Review: The Game

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By Martin Porritt on 17.2.2024

Review: The Game


The Game, by Neil Strauss, is initially a journalistic account of the author’s investigation into the underground world of pick-up artists. Strauss discovers that he himself is a competent pick-up artist and becomes infatuated with a brave new world of chick-cracks, cock-blocks and shit tests. (We are introduced to an entirely new discourse: the ‘peacock,’ for example, is the excessively flamboyant adornment you must wear in order to command the attention of your ‘target’.) The narrative, rather cinematic in style, describes Strauss’s own induction into the secret circle, which is headed by the codenamed Mystery. We see, from Strauss’s talented-outsider perspective, the rise and fall of Mystery, who along with Strauss becomes disillusioned with their endeavours to sleep with hundreds and hundreds of women (‘I feel shit empty’).

Strauss swiftly reassures us in an opening chapter that he is, in fact, a ‘deep man’: ‘I reread James Joyce’s Ulysses every three years for fun.’ Feeling much safer (although perhaps wondering what else he does during the three year interval), we are led not only into the narrative, but also a kind of how-to manual for the uninitiated reader. The book contains glossaries, blog reports, diagrams and prop-lists. Do not forget your set of wooden runes in cloth bag.

One particular diagram, a stick drawing of a girl called ‘The Mystery Method course handout,’ is labelled with one-liners appropriate to each body part, which the pick-up artist may wish to recite in conversation with the desired girl. These one-liners are no ordinary, old-fashioned compliments, however. They are Sniper Negs, thwarted compliments that at once flatter and embarrass, boost her self-esteem and damage it at the same time. Some are intended humorously: ‘You have beautiful eyes, can I touch them?’ Others are supposedly examples that pick-up artists have actually used: ‘Those shoes look really comfortable.’ It is at this point that an English reader may realise that this was written for an American audience. The how-to book is, after all, more naturally an American product.

In one sense it is a compliment to women that they appear so intimidating, so perplexing and mysterious, as to inspire these men in their pseudo-scientific pursuit of understanding them. But it is also a creepy form of manipulation. It is unfair to the opposite sex; feels as if the natural order of things is being tampered with. Neil Strauss’s book is well written and often hilarious – though not always on purpose. Still, most of us (men and women) are aware, however vaguely, of the pick-up techniques displayed in the book. This comes from natural experience – trying and failing, and trying again. There is something pathetic about writing it all up into a system. The next author who takes on this subject should urge readers not to be afraid of going alone.


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