All posts by Ulacia Ulacia

Why Do Men Patronize XXX Peepshows?

Illustration by Stephanie Santillan

My debut novel, Arcade, came out this June. It tells the story of a man grappling with his sexuality and identity at an adult arcade.

Despite the appearance of a regular porn shop, an arcade's primary business isn't selling DVDs or sex toys. It's renting booths in which porn can be viewed and where people—mostly men—meet for anonymous sexual encounters, running the gamut from mutual masturbation to group sex and activities that even the most jaded would classify as "hardcore."

Some of the narrator's experiences in my novel were based on my own recollections of an arcade I hadn't visited in ages. It seemed a good time to refresh my perspective on a place I'd just spent years writing about, so I decided to seek out guys willing to talk about their experiences at arcades in the "Men Seeking Men" section of Craigslist.

Arcades are theme parks for cruising, where entrants pay for the possibility of getting laid. My older gay friends describe their ubiquity in the 1970s and 80s in Austin, where I live. They were a staple of urban enclaves across the country throughout those decades. I've long heard about how they once dotted the city, filling up with gay men when the bars closed at 2 AM. Like bathhouses, most seem to have disappeared with the AIDS crisis and the advent of the internet. Those that survived have been pushed to the outskirts of cities, ignored or unseen by anyone not looking for them.

My ad was titled "Ever go to the arcade/XXX bookstore?" and solicited stories from Austin men who used them. Replies flooded in nearly instantly and were far more unguarded than I could have anticipated.

A 64-year-old named "Mike" told me he goes to the arcade once or twice a month. Asked what he does there, he replied "Usually just me sucking a guy off or sucking him off then letting him fuck me. Wife has no interest in sex anymore."

"Joe," 42, and also married to a woman, said he goes to the arcade every 10 days or so. "I am looking for men to please," he wrote. "I get naked and wait on all fours. I am just trying to get used."

Despite their activities at the arcade, practically everyone who replied identified as "straight." This didn't come as a surprise—one gets the sense from these men that they have but momentarily excused themselves from their normal, closeted lives.

When it came time to set up in-person interviews, things got complicated. Most leads went cold when I tried to schedule a face-to-face. Even when I did find men willing to meet, exchanges often became focused on my "stats"—age, height, weight, and dick size. Those guys I avoided.

At last, a reasonable-sounding man agreed to meet for an interview. He emailed me the name of a park in the Austin suburb where he lived and told me precisely where to meet him in its sprawling grounds. When I arrived, I found that there was nothing but acres of soccer fields abutting a small parking lot next to a lavatory building.

When Jason arrived in a beat up work truck, I hesitated for a moment, then got into the cab with him. The smelly red Dodge was stuffed with papers, trash, and tools. The lot was empty, save for a few cars belonging to a group of soccer players kicking a ball 50 yards away.

Jason, a portrait of mildly grungy lower-middle-class heterosexuality, told me something right away that I hadn't grasped when setting up the meeting: The park's restroom was one of his favorite cruising spots.

"I met a couple guys here the other day," he said, raising a tattooed forearm to stroke his long goatee.

"Two of them?"

"Yeah, but there were regular people in the bathroom, so we went over to that parking lot." He pointed to another paved area across the field.

"What happened there?"

"They took turns sucking my dick."

"And you identify as bi, gay...?"

"Nah," he said, "I'd say I'm straight."

A bold statement. Still, it wasn't his sexuality that surprised me most. What I really couldn't get over was the setting. There was nothing about that placid park that suggested privacy from prying outsiders. The 20-somethings on the soccer field could have returned to their cars at any moment. There was certainly nothing about the environment that suggested sex.

Two months earlier, police had arrested five men in a sting at a park bathroom just 20 minutes from where we sat. I reassured myself that at least I had my notepad and list of questions as evidence for the moment a SWAT team swooped in.

Jason shifted in his seat to look at each passing car. At first I thought it was because he shared my anxiety, but no—he told me he was hoping someone would arrive who he could follow into the bathroom.

Suddenly, my fear shifted from being arrested to losing my sole interview prospect. I began firing off questions in a frenzy.

"How old are you?"

"35."

"And you're married?"

"Yeah, for about a year."

"How's your sex life with your wife?"

"Great. We fuck every day."

"Every day? Really?"

"Yeah, unless one of us falls asleep first."

"How often do you hook up with guys?"

"Couple of times a week, probably."

"Does your wife suspect anything?"

"Hell no. Why would she?"

"Do you think you have a stronger sex drive than other men?"

"Nah, I think most guys want to fuck a lot, and that's why they fuck around with other guys. Because it's easier than finding women."

"What kind of porn do you watch?"

"All kinds. Straight girls with big tits. Guys with big dicks fucking girls with big tits. I like really huge tits. If it's dudes, I like hairy guys with big cocks. Group stuff is good... and some trans porn..."

He began playing with his phone as he spoke—on a hookup app, I imagined, since the park had been a bust. Still distracted, he began talking, at last, about his experiences at arcades. He'd been to tons of them. "They're all over. Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas. They can be fun, too." He seemed not to have much else to say on the subject.

It struck me then that sex in restrooms or cars was really no different than sex in coin-operated booths. They're all the same, really, just odd spaces that some men—especially closeted men—carve out and claim for themselves in their hunger for contact, affection, or even just plain sex. People will try to tell you that cruising is a thing of the past, but especially for closeted and "discreet" gay men, the practice has never died. It has only moved, like the arcades themselves, to the outskirts of culture.

Suddenly, Jason hit on the thing he'd been searching for. "This is what I like," he said. He was searching for a video, not a partner. Straight porn. The woman's breasts appeared so immense that my strongest impression was that she must struggle with debilitating back pain.

"I see," I said.

Jason began to rub himself through his jeans. "Nobody's coming," he said, referring to the bathrooms that had remained vacant since our arrival.

Then he propped the phone on the console cup holder between us, and we watched in silence. After a moment, he undid his pants.

"You don't mind, do you?"

"No," I said. "But do you think it's safe here?"

"No one's coming," he repeated, pulling out his dick. "I was watching this one at home earlier."

"Oh," I said. "Nice."

"You can join, you know." This, he said lifting his chin in the direction of my lap.

"Thanks," I said, "but I'd better not."

Minutes later, in rhythm with the ejaculations of the terrifyingly well-endowed man on the screen, Jason lifted his T-shirt, groaned softly, and came on his stomach.

"Well," I said, "thanks for meeting with me."

"Wait," he said. "Shit. I got nothing to clean up with. Help me find something."

I glanced around the cab of his truck. There were empty Gatorade bottles at my feet, papers stuffed into the pocket of the door.

"Look in that tub," he said. "Hurry." He leaned back, trying to capture the runoff before it reached his pants.

In a plastic bin in the backseat, I discovered a handful of fast food napkins, which I thrust into his hands.

Sopping up the mess, Jason thanked me. "You got any more questions, you know how to reach me."

He was a nice guy, actually.

Awkwardly, we shook hands, and I exited his truck and got back into my own car, where I sanitized my hands with a travel-size bottle of Purell and wrote up my notes from the meeting. I was still sitting there as he reversed out of the lot and took off down the road.

Drew Nellins Smith's debut novel 'Arcade' is out now from Unnamed Press. Follow him on Twitter.

How the Government Makes Gun Records Impossible to Trace

This post originally appeared on the Trace.

The trace starts with a call or fax to the National Trace Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A police department has recovered a gun at a crime scene that was bought from a dealer that has since gone out of business. The inquiring officer turns to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to find out who purchased the weapon and when.

Federally licensed gun dealers are required to submit sales records to the ATF when they close up shop. The agency has acquired a massive library of such records: some 285 million, which it scans and digitizes. Those documents are saved into one of the 25 "data systems" that help the ATF source guns used in crimes.

The physical records, some 8,000 boxes, are then stashed away in the Trace Center building. Another 7,000 or so are kept in nine shipping containers outside. They are stored there to keep the floor inside from collapsing. The good news is that agents usually don't need to search the boxes by hand. The bad: The computerized system isn't much better.

The ATF's record-keeping system lacks certain basic functionalities standard to every other database created in the modern age. Despite its vast size, and importance to crime fighters, it is less sophisticated than an online card catalog maintained by a small town public library.

To perform a search, ATF investigators must find the specific index number of a former dealer, then search records chronologically for records of the exact gun they seek. They may review thousands of images in a search before they find the weapon they are looking for. That's because dealer records are required to be "non-searchable" under federal law. Keyword searches, or sorting by date or any other field, are strictly prohibited.

The government takes making gun records difficult to search quite seriously. A Government Accountability Office report released last month concluded that in two data systems, the ATF did not always comply with "restrictions prohibiting consolidation or centralization" of records. The GAO, which is tasked with making sure federal agencies follow the law, was essentially chiding the ATF for making it a bit easier for its hundreds of investigators to do their jobs.

Alarmed headlines from conservative publications followed. A Fox News pundit even falsely claimed the report had found that the ATF had "a list of every gun owner and every gun owned."

Congress imposes conflicting directives on the ATF. The agency is required to trace guns, but it must use inefficient procedures and obsolete technology. Lawmakers in effect tell the agency to do a job but badly.

At this point, you likely have some questions. We're here to help.

Why are there so many boxes of records anyway?
Until very recently, gun dealers were prohibited from using electronic, cloud-based computing systems unless the ATF granted them specific permission to do so. As a result, many records are on index cards, water-stained paper, or, in some instances, even toilet paper and napkins.

What happens when the ATF acquires a box of records?
Investigators scan and save them as digital image files. They are like online piles of paper, or PDFs, arranged by one field only.

How can a database be "non-searchable"?
Trick question: The system can't really be considered a database—there is a reason the ATF uses the phrase "data systems" instead. There is no ability to search the text of a file, and no effort is made to tag files with identifiers that could later be used to sort and search.

"We compare it to an electronic card catalog system, where records are digitally imaged, but not optimized for character recognition," ATF spokesman Corey Ray said.

Why is the ATF required to trace guns but with crappy technology?
The 1968 Gun Control Act gave the ATF authority to regulate federally licensed gun dealers. In 1978, the ATF tried to make dealers report most quarterly sales. The National Rifle Association and other groups attacked the plan and lobbied to kill the reporting requirement. Congress did as the gun lobby requested, blocking the quarterly report proposal and reducing the ATF's budget by $5 million, which happened to be the amount the agency had sought to update its computer capacity.

"From that point on, if you even said 'computer' at ATF headquarters, everybody ran and hid in a closet," said William Vizzard, a former ATF special agent and emeritus professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento.

The war on searchable technology continued. In 1986, Congress enacted the Firearms Protection Act, which bans the ATF from creating a registry of guns, gun owners, or gun sales. Federal lawmakers have also put a rider barring the agency from "consolidation or centralization" of gun dealers' records in every spending bill affecting the agency from 1979 through 2011. At that point, Congress made the prohibition permanent, under law.

Why can't the ATF use technology ten-year-olds have in their phones?
First comes keyword searches, and the next thing you know, you have national gun registries. That, at least, is the rationale for the law that prevents the ATF from creating a searchable system. Gun rights groups argue that once the government has a list of firearms, it could use that list to confiscate weapons from private citizens.

How did the ATF skirt the rules meant to guard against searchability?
Many ATF traces are conducted on guns sold by active dealers. The ATF gives servers to these dealers, upon request, so that they can upload sales records. This saves both parties time: The ATF can conduct a trace without contacting a dealer in every instance, and the dealer doesn't have to spend time handling ATF requests.

When a dealer with a server goes out of business, it hands over that server to the ATF. Between 2000 and 2016, the ATF consolidated all the data from these defunct servers into one data system. But the GAO determined that the agency is not allowed to combine records in that fashion. Thus chastened, the ATF has deleted all 252 million records on the server.

What is the consequence of restricting the ATF's use of data?
The ATF processes a high number of trace requests: 372,992 last year alone. The agency says a trace takes on average four to seven business days to complete.

If it wasn't for the ban on consolidating data into a searchable system, the ATF could create a database that allowed investigators to immediately check the sales history of any gun used in a crime. The National Trace Center itself, and its 300-plus employees, likely would be obsolete if the ATF were permitted to create a modern, searchable database.

Still, the ATF claims the current system is adequate. "ATF considers the process in place efficient, especially when you consider that most urgent traces are completed within hours—if not minutes—of the request," Ray said.

But Vizzard, the former ATF special agent, says that by shackling the agency, Congress is hindering police investigations. "It's a 1950s record-keeping system in 2016," he said. "It's as though your bank still didn't have a computer."

A version of this article was originally published by the Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering guns in America. Sign up for the newsletter, or follow the Trace on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the VICE App on iOS and Android

The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election: Fuck This Election

Presidential campaigns are usually compared to horse races, but if you've ever been to the track, you know that the best thing about horse races is that they're short and meaningless. There's a bell, a sudden surge of flesh and hooves, a bunch of old men quietly cursing, and then it's on to the next race. A horse race that lasted for more than a year would be awful—and so is this election.

According to the latest national poll from CNN/ORC, Donald Trump is currently basically tied with Hillary Clinton. However, according to another poll that tracks each state individually, Trump is in a lot of trouble. You can read a lot about the relative merits of these and other polls, and listen to a lot of smart people debate which polls are more or less accurate. There are smart people everywhere in politics, and the political media offers a Trump Tower's worth of opinions every day.

There are multiple cable news channels that spit out nothing but election content 24/7. There are websites that offer nothing but analysis—a lot of it intelligent, some of it interesting, all of it totally cromulent. And yet, people seem unwilling to point out a fairly obvious truth, which is that this campaign is a shitty fucking piece of garbage and everyone hates it.

On one side, you have a loud-mouthed millionaire who claims he's a billionaire, the Flava Flav of Manhattan real estate, who coasted to the Republican nomination thanks to his willingness to go full racist in an overcrowded field of GOP primary candidates and the media's inability to look away from him. Trump lies constantly and has shitty political discipline, but the real problem is that he's too lazy to develop much in the way of policies beyond "Build the Wall" and "I am Donald Trump, you know, from TV."

As a result, this whole election cycle has orbited almost entirely around his magnetic but grating persona. Trump is a difficult candidate to cover because it's expected that, by the time someone becomes a credible presidential contender, that someone will have laid out a lot of policy plans; but Trump can count the number ideas he has on the fingers of one stubby hand. He occasionally pretends to deliver substantive speeches, and the press, not knowing what else to do, discusses those speeches, even though most of the shit Trump said could have come from the mouth of a vaguely racist suburban teen half-drunk on two BuzzBallz.

That the media is at a loss when it comes to covering Trump is obvious from a pair of recent newspaper endorsements. Over the weekend, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a major right-leaning paper in Virginia, endorsed Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a dude with no shot of winning the election, presumably out of the editorial board's distaste for Trump. The Dallas Morning News made its position clear on Tuesday with an editorial that just listed all the reasons the newspaper hates the Republican nominee. Who are readers supposed to vote for? The Morning News doesn't say—Clinton's name isn't even mentioned.

Clinton, for her part, has seemed happy to keep the focus on Trump, confident that America is not far gone enough to put a spray-tanned snake oil salesman in the White House. But though Clinton is better prepared to be president than her rival, she's also disliked by a majority of the Americans she'd be governing. Her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state—a scandal just barely legal enough not to result in actual criminal charges—shows, if nothing else, how deep her desire for secrecy runs.

Some voters have been following that fairly complicated story closely, but even those who haven't seem vaguely aware that Clinton went to pretty aggressive lengths to hide her online activities, and many of them mistrust her for it. If she wins, she'll be in the tricky spot of governing a country that doesn't appear to like her all that much.

It says a lot about this race that, on both sides, the most prominent campaign commercials have all been attack ads. Mudslinging is to be expected when you have two candidates with as much baggage as Clinton and Trump, but the sheer volume of this negative campaigning is enough to wear anyone down who pays much attention to it. Sure, feel-good slogans about "Morning in America" and "Hope and Change" can come off as naïve or hokey, but there's something to be said for a positive vision, especially when the alternative is 18 months of vicious political knife-fighting. It's hard to imagine a change in tone making much of a difference in the polls, but it might make Americans feel better about participating in the world's oldest continuous democratic system.

There are vast differences between the 2016 candidates, and this election really is important, so Americans should probably vote. But it can be hard to remember those simple truths when we're being bombarded by bullshit: Bullshit from Trump's relentless mouth, from networks forced to stretch two hours of news into 24 hours of programming, from the Clinton campaign claiming Trump is not just a dumbass but a possible Russian agent. Trump lies more and more loudly than Clinton, but both have been guilty of hiding important details from voters—for Trump it's his tax returns, for Clinton, those deleted emails—and both are dogged by real and media-contrived scandals.

So if you've tuned out, I don't blame you. At this point, I should encourage you not to and invoke the idea that an engaged citizenry is the foundation of the republic—but I just can't. There are 62 days left until the election, and hundreds of stories will be spun and respun between now and then. Almost none of them will matter.

Your best strategy for digesting news is to find a website you trust, check it once a day at a maximum, and avoid stepping into the sludgy rivers of social-media arguments about politics. Sixty-two days is just two months—that's not too long. And after November 8, things will get better. I hope.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.

The FAA Is Considering a Ban on Samsung’s Exploding Smartphones

Last week, Samsung recalled roughly 2.5 million smartphones after it was discovered that at least 35 of the devices had spontaneously burst into flames . Make that 35 and counting . But don’t worry, if you’d like to bring your Galaxy Note 7 onto a flight, the FAA still hasn’t decided whether it should ban the devices on planes. The agency is thinking about it, however.

Read more...

​Is There Room for Couch Co-Op in a World Obsessed with Online Multiplayer?

Images courtesy of Ghost Town Games.

Get the VICE App on iOS and Android

My first memory of games, like so many other people's, is playing with my family. I remember hiding behind pillows as I watched my mother play Super Punch Out!!. Or when I introduced my father to Wii Sports, the only game he ever learned to play, let alone asked to play with me. Whether in bars, malls, arcades, or living rooms, games have always been meant to be shared with others.

But with the help of the internet, games no longer need to be a communal experience in a single space. Recording video footage of someone playing through a game, known as Let's Plays, has only been amplified due to platforms such as Twitch, which allows players to stream their playthrough to an active audience. Friends in different rooms or countries can now play games together. The prevalence of online connectivity created a rise in online multiplayer games; games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch forgo the need for a couch and a television screen split to accommodate multiple players. Games with local multiplayer—that is, ones that provide no online capabilities to play with others worldwide—are therefore seen as obsolete to the gamer accustomed to the pleasure of the internet. So how does a local multiplayer game fare in a world obsessed with connecting with multiple people at once?

If Overcooked is any indication, then it proves local co-op games are still a necessity. Fun can still be had in a single room, for both game enthusiasts and the uninterested alike. Simple in nature, Overcooked, by Ghost Town Games, is a co-op game about cooking specific recipes in a certain amount of time. From onion soup to chicken burritos, players will scramble to chop vegetables or grab cooked meat before it burns on the stove. The crux of the game lies in its wacky level design. Players are not just cooking in a kitchen, but sometimes on moving trucks, swaying boats, or outer space. The chaos of the kitchen is paired with the cooperation needed to succeed.

The game has unanimously been praised for its disorderly fun and has been lauded as a couch co-op game everyone needs to play. But not everyone is impressed with Overcooked: A commonly referenced sticking point (even among positive reviews) is the game's lack of online multiplayer.

On Overcooked's Steam forum, the Ghost Town Games created a thread title "Multiplayer Megathread" meant to "discuss online multiplayer" and give the team feedback for the game. The thread features many posts explaining why players refuse to buy the game until online multiplayer is implemented. One large post by a user named Apothecarrion titled "why couch co-op is dead and why this game should be online" details why they believe Overcooked will fail without it: "Outside of people within the gaming industry in some way, most people in adult life just dont have friends that want to play indie games when they are over at someone's house for a house party. It is like pulling teeth."

Regardless of whether or not online multiplayer is added to Overcooked, the outcry for online multiplayer reminds us that couch co-op games are not dead and hopefully never will be. Games should always ask us for intimacy; something is missed when not experienced together in one room.

Will some players miss the opportunity to play with friends who may live across states or countries? Of course. But perhaps there is an untouched group of people who will benefit from a simple game that requires no internet connection. "Don't get me wrong, I love online multiplayer too," wrote Phil Duncan, co-founder of Ghost Town Games, over email, "but I think local multiplayer games offer a completely different experience to playing over the internet: The dynamic with our game is much more about taking people who are together in the same location, who want to share moments together and using local co-op to amplify that experience, to celebrate being together basically."

There is always room for intimacy, for sharing a couch and a laugh with person by our side.

Overcooked is in itself its own form of nostalgia. It takes me back to playing with friends huddled around a console because there was no other choice. As we praise the resurgence of collect-a-thon games thanks to Yooka-Laylee, or remastered versions of older games like Crash Bandicoot or Final Fantasy 7, we should also cheer for the games that pull us to the living room, playing with whoever would pick up the second controller.

Overcooked is in no way the first or last game to play with an emphasis on working together locally. For example, look at Bounden, a dance game created by Game Oven and choreographed by the Dutch National Ballet. Two players take opposite ends of a smart phone and move the phone to follow a string of rings on the screen. The movement of the phone forces the two players to move, as if dancing. Obviously, there is no online multiplayer for Bounden; partners must crowd a small screen, and trust themselves, their partners, and the phone to lead them to dance victory. Or consider the success of Pokémon Go, which has gotten thousands of players to explore their own neighborhoods or cities just to collect fictional Pokémon. There is something satisfying in knowing these discoveries, dancing, Pokémon catching, can be done with a loved one or stranger standing right next to you.

So few games still provide local co-op at all, so if anything, we should be encouraging more of it. Duncan noted that he hopes more developers explore local co-op functionality." I think there's a lot of people out there who want to play them (myself included) since they offer a truly unique and above all fun social experience." Even in a society dependent on the internet, online connectivity's appeal is still not an absolute. Nor is it still a necessary item for enjoying games. To doubt Overcooked's success is to ignore games' history with connecting communities together, both online and offline.

The internet is so embedded into our culture that it feels almost sacrilegious to ask for games that do not require it, but having games that are strictly local co-op is a reminder to occasionally remove ourselves from online spaces. There is always room for intimacy, for sharing a couch and a laugh with person by our side. Overcooked encourages those outside of the gaming world to experiment without the fear of online vitriol. What better way to play a game than with a loved one, a trusted friend, or even a stranger at a party? I don't want my memories of introducing my father to Wii Sports to be to be a distant memory. I want to always hear more stories like it. Overcooked and other couch co-op games like it will ensure that.

Follow Shonté Daniels on Twitter.

Read more gaming articles on VICE here, and follow VICE Gaming on Twitter at @VICEGaming.