The Game is a book that had floated around my social conscience for years before I buckled down to read it. I was vaguely familiar with the premise and the advice it espoused; a Rosetta stone for young schlepy males looking to pick up women who far outreach them on the attractiveness scale. I was also aware of the books heavy circulation among the bookshelves of the fraternities at my university, and many of my male friends.
As a woman I was curious, yet fearful. While the book is in many ways geared toward young, single men, it’s claim to ‘unlock the secret society of pick-up artists’ appealing to those deficient it the dating department, I suspected that the book would tell me more about men than it would about women. But I also feared unlocking the worst parts of male society – a kind of Tucker Max how-to guide for young guys looking to live fast. I was concerned the book was going to be riddled with a misogynistic and superficial attitude toward women, leaving little space or agency for female decisions in the ‘game’ of love.
While the book does touch on the more unsavory aspects of single male culture, it is much more than a simple ‘how-to’ guide for 20 something’s looking to get an easy lay. Firstly, the book stands as a highly subjective piece of investigative journalism into a particular community of people. A rock-and-roll journalist who wrote for Spin and Rolling Stone, Strauss is first introduced to the ‘pick-up’ community through a $500 workshop with Mystery. A magician-cum-pickup artist from Toronto, Mystery takes Strauss under his wing and imparts his, largely manipulative tactics, for picking up the most desirable woman in a group of friends. Strauss is transformed from Neil into ‘Style’, and is quickly absorbed into a broader community of pick-up artists – know as the ‘Seduction Community’. Neil discovers competing schools of pick-up artistry, and takes lessons on neuro-linguistic programming from Ross Jefferies and the “cocky-funny” technique from David DeAngelo. Strauss details the various – occasionally alarming, often silly- tactics men use with the express goal of bedding a woman – including ‘negging’ or giving her a joking insult to reduce her self-esteem, hypnosis and positive association and magic tricks. As Style, Strauss eventually becomes one of the most revered pick-up artists in the community, getting a huge sexual payoff from his involvement.
And while The Game’s accounts of outrageous sexual escapades may seem like an endorsement of pick-up tactics, Strauss provides balance by showing the darker aspects of many of the community’s characters. Mystery is introduced to us on the verge of an emotional breakdown, just one of the many depressive episodes the book recounts. His cassanova- like ability to pick-up women proves to be a mere band-aid for his deep psychological pain and insecurity. At the apex of the community’s popularity, ‘Project Hollywood’ is established – a kind of base camp that Style, Mystery and two up-and-coming pick-up artists Papa and Tyler Durden. A mansion just above the Sunset Strip initially designed as an epicenter for the pick-up artist ‘lifestyle’, it quickly devolves into a space of tension, conflict and battling factions. It is the ultimate irony- the pick-up tactics designed to pick-up women end up being used as agents of betrayal against other men.
The book also operates as an autobiographical account of Strauss’ own journey to self-actualization. Self-described as ‘unattractive’, the tactics he learns allow him to outreach his physical appearance in romantic relationships. Initially the community allows him the kind of access to the opposite sex he had previously only dreamed of. The tactics enable him to bed many women – at one point he keeps a wheelhouse of ten regular partners. But he soon learns the difference between sex and love and grows tired of the empty one-night stands that have characterized his romantic life. The woman he ends up falling for is one who is most resistant to his supposedly fool-proof tactics. Lisa, a bassist for Courtney Love’s band, is the confident, self-assured woman who takes Struass’ heart.
At its best, The Game can be read as a cautionary tale about the promise of a quick fix. The lesson is that what he, and many of his peers in the community, think they want is nowhere close to the reality of what they are getting. His dozen of conquests were mere surface level sexual encounters that left little more than notches in his belt. It renders pick up artist community nothing but a means to a very empty end. This extends to his relationships with the other men in the book. Other than Lisa, the most fulfilling relationship is with Mystery. In the end, Strauss’ life as a pick up artist taught him much more about bromance than it did about romance. As Strauss says, reflecting on his journey: “Without commitment, you cannot have depth in anything, whether it’s a relationship, a business or a hobby.”
The Game can also be recommended purely as a really fun read. Strauss writing imparts the kind of intimacy of the best autobiographical accounts. He has a knack for descriptive prose that brings an immersive quality to the book. It is also riddled with juicy celebrity encounters with Scott Baio and Courtney Love.
For me, The Game was a good lesson on not making assumption about a book before reading it. I would recommend it for anyone looking for insight, not just into dating culture, but into human relationships.