Almost ten years since the release of Neil Strauss’ The Game, new media artist Angela Washko revisits the subject of male pickup artists in her new solo exhibition at Brooklyn’s Transfer Gallery. Cheekily titled The Game: The Game, Washko’s exhibition is set up as an alternative video game in which players interact with a variety of prominent pickup artists (PUA) with different styles. In a fashion typical of these pickup artists, the game’s interactions take place in a setting often discussed in their signature seduction guides—the bar.
Players meet PUAs while waiting for friends at a bar. When this private moment is interrupted by the stranger, it is non-judgmental. After this initial introduction to the PUA, the player can decide to actively get to know them or, as Washko tells The Creators Project, “politely and tentatively engage the person or try to ignore them or ask them to leave them alone.”
Each PUA has their own way of navigating each type of response, and there are over 3,000 unique dialogue options in Chapter 1 alone. Players, meanwhile, end up experiencing what it is like to attempt to opt out of a conversation with each PUA, or go as far as they describe in their teachings, which includes having sex with them and becoming one of the “epic stories” described in their instructional videos and books.
“The persistence varies from pick-up guru to pick-up guru,” Washko says. “Most of the femme-presenting individuals who played the game and gave me feedback (during play-testing or at the exhibition) recognized this as a familiar experience.”
The Game: The Game has its origins in Washko’s project, Banged, in which she was trying to seek out women who had been on the receiving end of Roosh V’s game. A notorious leader in the “manosphere,” Roosh V is the author of a number of books on how to have sex with women across geographic and language barriers, like Bang Iceland and Bang Ukraine. But once Washko had an opportunity to interview Roosh himself via Skype, she realized how extreme he was in his misogyny and traditionalism. She decided to undertake a much more in-depth study of some of the most prominent figures in the history of pick-up.
“The pickup artist/seduction community has its own language for describing their behaviors,” she adds. “From how they escalate familiarity and gauge interest by touching their conquest target (kino) to the moment when a conquest target expresses that they are not going to have sex with the pick-up artist even though all signs pointed otherwise (last minute resistance or LMR).”
Washko says that each PUA’s dialogue is taken directly from hidden camera footage shared with their students, as well as from advice shared in books, online content and in video game instructional series. Made in collaboration with the musical group Xiu Xiu, Washko says that by alternative video game she means an experience well outside the mainstream, and pretty hard to stomach in places. “It can be quite unpleasant and downright disturbing at times to play, really,” she says. “It’s a very research-driven and sexually explicit game.”
Washko disguises the most notorious PUAs alongside “game-less” individuals and PUAs-in-training. To do this, she created hundreds of cyanotypes from images of PUAs and then digitally manipulated them. The only chapter released so far features two different “famous/infamous” pickup artists, and many others that players might end up interacting with. By placing the player into the woman’s perspective, they are forced to distinguish between them all. She hopes this will add complexity to public conversations around both pick-up and feminism.
“The complexity I tried to build into the game and the question I still have after studying so many practitioners of game and pick-up art coaches is: Is 'game' inherently bad?” Washko ponders. “Don’t we all have to learn how to interact with strangers in order to meet new people and establish relationships? Does having a strategy guide mean that someone is inherently a worse person than someone who has “natural game” and may actually be incidentally practicing these behaviors?”
“I think that most people have both a really over simplified idea of what a pick-up artist is (either it’s always a totally evil, amoral person looking to manipulate women by insulting them, or a socially disadvantaged person who is just leveling the dating playing field by learning game),” Washko explains. “And hopefully my independent arty game will introduce more nuance with regards to the differences in intention and levels of aggression within each of these pick-up artists’ unique practices.”
Washko also hopes that it will spur interest among researchers into why so many men seek out the help of pickup “gurus.” It is, as Washko says, an incredibly lucrative field, and one often underestimated by mainstream media. And she also hopes that it will offer those who have never had their personal space invaded, or bodies touched without permission, a thoroughly researched representation of what it might feel like.
The Game: The Game runs until October 28th at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn.
Click here to see more work by Angela Washko.