Steam and PlayStation are set to launch a game that encourages preying on women as, well, a game.
In Super Seducer, you play as Richard La Ruina, "renowned seduction guru" and influential figure in the “pick-up artist” community. Pick-up artist, or PUA, culture promises men luck in love—or at least in getting laid—if they only prescribe to a set of behaviors and scripted moves that treat women (yes, it’s incredibly heteronormative) as predictable, manipulatable objects for men to acquire.
The purpose of the game, the Steam description states, is to test out pick-up tactics on virtual women: “Here’s the bottom line: if you make the right choices in the game, you’ll make the right choices in your life.” It directly intends to train men to behave in the ways this game rewards: Objectifying, harassing, coercing, and ignoring nonverbal cues from women.
This game is set to release on Steam on March 6, with a PlayStation release on the same day, according to La Ruina. PlayStation did not respond to a request for comment.
“When we give mainstream access to sexism, we allow it to proliferate and grow,” Emily May, co-founder and executive director of an anti-harassment nonprofit, Hollaback!, told me in an email. “We need to hide this game under a rock and starve it—and the whole PUA culture—of light and oxygen until it dies. PUA culture is what society tells men to be, and it starves men of options and different ways of being in the world.”
To find out what, exactly, is being launched into the world here, I played this game. And as much as it pained me, I played it as if I wanted to “win.” I tried to choose answers that would achieve whatever goal that level set for me, such as “instant date” or “take her home.”
I spent 81 minutes of my life playing the first three levels. This is time I will never get back. Here are a few highlights.
The first level, “Girl on the street,” sets up a scenario where I (Richard) am walking in a residential area and spot a woman. Oh yeah, we get a closeup of her legs before we see the rest of her, and I’m already deeply uncomfortable. Two minutes in, and game is already Street Harassment Simulator.
I’m quickly taught that the “best” way to approach her is directly from the front so she can’t escape easily. From there, I ask her a barrage of very personal and vulnerable questions about her day, her job, where she’s going (she is, inexplicably, going to “feed the squirrels”), who she’s meeting, and whether she lives nearby. To escalate this into an “instant date,” I’m given a few options, including touching her without permission, and touching myself in a weirdly sexual way.
I opt to touch her earring abruptly. She reacts in a way I'm very familiar with: Pure disgust, but with an attempt to hide it so as to not piss this man off. At this point, as a woman who’s been in this situation, I am thinking, This man might murder me in this secluded area if I reject him.
“As women, we're taught not to honor our own boundaries,” May told me. “We're taught that everyone's needs take priority over our own. We're taught to second guess ourselves. Persistent coercion preys on all the ways women are socialized to not trust themselves—which can have emotionally and physically violent consequences for women.”
In response to this action, my guru—who is also Richard, but with a beard and surrounded by half-naked women—says this is a “little bit strange” but not a total fail. So we press on.
The second level, “2 Girls in a Bar,” is exactly that: Two women, enjoying a booth and a couple glasses of wine, when my sweaty Richard avatar comes over to say hi.
This one offers a lot of insight into the rigidity of PUA tactics. It’s all flimsy routines. Richard tries to guess what they studied in college—he guesses drama and fashion—and they laugh. Try business and economics. Here we see an example of “negging,” one of the tenets of PUA life: Backhanded compliments meant to make women feel worse about themselves and in theory, better about whatever headass is vying for their attention.
He also does something called the “best friends test,” where he calls them out for glancing at each other before answering his dumbass questions. When women do this, actually, they’re usually trying to combine mental forces necessary to psychically manifest a portal dimension for escape. Few know this.
The women in this scenario very clearly want him gone from the start. He’s tolerated at best. The goal is to push beyond that hard no—and they tell him they want him gone, several times, verbally and non-verbally. But he stays, cornering them into the booth.
Even when one of the women tells him she has a boyfriend, he stays and tries to negotiate a time to meet up again. Eventually, I get a phone number and a weak promise to hang out again in the future.
In this scenario, I’m at a club, and spot a woman dancing alone. The goal is to take her home with me.
This one is the hardest for me to achieve a perfect run in so far, because the path to the goal is so fraught with wrong answers. I begin by dancing close to her, but not too close, and then abruptly telling her “I’m thirsty, let’s go get a drink.”
Once I’ve gotten her secluded from the crowd, I’m questioning the girl about why she’s not drunk yet (while buying her a drink), then I’m grilling her about her bad habits and telling her I hate smokers. There’s a homophobic argument about whether I’m gay, where the wrong choice ends with me screaming at her as she walks off.
After this level, seven more follow, including one called “Office” which definitely isn’t a sexual harassment lawsuit in the making, and “Girl sitting in coffee shop,” continuing the theme of calling grown women “girls” and encroaching on their alone time in public.
The most concerning aspect of any of these scenarios—and what makes this game’s availability on mainstream gaming marketplaces like Steam and PlayStation—is that they’re not that outlandish for women who are the targets of this behavior. Many, many women experience any or all of these situations on a daily basis, where a man approaches them and there’s no way out but to placate him or continue an unwanted interaction.
PUA culture thrives on platforms like Reddit and 4chan, where they’re able to trade strategies for stalking and harrassing women under the guise of being good guys. But making a game based on these behaviors available to the mainstream is another level of normalizing rape culture.
“Gender-based violence is on a spectrum—and it starts with games like this,” May said. “These games create a culture where violence against women is OK, and in turn, it becomes more OK, and the world becomes less safe for everyone.”
Valve and Sony did not respond to a request for comment.