Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Game: Not Penetrating All That Much

It's a dream of many men to achieve the same Herculean level of success with women as bands like Motley Crue and people like myself have had before them. The thought of being able to almost immediately attract female attention and command sexual arousal caters to certain evolved psychological preferences of men the same way my ravishing good looks and winning personality cater to the preferences of women. This fantasy of many men can be exacerbated by their severe to complete lack of sexual access to women. The most recent estimate I've heard is that we have about twice as many female ancestors as male ancestors. That is to say, in a hypothetical population with equal numbers of men and women, if every woman had a child, only about half of the men would be fathers. This speaks to a point I made recently, that even promiscuous females are not indiscriminant in their mate choice, and many men are not able to adequately measure up to most women's standards. For instance, women on Okcupid rated 80% of men as being below average in attractiveness.

Given that, it should come as no surprise that anyone promising they have a - or the - secret to help men, any man, become a success at picking up women is selling a potentially very valuable product to a lot of desperate people. The most pressing question on most people's minds when confronted with a product that claims to have miraculous proprieties is, naturally, "does it work?"

                                                     It's just bulging with potential. It is, however, only held together by prayers and hot glue. 

As I had recently run out of new reading material and decent video games, I deciding to evaluate a book that had been recommended to me several times online called The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists - and who could go wrong with random strangers on the internet? I didn't expect much out of it, which was fortunate. While the book isn't exactly a "how-to" guide for men looking to get women, the premise of the book is that it's written about groups of men who claim to be able to teach various methods in picking up, attracting, or otherwise seducing women. Throughout the story, the protagonist and author, Style (aka. Neil Strauss), goes from being a socially awkward writer to becoming a king among the pickup community, having many non-exclusive sexual partners over the course of two years, before finally settling into a long-term relationship and becoming dissatisfied with the state of the community.

How does he make this transformation? In no particular order, the following things happen: a change of hairstyle, a change in wardrobe, going tanning and exercising, paying far out-the-ass to attend a number of seminars, paying far-out-the-ass to travel constantly, buying and reading countless books on the subject, learning about body language and social cues, learning when to lie, learning when to bullshit people, moving into a mansion in Hollywood, and basically, spending every waking moment for two years either hitting on every woman in sight or talking about hitting on every woman in sight with the assistance of several men and a memorized series of routines. Strauss's newfound success at meeting women in turn seems to give him a reputation within the community and what sounded like one hell of an ego about the whole thing. Like many of the pickup artists in the book, Strauss seemed to feel he had some kind of power over women. Their self-esteem had never been higher.  

While I feel there's a lot to be said for learning how to dress and groom yourself, approach people with confidence, and understanding body language and social cues when it comes to being successful in the dating world - basically, avoid coming off like the sociopathic shy slob you are - the question still looming is "how well does the game work?" I feel the majority of the method written about in The Game can be summed up nicely by David Cross talking about the attitude of a garbage man trying to pick up women while on the job:
"I make things happen; I go for it. Whatever, man. I'll ask a hundred chicks, maybe get ninety-nine "No"s. That's fine; slide it on, slide it on. Whatever. Maybe that hundredth chick...likes to fuck on a pile of trash". 
The Game reads more like a sheer numbers game strategy at heart. For all of you out there who don't live in an area with a large enough population, this strategy would probably not serve you well. It seemed common for Strauss and his friends to go out each night to several different bars to talk to many, many different women at various stages of drunkenness at each. Sometimes they would end up with phone numbers (the vast majority of which never ended up going anywhere further, if the woman on the other end even remembered who they gave their number to), sometimes they'd get a kiss, and sometimes they'd even get sex eventually, provided they weren't too particular about who that sex was with. What this turns into is a case of counting the hits and not the misses. Any successes that an aspiring pickup artist meets with are chalked up to their masterful use of the game; the failures, which far outnumber the successes, are simply forgotten about. The failures aren't seen as failures in the method, just failures in its execution or part of the learning process. 

                                                      My trick coin; fifty-percent of the time, it lands on "heads" a hundred-percent of the time.

As a result, one should be hard-pressed to conclude that The Game holds any secrets for seducing any, or even most, women, nor should one conclude that it offers any revolutionary insights into female psychology. The sample is simply too biased. This should become even more apparent when one stops and thinks about the following: Strauss was successful with women and that earned him a reputation among the community. What that suggests to me is that the majority of these pickup artists were not being met with even close to the same degree of success, despite using what is described as an almost identical method to Strauss. If they were seeing the same results, Strauss wouldn't stand out. Indeed, one man mentioned in the book claims to had approached over 1000 women in a month without managing to seal the deal sexually with a single one. A thousand failures and not one success; if that doesn't reek of a numbers game, I don't know what does.

What's also worth pointing out is that many of the men who get involved in this community begin as either virgins or just-barely not virgins. They also tend to possess minimal levels of social skills and plenty of anxiety. These are typically men who have a great deal of frustration in their sexual life, earning them the nickname AFCs, or angry frustrated chumps. In short, for these men there is nowhere to go but up, and each success, no matter how minor, will likely take on a much greater importance. I feel this would only serve to deepen the issue of counting the hits and not the misses when trying to determine how successful the method actually was, or whether all that effort could have been more profitably spent elsewhere. 

Further, there's no control group against which to compare the methods described in The Game with any kind of alternative treatments or placebos. Any good treatment should outperform an inert one, and throughout the book several different methods rise and fall, each claiming to be the tried and true way to success. To approximate a placebo, I'd like to contrast the approach outlined in The Game with simple cold-propositioning. The classic Clark and Hatfield (1989) research project had men and women approach total strangers on a college campus that they'd actually consider having sex with and say the following: "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be very attractive." Following that, they'd close with one of three suggestions: going on a  date, returning to an apartment together, or having sex. Unsurprisingly, women propositioned for sex by men universally rejected the offer. Also unsurprisingly, men propositioned for sex by women accepted about 75% of the time. However, of interest to the current comparison is the percentage that agreed to a date: about 50% for both sexes.

 While we don't have precise numbers at our disposal to speak for how successful Strauss and his friends were, those numbers may help to add some perspective. Remember, the 50% of men who were able to get a woman to agree to a date had invested precisely zero time and money into buying books, attending seminars, or losing their job and failing out of school because they spent all your time talking with guys about meeting girls and trying to meet girls. 

                            It may have cost me my job, several thousand dollars, and a year of my life, but I finally had sex once! Totally better than seeing a prostitute.

Somewhat surprisingly, the book had been recommended by people who seemed to think highly of evolutionary psychology, though by my rough estimate the subject itself was mentioned in any context all of three to four times, at the rate of about a sentence each time. Dawkins, Ridley, and Baker are listed as required reading in the group, but that seems to be about the extent of it. If there were any particular insights draw from evolutionary theory, they aren't mentioned here. The Game speaks far more highly and more often of hypnosis than it does about evolutionary psychology, so take that as you will. 

Rather than a "how-to" guide for seducing women, The Game reads more like a "how-to" guide for seducing men. It manages this by giving them the hope they would be able to pick up women left and right if they only buy these books (The Game comes in an attractive black exterior, with gold-edged pages and a built in bookmark for the low retail cost of $30), spend several hundred dollars to attend these seminars (which began in the book at $500 a head, an amount that roughly tripled by the end of the book), and invest staggering amounts of time that seems to lead frequently to the neglect of friends, family, and jobs. Strauss likened the community to a cult on at least one occasion, and, given his description of it, I'd have to agree there are some similarities.

For all you AFCs out there, don't waste your time and money on these false prophets of the pickup community. If you want to know the real secret to getting any girl you want quick and easy, send me an email, along with $2000 (cash or money order only), and I'll get you started on the path to being a hook up master. No refunds, by the way. 

References: Clark, R.D. & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 21, 39-55.

Strauss, N. (2005). The Game: Penetrating the secret society of pickup artists. New York: HarperCollins


  1. All I can say is, don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

    Yes, the pick-up artist community leaves a lot to be desired, and yes, there are no short-term fixes to lack of ability to get women. But I assure you, absolutely, positively assure you, the overall theory is sound.

    If all you've read about pick-up is The Game then you haven't really read anything about it at all. The Game is more a book about what's possible. It's like reading Moneyball to learn how to apply statistics to running a baseball team: you'll end up thinking "that guy sure can run a baseball team, but I wonder how he actually did it?" They're both popularizations of a tremendously complicated subject, and as such they throw out all the detail and replace it with narrative.

    So, what is game, really? In short, it's a discipline that attempts to take complex, unconscious social skills and break them down into simple, logical behavioural patterns that anyone can understand. And remember, these skills are *unconscious* (thanks Rob Kurzban).
    The thing about “game” is that it is literally that: a subset of wider game theory. We have multiple actors, attempting to get a useful outcome, in competition (and sometimes cooperation) with each other, utilizing partial information. Women are attempting to gain an investment of genes and resources from a high value male. Men are attempting to gain an investment of reproductive ability from a high value female, and in some cases an investment of resources as well.

    The hard part for men and especially women, is trying to judge whether the other party is “high value”. For men, a woman’s reproductive value is large dependent on a combination of age and genetic quality, at least when we’re dealing with short-term matings. Yes, when you’re picking a long-term spouse with which to have a cooperative relationship (go teamwork!) it becomes important for her to be socially successful with a compatible personality. Nobody likes a clingy nut-job. But for short-term matings men like’em young and beautiful (more chance of kids, less chance of STDs).

    For women however, things get complicated. I always like to say that “men fuck looks but women fuck attitude”. A fat 40 year old man with tons of confidence will need a bigger stick to beat off all the women who want to sleep with him. A 25 year old male model who cries himself to sleep every night can go for months without sex.

    And this is where game and pick-up artistry come in. The secret to game is two-fold: it’s a behavioural modification program that teaches men to signal success and happiness to prospective mates, and it’s a lifestyle that brings in enough regular sex to shift your subconscious instincts into a state of high-social-status confidence.

    1. Don’t call a woman back for a few days? You’ve signalled that you’re not particularly invested in her. Tease her like she’s your little sister? You’ve signalled that you’re not intimidated by attractive women. Call her back the next day, but project confidence (such a tricky thing to describe, but you know it when you see it) and talk her into coming over for sex? You’ve shown a mastery of social skills that indicates power and wealth and excellent opportunities for any potential offspring.

      I spent this weekend sleeping over with a girl I’ve been fucking. Saturday night I went out with my friends, hooked up with a Chinese girl who’s a successful accountant, went home to the other girl’s house, passed out, slept with her in the morning, kicked her out of bed and told her to make me breakfast (which she did, did I mention I’m staying at her boyfriend’s house while he’s overseas), then went home and fucked another girl I’ve been sleeping with. They all know about each other, and it just makes them want to sleep with me more because hey, if two other girls agree that you’re a desireable person, that’s one helluva crowd-sourced tick of approval.

      And the fact is that my mom is a rabid feminist, I’m all about women’s rights, but I’ve come to learn that if you treat women a certain way they’ll respond to it. Hell, they even agree that I’m a nice guy. I don’t let my ability to manipulate them go to my head, I’m really friendly to all of them, I’m honest, and as Dan Savage would say, I follow the campsite rule (leave them better than you found them). And as for me, casual sex with lots of women does wonders for one’s mental health.

      I’d really like to go into more detail about this, but I’m already blowing out the reasonable-person comment size. The fact is that social skills and the dance of game theory that is human social dynamics is far, far more complicated than the evo psych establishment gives credit. You guys are writing out the rules of chess – there are men out there, men who sleep with literally hundreds of women, that are playing that game at a higher strategic level than you can imagine. Really, I’m just a dabbler.

      Read Chateau Heartiste ( and realise that although those guys are rightwing nutjobs with a serious hatred of women, their ability to manipulate women is not imaginary. It’s real. This shit works. The sooner evolutionary psychologists get over their hang-ups and write some papers the sooner you can get rid of whatever mental blindspots are stopping them from accurately describing human nature.

  2. Oh and I was trawling through your archives since writing this. Honestly, while I don't agree with the details of what you're writing, I'll say two things: you write well, given that I read it all, and the video you posted about game and being nice to girls was hilarious.

    Now, for a video on what game really looks like, to guys who are willing to truly sacrifice being a woman-positive feminist for getting laid all the time. And the nationality of said band? French. Who'da thunk it.

    Seriously, this guy's whole persona, facial expressions, all of it just exudes alpha male. Girls would throw themselves at this guy, at least, ones who don't expect or want a relationship.

    1. Actually, that's a great example of the difference between playing a role and being it. In real life he's way too attention-seeking and unconfident to really pull off "womanizing alpha-male". Compare the lead singer in the video to the way he performs the same song on stage:

      He gets lots of hot girls on the stage with him but he doesn't have the confidence to pull it off, and they all kind of ignore him. Poor guy, shit gets awkward.

  3. I still can't tell whether Ian's posts are parody.