One of the greatest delights that modern bar culture affords us is the ability to sit down on a stool, pay a small fee, and touch a boob. No bouncer holds aside a velvet rope to let you in; no women swing around poles; the menu says nothing about lapdances; nobody, let's hope, is disrobing. You're just sitting at the corner of a shitty bar, putting dollars into a gaming console, pointing out subtle differences between very similar-looking pictures of the same naked person. Maybe you're with a friend, or a lover, or just yourself, creeping solo. You're playing Erotic Photo Hunt, the world's greatest bar game. Enjoy it while you can — you might not be able to play for much longer.
Erotic Photo Hunt is a gift to drinkers everywhere. Played on a touch-screen console generally mounted to the stickier sort of bar, it's a naughty spin on the sort of "spot the difference" game you may have once played in a Highlights magazine at the pediatrician's office. Two near-identical sexy photos are displayed side by side — depending on the particular game console you've got in front of you, the pictures will feel either outdated, or extremely outdated — and between the two photos, there will be five differences you need to spot.
Maybe it's a picture of a woman licking a lollipop, tits out. Maybe it's a woman sitting on an office chair, one hand on a laptop from the early 2000s, one hand inching towards her lacy underpants, tits out. Maybe it's a woman in a train conductor hat standing behind a model train set, tits out, but covered by her hands. Maybe it's a hot dude whose towel is falling off. No matter the setup, you will have a certain amount of time to find the small ways the adjacent images are different from one another, you must focus your attention past boobs and butts to find them. Mark each one with the touch of a finger; if you're right a red circle will draw itself around your small victory, find all five, and you get to move on to a new set of photos.
The game is just one of many built in to a gaming console sold by bar-gaming corporation Megatouch, sharing hard-drive space with more classic offerings like poker, solitaire, and mah-jong. But Erotic Photo Hunt is clearly the best of them all: for its silly novelty, for its retro sex appeal, and for the fact that its basic rules are so simple that even a child could play it, if you were willing to let a child tap a half-naked woman's underwear to indicate that it used to be green, and now it's blue.
The photos are decidedly retro — mostly licensed from decades-old back issues of Penthouse — and unfortunately, the game itself is about to become retro, too. Megatouch shut down operations in May of 2015, and while technical support lives on (for now), there will be no new consoles sold, no new software developed, no new images added to worn-out spot-the-difference libraries.
Over the last year, I've tried to learn more about the how and why of the company's decision to close operations, but to no avail. I'm not sure what I was expecting — maybe an administrative assistant at a lone desk in a cavernous room, taking the calls of disbelieving players, with whom I'd strike up a cheeky friendship. But no: all there is to know is that the company is no more, its consoles officially a dying breed just like the neighborhood bars that house them. On its Facebook page, Megatouch bid its fans adieu via a photo of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite overlaid with PEACE OUT in big white block letters. The caption read, "It's been real." Indeed, it has.
In the last few years, Erotic Photo Hunt has become my most beloved, most eagerly shared bar game. There have been many: Frat parties and unfinished basements and our culture's insatiable collective thirst for binge drinking-as-sport have brought me beer pong and flip cup, our country's most celebrated drinking games, which I played poorly and to excess as a socially anxious sorority girl. But now, as an adult who spends time in bars for social reasons as much as inebriatory ones, I've learned that the games I can play while sipping quietly on a beer or five are the true heroes — pastimes that enhance the drinking experience, rather than turning it into an extreme sport of consumption.
Erotic photo hunt takes the social usefulness of the board game and tacks on sexual tension and a screen.
Generous are the dive bars that stock warped boxes of Sorry!, graffitied Jenga sets, and incomplete Trivial Pursuit editions for those patrons who require a form of social lubrication that doesn't come in a cup. They allow space for intermittent banter and friendly teasing, and are much more interactive than a Hasselhoff movie playing on a dive bar's boxy old television. Bar games fill not just gaps in conversation but also gaps in thought, gaps in chemistry, gaps in comfort. Erotic photo hunt takes the social usefulness of the board game and tacks on sexual tension and a screen.
I first became a fan of the game my senior year of college, when frat parties were losing their luster in part because I had begun dating a very mature 24-year-old law student. Chapel Hill, NC, had a particularly high number of Megatouch games per capita, all tucked into bars where a $3 Bud Light was considered expensive and laminate wood paneling was de rigueur. My boyfriend and I weren't so great at talking to each other, so Erotic Photo Hunt was a way to occupy the time as we went through the beers you go through when you're young and it's a weekend and drinking at bars is what you do.
Interacting with the naked bodies on the screen gave us a tame way for us to feel sexy in public, something we weren't otherwise accustomed to. (Once, when I mentioned I'd maybe like to get frisky in a bar bathroom, he suggested I "find someone else to do that with.") Here, pointing out wayward bra straps and giggling at ‘80s-era haircuts grazing ‘80s-era breasts, we were safe, the extent of our shared sexuality constrained within the borders of a gaming console.
Years later, in search of ways to make dates in Brooklyn a little less less terrible, I started to lean on Erotic Photo Hunt as a go-to, an activity that both made me look arguably cool in my lack of pretension (Look at me! I love dive bars!) and protected me against potential boredom. It became a litmus test for whether or not the guy in question would be comfortable in the places that made me feel at home. The game became my move, my suggestion, not just a thing hanging on the memory of an old relationship and an old town. With the right person—potential lover or friend or otherwise—spotting the appearance (or disappearance) of a tramp stamp feels collaborative and thrilling. Erotic Photo Hunt doesn't break the ice, so much as it melts it softly with a never-ending lineup of naked curves and suggestive pouts.
Megatouch consoles mostly live at the corners where bars' ends meet walls, tucked away so that the lone wolf with a thing for Texas Hold ‘Em can play without the ebb and flow of patrons distracting him, or the maybe-couple can touch pictures of boobs and butts in peace. You'll find them at the sort of low-key establishment that offers baskets of cheese puffs or popcorn at no cost, where nobody would ever think to use the word "mixologist" or "bespoke," where bartenders are perpetually unfazed and unimpressed but not always unfriendly. There are beer-and-shot specials and if you're lucky, a photo booth.
The consoles do not exist in fancy spaces, and you wouldn't want them to. Now that I'm aware of Megatouch's closure — and, with it, Erotic Photo Hunt's inevitable slow decline — it attracts a desperate love: I am not only hungry for the bodies and the kitschy silk bedsheets, but also for a bar experience I can only find in a few places, even in New York. In a few years, who knows how many Megatouch machines will be left. We've got to hunt while we still can.
Choosing which gender you want to objectify can be a revealing decision. If you're a girl on a first date with, say, a dude who would never even consider looking at pictures of semi-nude dudes in public, now you've learned things about his comfort levels that may have taken you months to find out otherwise. I've gone the beefcake route with girlfriends before and gotten a good chuckle at the symmetry of their pecs, the curve of their tushies, and the brute cheesiness of their existence. But the babes are almost always the way to go.
In a 2013 interview, Jim Hartman, formerly the game's head Photoshopper, explained that ladies were the most popular choice among players, and also more challenging when it comes to spotting differences. They offer more options for variation, he said: more likely to have jewelry that might disappear, hair that might grow, straps that might fall. The hunks are, to put it nicely, a little boring. But I think it's nice to try both options. New players should get a feel for the landscape of nudie photos, to give equal opportunity to all.
The first rounds are easy. Discrepancies are obvious: curtains disappear from the living room, hemlines rise blatantly. Time allotments are generous. And then the rounds speed up as you progress, and so does your heart rate, and the details become more subtle and less expected.
Play Erotic Photo Hunt long enough, and you'll see a lot of different bodies. It's a little like looking through a vintage nudie magazine, although there's zero attempt at humanizing the people on display: no captions, no names, no hometowns, no list of turn-ons. These bodies' primary purpose is gaming-entertainment, not pornography-entertainment — the point here is play, not arousal. The photos are old, so the feeling is more kitschy than kinky. It's good clean fun, except it's a little dirty. You don't become numb to this nakedness—you can't, actually, not if you want to win. You need to keep an eye on nipple placement and pube landscape in order to succeed. But you do become comfortable with it, and less scandalized. Here, a body is more context than content, more playing field than plaything.
Once a player has reached a certain level of proficiency (and downed a few bottles of Miller High Life, the game's natural accompaniment), the endeavor picks up an almost hypnotic, meditative quality. You are focused, you are in the zone, you know the easiest places to find discrepancies. Check the background: are there plants that could be missing? Lamp stands that might be cut short? Hands and fingers often disappear, bra straps come and go, panties rise and fall. You're increasingly exhilarated by tiny but accumulating achievements, your heart racing as the clock ticks down and there's one more hidden detail to uncover. Victory comes when you touch the screen a fifth time and that elusive circle draws itself around a pair of breasts that has grown a full cup size. And then a new body appears, ready to be compared to itself.
And then at some point you're staring at a half-naked body like it's an unsolvable puzzle, knowing that there's something that you're not catching, something hiding in the bedazzled g-string or above the leather couch. Your brow is furrowed, your flirtations essentially forgotten, the game having transcended its awkward eroticism and become pure frustrating sport. Then it's game over, and the last circle draws itself, finding that final difference right in front of your face, and that's when you remember that there's a babe (or hunk) staring back at you from the screen. The high score list comes up, and puts you at pity number 99, and you wonder how much time the owners of those top ten spots have spent in the very same barstool that's holding you right now.
I've never been much of a fan or player of sports, mostly because I hate losing, and I get too emotional when I do. But every game of Erotic Photo Hunt is just a countdown to an inevitable failure; the enjoyment here comes from playing, not winning, because it's impossible to win. Still, as long as you have a few more crumpled dollars in your pocket, you can dust yourself off and have another go. A loss in this game is really more of a break: an opportunity to decide whether to buy another beer and play another round, or go home.
Lately, knowledge of Megatouch's demise has pushed me to add that next dollar, order that extra beer, to overstay my welcome at game console and bar alike, and convince my companions to do the same. It's not just that playing another round is easier, anyways, than striking up a brand new conversation or making any romantic decisions. It's that this is a sort of game that doesn't exist in other environment: it's slightly sleazy, slightly addicting, and easy even when you're slightly wasted. Erotic Photo Hunt takes the idea of a romantic corner table, bellies it up to the bar, and hands it a suggestive little game.
Megatouch has an iPhone app, it turns out, and I've tried to download it, but I can't seem to access the Erotic Photo Hunt package. And anyways, I'd never want to develop that habit on my phone: this game has its place, and that place is not the subway during rush hour or my local coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon. But at the bar, while I still can, I order another High Life, scrounge for more quarters, and disappear once more into the corner with my console, and my anonymous babes and hunks, and the multitudes they contain.
Highly Recommended is Eater's periodic column of endorsement for things we and our contributors love, and that we think you might want to love, too. These are opinions; if you disagree with them, that's cool.
Marian Bull is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.
Kit Mills is an illustrator, designer, and graveyard enthusiast based in NYC.