Welcome to the Virtual Gogo Bar, Part 3
Bill was with Dave in his new apartment in Cantley, an upmarket area of Doncaster (believe it or not, Doncaster does have upmarket areas). They were in his spare bedroom, which he had devoted entirely to Boobz n’ Bottomz Online. At one end of the room was a workstation with computer and filing cabinet, and at the other was the virtual gogo bar. The whole wall had been painted white, and a volumetric data projector had been set up to Dave’s exact specifications so that the projected image appeared to be life-size. Dave had told him that a surprisingly large number of their clients had downloaded his specifications so that they, too, could have the full experience.
They were experiencing it now. He and Dave were sitting at a small table just in front of the screen sipping real beers, while two virtual gogo girls sat with them, also (at their request) sipping real beers in their bamboo cubicles in Isaan. Of course, the girls couldn’t share the virtual experience. They sat on a stool and looked at a small image of one man on their phone, while listening to the music on a tiny speaker. They were happy enough, though. Every five minutes, the lady drink was “refreshed” with another 300 baht – not that Dave and Bill minded, because half of that was adding to their bottom line.
It was good now. Very good. The bugs had been ironed out, the transitions smoothed, the menus and pop-up messages made more discreet (because brought by a virtual waitress and popped into the bin. If you wanted to check your account, you just clicked on the bin). Even better – they had thousands of subscribers from all over the world and the money kept rolling in.
But Bill had not invited Dave over just to watch the girls. There was an important business matter to discuss – ironically, it was the same problem that he had wrestled with in his latter years as the manager of the real Boobz n’ Bottomz.
“So what’s the problem?” said Dave.
“Back in the day – I mean, last year – we used to call it ‘The Girl Shortage’. Look, you can see for yourself.”
He nodded towards the screen.
“There should be 12 girls in a shift, right? Well, first of all, there’s only nine. And look at them. Two of them are overweight, and one of them looks as though she should be visiting her grandchildren. I just can’t get the girls any more!”
“Now that lockdown is over, they’re drifting back to the bars – the real bars, I mean.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Dave. “They can make as much money with us without having to let some old, fat, smelly farang paw their bodies.”
“They say it’s boring – at least, that’s what Pattana tells me.”
“Boring? Heck – it’s boring crunching code all day long – but do you ever hear me complain?”
“All the time. But back to the girls. Try to show a bit of empathy for once. What I mean is, put yourself in their cute, high-heeled shoes. There you are in a bamboo cubicle all day long – or all night long if you’re on night shift – nobody to talk to, no friends, no fun, no big city lights.”
But empathy was not really Dave’s thing. He was so into self that he might have been a millennial, though he was far too old to claim that distinction.
“And there I am in chipboard cubicle all day long, nobody to talk to, no friends, no fun, with just a screen full of conditional loops and curly brackets to keep me company – and when I get home, it’s more of the same, trying to iron out the bugs in Boobz n’ Bottomz Online.”
“You said we were making money hand over fist.”
“We are – and if it keeps up like this I can give up the day job – which will be a dream come true! So what’s all this about a girl shortage?”
“We’re not the only players in this game now, you know. One of the big name bars in Bangkok is onto it. They have a cam on a real gogo bar stage, and you can choose a girl and talk to her in private – and, if you are in Bangkok, you can even arrange to meet her and f**k her. That beats jerking off in private any day!”
Bill expected Dave to look as worried as he felt, but instead, a mischievous grin spread across his face.
“Have you got any of that Champagne left?”
“One bottle, yes.”
“Well, crack it open. Because I think I’ve solved your problem. I’ve been working on it for some time, actually – not because of this girl shortage thing, but as a way to reduce our overheads.”
Bill got up to get the Champagne, and Dave took out his laptop and hooked it up to Bill’s data projector. When he came back into the room, Dave said, “Now, look at this. I wasn’t going to show it to you yet – it’s only a Beta version.”
The gogo bar appeared again, but this time the girls were different. They were 3D avatars, and like most 3D avatars, rather overdeveloped in the boob and bottom department – perfect for a bar called Boobz n’ Bottomz!
“I got the idea from 3D porn. It’s really good now – quite realistic – and the other part of it from Siri and Alexa – chatbots, in other words. You know, the guys and girls in the bars have a very narrow range of conversation – so easy to program. Let’s give it a try. Go on – choose girl.”
Bill chose a cute little avatar with an impossible combination of a tiny waist, oversized boobs, oversized bottom, oversized anime-style eyes, braces and pigtails.
Dave gave an ironic snigger.
“I thought your tastes would be more sophisticated after all your experience!”
Bill ignored him and clicked to accept the waitresses suggestion of a lady drink.
“OK, here goes nothing,” he said to Dave, then to the girl he said, “What’s your name?”
“My name Nok,” replied the girl.
“Where are you from?”
“Is that where you are now?”
The girl looked confused and replied, “Mai kao jai.” (“I don’t understand.”)
Bill made it simpler:
“Where are you now?”
“Mai kao jai.”
“Stick to the script,” Dave whispered.
“You pay barfine?” said the avatar.
“Not tonight, thanks.”
The avatar’s face gave a good simulation of disappointment, after which she returned to the stage – it was well programmed, too. He could actually watch her get up, walk to the stage, climb up the steps and take her place – just like in a real bar.
“I’m impressed,” he said.
“Yeah. The transitions are easy because they’re all in the same virtual environment. What about the chat?”
“I liked the way she said ‘mai kao jai’ in Thai. Now I know why you wanted that list of Thai phrases – but she lost the thread a few times.”
“Just like the real ones do. We have the excuse that Thai girls don’t speak much English. Anyway, our customers are not here to have a philosophical conversation. They want to get their rocks off – didn’t you want to try her in private?”
“What, with you watching! No. The real reason is that the cam thing doesn’t do it for me, even with a real girl – but with an avatar!”
Dave frowned. Bill had just voiced one of his subconscious doubts. Cyber sex was empty enough with a real person at the other end, but would his customers be prepared to pay for sex with a computer-generated image? His response was defensive, and it sounded as though he was trying to persuade himself, as well as Bill.
“I’ll get the best designers – my avatars will look almost real.”
“I’ll include a feature which allows customers to design their own avatars.”
“Create Frankenstein monsters, you mean, with waists like wasps, boobs like balloons and faces like a 14-year-old’s!”
Dave was getting desperate now.
“There’s always the Cyber-Fleshlight…”
“Well, you know that Fleshlight thing that is supposed to simulate a female vagina…?”
“I’ve seen it advertised, yes.”
“Well, I’m working on something like that with sensors inside that you can plug into a USB port. The idea is that, when you thrust gently, the avatar squirms and sighs a bit, but when you pump hard, she goes wild and writhes and screams.”
Bill’s jaw dropped in sheer disbelief, while Dave did his best to justify the idea.
“It’s not difficult to manufacture or program – not much more complicated than a mouse, really.
Bill was staring at him now as though he had taken leave of his senses.
“I… I’ll have a prototype ready soon. You can try it if you like.”
Bill would have torn at his hair if he had had any left to tear at. Instead, he paced up and down the room in a kind of frustrated frenzy.
“That’s it, is it? The sum total of human sexuality reduced to a TV screen, an avatar, and a Cyber-Fleshlight! All the chemistry, connection, and emotion, reduced to something ‘not much more complicated than a mouse’! Look, I know something about this game! I should do, I’ve been running a bar for long enough, and I can tell you that’s it’s not just about sex. It’s about people – and sometimes they develop feelings and have relationships: they love, hate, hope, despair, kiss, cry, get married, get divorced… it’s real, I tell you! It’s just as real as meeting a girl at work, or on a bus. Even on those webcams there’s some human connection, but… avatars! May God and Buddha help us!”
Dave looked nonplussed. He wanted to say that it was only a way of earning money, and a good one, too, but Bill was warming to his theme, and carried on ranting.
“It’s a symbol, don’t you see? This avatar thing is a symbol of what Covid has done to the human race. We’re running scared of real life, now. We’re scared to go out to a pub, even though the pubs are open. We only go to restaurants that seat people with strict regard to social distancing – as for travel, forget it! Nobody wants to sit in hollow cylinder breathing recirculated air, and especially not for 12 hours, or however long it takes to get to Thailand. We’ve become risk averse – and when I think of the risks I used to take in Bangkok! I’ll say nothing about dengue and beri-beri, but just think of all those gogo girls I shagged bareback! Luckily, I never caught anything that a dose of over-the-counter Amoxicillin couldn’t take care of, but by rights, I should be in a care home by now, riddled with full-blown AIDS!”
He paused for breath, and Dave, who still thought of it as nothing more than a nice little earner, carried on with his high-tech dream.
“We’ll go 4k as soon as we can, then 3D, then – get this – VR. Imagine it. You have the Cyber-Fleshlight on your dick, and the VR goggles on your head, and you can see an almost lifelike 3D gogo girl. You can take her in whatever position you like, and she will respond to your every thrust – and no need to worry about STD’s or COVID-19. What’s more, she won’t answer back, cheat on you, or break your heart. She will be whatever you want her to be – because you’ve designed her…”
Bill was looking at him as though he had gone mad. Dave made one more attempt to get through to him.
“Don’t you see! – it’s BETTER than the real thing!”
Bill sighed. He realised that they had come to a parting of the ways.
“Not for me. I’m out.”
“What do you mean?’
“What was it the Lady of Shallot said? – ‘I am half-sick of shadows’. We’ll, I’m totally sick of them.”
“Who’s the Lady of Shalott? One of your Thai girlfriends?”
“No, that’s a lady in Asok. I’m referring to a poem by Tennyson.”
“I know the one. I know I’m just a techie, but I remember a few bits of literature. Anyway, didn’t she end up dead in barge?”
Bill looked put out for a moment, then said, “Whatever. I’m leaving this particular ivory tower and going back to Bangkok for a dose of the real thing. You don’t need me now you’ve got your avatars. You’ll be OK.”
Dave was silent while the news sank in. At last, he said, “OK, I understand. It was a good partnership while it lasted. Hope you can make it work.”
“Just one thing,” Dave continued.
“Try not to end up in a barge.”
To be continued…
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