The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists

The GameI bought a book a few years back based purely on the fact that lots of boys were furtively buying it. A lot of boys who weren’t what you’d call avid readers, that is. The phenomenon piqued my interest. What was it about this book that made word spread of it among secret boy channels? Could it deliver what they hoped? More importantly, would its anticipated benefits be enough to get them to read it, a reasonably hefty book, from start to finish?

Given that I was buying it for product knowledge reasons and that it wasn’t the most relevant or appealing book for me, I subsequently shelved it with a plan to get around to reading it just as soon as I’d tackled my Pisa-like tower of to-be-read tomes.

I finally read the book over Christmas not because I’d make it through the other books, but because yet another guy did a you have this?/you know about this?/what the?! double take when he saw it on my bookshelf. Huh, I thought, there’s clearly something in this book they don’t want me to know.

The book is Neil Strauss’ bestselling The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists. It seems to be a finely scoured bible for guys on cracking the code to meeting girls*. I can see why the guys were a little nervous I had the book, but I was more than a little dubious this book would contain the bulletproof answers they were looking for.

The Game is surprisingly good, but not at all what I’d expected. It’s more memoir than instruction manual. It’s more cautionary tale than do this and you will win (although some of the guys I’ve put this to have been genuinely mystified—they didn’t see that side to it at all). With a graphic novel feel, it’s also incredibly cleverly designed and clearly catering to boys’ tastes. Images of dice denote the chapter numbers. Crosshair-like targets and strong, solid black lines frame the page and page numbers. Quotes writ large in white text on full pages of black ink break up the chapters (and yes, I’m wondering about the printing costs). These quotes are weighty too, including some profundity from such greats as Fyodor Dostoevsky.

How To Make Love Like A PornstarThe tale unfolds this way: Strauss becomes a pupil of pick-up artists (PUA). There’s a bunch of different methods or schools of thought and he samples lots before finding and honing the ones that work for him, at which point he becomes a master pick-up artist (MPUA). He charts his progress as well as of those he meets, and at one stage lives in a house full of pick-up artists in LA.

There’s an entire PUA language (in case you hadn’t already noticed). The Game helpfully provides a glossary (and it’s likely you’ll need to refer to it, with all the acronyms and initialisms the book contains making it hard to keep up).

An ‘AFC’ stands for an ‘average frustrated chump’, i.e. a stereotypical nice guy who struggles for pick-up skills. An ‘AMOG’ is the ‘alpha male of the group’. To ‘sarge’ is to pick up women (or to try to). To ‘FMAC’ is to ‘find, meet, attract, close’. To ‘peacock’ is to dress outrageously to draw attention from women, e.g. wearing a cowboy hat or a loud shirt. To ‘neg’ a woman, is to deliver an ambiguous statement or seemingly accidental insult to a beautiful woman to demonstrate a lack of interest in her and to, arguably, bring her down a peg or two. ‘Chick crack’ is that which appeals to most women but few men, e.g. tarot cards.

Contrary to perhaps most girls, I was down with most of The Game. My one sticking point was the negging, which is not cool. Girls’ confidence is in the red at the best of times without guys further undercutting it with such statements as ‘Is she always like that? How do you live with her?’ I put this to a friend of mine who said I was misunderstanding it, then conceded he mightn’t think negging was so great if girls negged him. Done well, he said, negging should never wound.

Everyone Loves You When You're DeadThe Game was plenty amusing, though. When Mystery, one of the main guys, decides to move out of the house he also decides to sell his bed. His selling point, which includes listing the girls in chronological order: ‘I’ve only slept with ten girls on it so it’s very clean.’

One ‘opener’ made me laugh, mostly because I have an ongoing My Little Pony joke with some friends. Do you remember the show? the guy asks. I was trying to remember if they had special powers. Cue girls chatting to him about the much-loved cartoon. Another opener I like involves a guy saying that their friend just bought new puppies and wants to name them after an ‘80s pop duo. Do they [the girl they’re targeting] have any suggestions?

There were also a few moments that appeal to me as a writer. One of the other PUAs, who’s a little strange and is a lot like a rival, pretends to be Strauss as an in. It doesn’t always work. ‘Let me tell you something,’ Strauss tells him. ‘I’ve been writing for over a decade, and it hasn’t gotten me laid once. Writers aren’t cool or sexy. There’s no real social proof to be gained by hanging out with a writer.’ Amen to that.

I have to say, though, that as writers go, Strauss is very cool. He has a talent for finding and writing about the fascinating quirks of life and in publishing subsequently bestselling books (not to mention writing for the New York Times and Rolling Stone. I mean, kudos). He’s most famous for The Game, but I’m currently ordering up his other titles here on Boomerang Books; in addition to his story-sniffing skills, I enjoy his style of writing. These books include Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Motley Crue’s The Dirt, and Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, Dave Navarro’s Don’t Try This at Home, as well as Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys Into Fame and Madness and Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life.

DirtThere also seems to be a second book (or a book that comes in a boxset with The Game) called Rules of the Game. I’m not sure I’m that enamoured with the PUA lifestyle to want to read it, but when it comes to book reading, I never say never. I think I’d be more interested in the boardgames, though, apparently called Who’s Got Game? The Game with Benefits.

One guy friend told me I should now watch pick-up videos on YouTube. I tried, but only watched moments because I found them cringeworthy, not to mention a little creepy that the guys were filming themselves picking up girls. It’s this need to catalogue, to prove, to share these pick-up successes that people smarter than me have already noted. In the New York Times (AKA the publication Strauss himself writes for), Alexandra Jacobs, for example, wrote that The Game is the mens’ version or antithesis of The Rules and that Strauss ‘does come to perceive one curious thing about the PUAs: They seem far more interested in spending time with fellow PUAs, amassing, refining and discussing the game, than actually getting to know women. Call them SLBs (scared little boys)’.

I find it interesting that many (if not all) of the PUAs self-destruct in some way in Strauss’ book and that, despite one PUA arrogantly saying that he’s ‘starting to feel like I’m hunting rabbits with a howitzer’, the PUAs seem to struggle to find and maintain a real connection with a girl.

‘The problem with being a pick-up artist is,’ Strauss writes in the book, ‘that there are concepts like sincerity, genuineness, trust, and connection that are important to women. And all the techniques that are so effective in beginning a relationship violate every principle necessary to maintaining one.’

EmergencyTellingly, none of Strauss’ PUA techniques are what help him attract the girl of his dreams and he writes that while those techniques helped him meet plenty of girls, they never prepared him for how to keep one.

But that point didn’t wash with some of the guy friends I put it to. Cautionary tale? they puzzled. No. Pick-up manual. Maybe that’s my girl perspective at work. And my hope that no guy has ever or will ever run the game on me as Strauss’ book dedication hints:

[This book is] dedicated to the thousands of people I talked to in bars, clubs, malls, airports, grocery stores, subways, and elevators over the last two years. If you are reading this, I want you to know that I wasn’t running game on you. I was being sincere. Really. You were different.

*It should be noted that this book that assumes heterosexuality and involves guys chasing girls. I’m hazarding a guess that the techniques may work under other circumstances.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.