On March 6, the giant digital storefront Steam will start selling Super Seducer, "the world's most realistic seduction simulator."
The game consists of a series of video clips where a man attempts to hit on women. At key points, the player can choose what the man in the video says to see different results, kind of like a choose your own adventure book. The goal of the game, which claims it delves into "hundreds of hidden secrets that separate seduction masters from everybody else," is to teach guys how to get a woman's phone number or otherwise "seduce" her.
These secrets supposedly come from "renowned seduction guru" Richard La Ruina, author of The Natural: How to Effortlessly Attract the Women You Want. La Ruina is the main character in all of the game's videos, where you can see him say things like, "If you're not good at cooking, you better be real good at sucking dick" (La Ruina makes it clear that this is not something you should say to women.)
Super Seducer emerges from the bog of 'pick-up artist' (PUA for short) philosophy. According to this type of thinking, there are certain things men can do and say to improve their chances of women being receptive to their advances. This includes everything from "negging," meaning dishing out backhanded compliments to demean women and putting them in a position where they would theoretically want positive attention from the pick-up artist, and "going caveman," meaning consciously increasing physical contact.
Aside from fundamentally misunderstanding social human behavior, the PUA philosophy has been widely criticized for being toxic and objectifying women. On its face, it divides the world into men, who prowl bars with pickup techniques honed in workshops and self-help books, and women, who are reduced to prey with predictable behavior that can be exploited.
Criticism of PUA philosophy became a subject of national discussion in 2014, when a 22-year-old man named Elliot Rodger shot six people to death near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rodger was a frequent poster to PUAHate, a site for men who bought into the PUA worldview, realized it was a scam, but still viewed women as objects that they were owed.
"He was speaking the lingo of the 'pick-up artist' (PUA) community that feminists have been raising alarms about for many years now, arguing that it’s a breeding ground for misogynist resentment and may even be encouraging violence against women," Amanda Marcotte wrote for The American Prospect at the time.
"When desperate men who shell out cash thinking it will buy them Game fail, they lash out online," Petula Dvorak wrote for The Washington Post at the time. "Not at the men who try to sell them Game, but at the women who didn’t buy the act."
Super Seducer's Steam page lists two publishers, RLR Training Inc and Red Dahlia Interactive, but clicking through to the game's official site leads to PUATraining.com, which hawks La Ruina's products. Headlines under the "popular posts" section of the site include "How To Get Your Ex Girlfriend Back (Even If She Hates You)" and "How To Make Women Squirt On Demand." La Ruina's byline graces a July 25 story with the headline "WHY WESTERN WOMEN SUCK AND HOW TO PICK UP A LOVELY EASTERN EUROPEAN LADY."
According to a September 2017 press release from Super Seducer, the game was banned from Kickstarter for "…one or more violations of Kickstarter's rules, which may include:
Inappropriate content, including but not limited to offensive or pornographic material
Spamming or abusive behavior, Offering rewards in violation of Kickstarter's rules.”
This isn't the first time Kickstarter banned a PUA-themed project from its platform. In 2013, it banned and then apologized for briefly allowing a "seduction guide" to raise money on Kickstarter. Kickstarter determined that it "encourages misogynistic behavior," and prohibited "seduction guides, or anything similar" on its platform thereafter.
I've reached out to Steam and Sony and will update this post if I hear back. La Ruina told me in an email that Super Seducer will release on the PlayStation 4 on March 6 as well, but I couldn't find an active page for it on the PlayStation store.
In the press release, La Ruina explains that he and his game are victims of political correctness.
“We have been discriminated against many times as a company that teaches men seduction skills," La Ruina said. "It’s very hard for us to buy advertising on Google or Facebook, to receive positive press, or to get publishing or content deals. In the current politically correct climate, the idea of men learning to be better with women is abhorrent. On the other hand, there are many violent games that are played by children which feature images as graphic as any R-rated film. It’s a surreal double standard.”
I asked La Ruina over email if he worries about getting booted from Steam and PlayStation.
"No, Sony and Steam are serious businesses not like Kickstarter," he wrote back. "I don't think Steam has ever banned a game and Sony haven't in recent history," he wrote back, though this is not entirely true. In 2014 Steam banned a game called Hatred, for example. "They are more likely to say 'if you don't like it, don't buy it' than pander to people who attack Super Seducer based on a few sentences they read online. We have already been rated by rating agencies with an M - Mature in the US and PEGI-16 in Europe so we are all good."
I also asked La Ruina what he thinks about the criticism that is leveled at PUA these days. He told me that Super Seducer embodies an approach that is much more "wholesome," and that the women featured in the game and others who have played it are "cool with it."
"PUAs fall into a spectrum from those that legitimately want to 'get back' at women who rejected them their whole life to nice guys who are more like Will Smith in Hitch," he said. "PUA used to be cool in 2006-9, and obviously it's not well-placed right now with #metoo. Although I named my business 'PUA Training' back in 2006, I'm now married and have always taught 'natural game' with an honest approach…so don't really like that I still have that label stuck to me."
Again, La Ruina is listed as the author of a July 25 post with the headline "WHY WESTERN WOMEN SUCK AND HOW TO PICK UP A LOVELY EASTERN EUROPEAN LADY." The first paragraph of that story reads:
"Thanks to feminism, women in the West are getting pregnant from one night stands, sleeping with multiple men without using protection, using drugs/alcohol regularly and ripping apart traditional family values by refusing to stay at home and be good mothers."
After this article was first published, La Ruina wrote to me to explain that he didn't author this post himself.
"The website and business is mine, but it'd be like judging the owner of Vice by whatever appears on any of your sites," he said.
"I haven't written a blog post in years and we just didn't create another personality for the blog. Blog writer writes articles, our marketing materials were produced by our marketing guy, our emails by someone else..it's a real business with turnover in the millions so I am not producing everything you see coming from it."
On the subject about why "Western women suck," La Ruina directed me to his appearance on Good Morning Britain, in which he argues British women have become overweight and entitled compared to Russian women.
It's important to note that "dating simulators" are an established video game genre, one that has been getting more popular on Steam in recent years. There's nothing inherently wrong with them. As Kate Gray wrote for Waypoint last year, Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, a video game about dads dating other dads, works because it's genuinely wholesome.
The problem with Super Seducer is that it actually aims to teach men how to behave in a way that has been widely seen as harmful.
In a way, it makes perfect sense for the PUA philosophy to express itself in the logic of a video game. Pick-up artists think of their methods as "game," and treat people as if they were characters in a role-playing video game. In video game jargon, a non-player character (NPC) is defined by only having a limited number of responses. All a player has to do is pick the right option to get the right response. This is exactly what Super Seducer plays like and a video game is the only reality where this approach makes sense.
A platform like Kickstarter found that this philosophy is so toxic, it outright banned it. On Steam, a platform dedicated for video games that is also full of hate groups, the PUA philosophy fits right in.
Update: This post has been update with additional comment from Richard La Ruina.