My brother, my friend Nessa, and I explained Neil Strauss’ The Game to my kinesiologist father this Thanksgiving. T-day with my parentals tends to go something like this: enjoy champagne, a lengthy meal and dessert at a well-set table (use your silverware from the outside in and make sure your napkin rests in your lap), then home-again, home-again, jiggidy-jog. This year though, we added sprawling around the living room post meal. What started with the viewing of my brother’s hip-hop dance video, turned into the visceral feeling of being competitive, and then somehow turned into a conversation of the pick-up artist community.
My father, who hasn’t dated in at least 44 years, was curious about the idea of a PUA (that’s pick up artist for the uninitiated). I couldn’t tell if people who study methods for meeting chicks intrigued him because it felt like a science of sorts that one could run experiments on, or if there was some inner part of him that thought he could have used the techniques as a younger rascal (I doubt the latter to be true). Regardless, we gave him the run down of The Game, skimming over peacocking and moving straight into the concept of negging, until eventually my brother started delivering negs to make the point.
“This works?” my dad asked. “Really?”
We went on to explain the idea of leading with a time constraint and asking a girl’s opinion so that they feel safe and not as though they’re being hit on, and my dad still seemed puzzled that these techniques could be taught and executed when Nessa piped up.
“Back in LA, this happened to me,” she told us. Nessa is a smart girl. A hot, fit, sassy, ridiculously witty, girl. “A guy came up to me in bar and was very charming, only asking for my number at the end of the night. I agreed to go out with him, and we got lunch. And he was ridiculously boring. Couldn’t put together more than one sentence at a time when he bothered to talk at all. Ugh, it was such a sham. And it was years later that I read The Game and figured out that I indeed, had been gamed.”
An enthusiastic discussion continued for half an hour as we debated whether it was morally okay for men to game women, and what it means that the PUA community seems to help men get the girl for a kiss or a date (or, earmuffs mom, a lay) but not keep a woman as a girlfriend. “What the PUA’s don’t teach you is how to actually be an interesting person,” Nessa put it.
My dad called me a week later* with a very kinesiology-inspired spin on the PUA conversation: “How is using techniques in The Game really any different than learning plays in basketball?” he asked me. “I mean, saying that someone who knows how to screen has an unfair advantage is ridiculous because it’s a learned skill, so how is someone who has learned superior human interaction skills all that dissimilar?”
The quick answer is that basketball is not real life. It’s a game. Of course there’s a difference between “a game” and “the game.” But I feel like there’s an argument to be made here, which I’m going to do (albeit clumsily):
Art imitates life. And games imitate life. And in turn, life imitates both art, and games. In other words, the lines between art/life and game/life blur quickly. So much dating rhetoric out there (not just for men – pick up a copy of Cosmo or Google most any dating website) is indeed game-related. “How to win a guy back,” is a big one, and so is “Did you score?” Before The Game was a thing, men and women have been treating dating like a jolly-holly funfest.
It stands to reason that if society already conceptualized dating as a folly, people would eventually start passing out “playbooks” to help with an idealized version of what it means to win** (which we see in magazines, books, and media – plus we see demonstrations of all this in art, namely TV and movies). So someone like Strauss breaking down the what-works and what-doesn’t, and mapping out literal “plays” you can make on a woman, isn’t all that dissimilar from basketball after all.
Yes, when you engage in The Game or any tips you read in Glamour, you’re manipulating a person, and no, I do not necessarily condone that. But isn’t all dating a form of manipulation, whether conscious or not? Assuming you care about being liked, you will attempt to present your ideal/best self – which is certainly strategic and manipulative. And a game like basketball is indeed, at its core, manipulating and tricking your opponents using superior skills, talent-based or learned.
At our core, we may have accidentally built dating to be a game – and it’s a huge knot society will have to work out if a) that is true and b) you don’t like it.
*I uber love that my dad called me, still thinking about this topic.
** This ties directly in with my idea that people think there is some tangible measure of “a successful first date” when really, that’s sort of silly. Can’t success be something intangible?