some of the worst gender and racial typecasting possible.
(And there's no bonus points for guessing which sex and which race gets
stereotyped.) And just like those first-person-shooter video games that
supposedly glorify violence, it can be argued that Pimpwar enshrines
another questionable behavior: It turns its unsuspecting outlaw playaz
into database managers.I came across the ethically challenged but eminently playable game
through a mailing list of buddies. I wouldn't exactly 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 as successful as this game has been, it has rather
limited commercial prospects. After all, the established gaming
industry is under enough pressure defending against the John
Ashcrofts
of the world to offer anything more politically
incorrect than, say, Deer Hunter, which takes a few shots at
granola-crunching animal lovers.

It took two savvy kids from Florida, Ron
Jamison and "Zavon," to fuse hip-hop culture with online gaming, to put the
language of rappers Kid Rock and Eminem into an interactive dimension.
So 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
party girl. "B****, give me my f****n' 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). Every few minutes, you
get a few additional 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. 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 are snatched away by another scheming Mac Daddy.

"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."

According to Atomik, one of maintainers of the Pimpwarhq discussion page, the
audience is
"Mostly teenagers .. . some become [so] obsessed with the game it's
kind of scary." I can see why. It'd hypocritical of me to take a moral
stand when I've already spent many an hour dispatching thugs in lowriders
to attack other pimps and bring back the resulting booty. Pimpin' was
an daily obsession of mine for almost a month."

And it had an unsettling effect. 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 either,
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, despite the bad-ass signifying, Pimpwar is essentially
a numbers game. Up in the top ranks, the pushing and shoving get rough
between the warring pimp alliances, but I bet that you could ask all
17,000 or so players about the game and each one would ultimately break
it down as a matter of stats. For instance, Tjames Madison, a player on
a mailing list I'm on, has actually put together a cogent analysis,
How to be a Succesful Pimp
, that relied largely on explaining
some of the game's mathematical variables. "Pistols get one shot off,
shotguns two, Tek-9s nine, AKs 30," Madison writes of the choice of
weapons one can buy. "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.

Another participant, Fred Salari, webmaster of the hip-hop news site Truthugs, gives me the
low-down on joining formal alliances of other pimps. Again, it comes down to
numerics. Salari e-mails that I should avoid alliances that take more
than 1 percent of my earnings as dues: "A good alliance founder will
start his alliance with 1 percent and generate a little revenue for
the alliance. Once he or she has the alliance of about 10+ members that
are doing well, they will boost it up to about 15 percent." But that's
OK, because "the alliance will then purchase defensive thugs and offensive
thugs to stand [on] your side in attacks."

What I gradually realized is that, when you strip it of the thuglife
trappings, Pimpwar is just a database. Instead of spitting out mailing
addresses in response to tightly defined conditional queries, this one
responds with relationship-driven yeas or nays to the specific 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. I bet very little is left
to chance here; the only uncontrollable factor is the other players'
aggressiveness. And the real pay-off is not so much unloading clips, but
in tallying tables into statistically brutal figures.

Even when cloaked 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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