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Super Seducer is the last game we need in the #MeToo era

Super Seducer is the last game we need in the #MeToo era

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In a typical scene from the game Super Seducer, the player — presumably a straight man cruising for sex — encounters two women sitting on a blue velvet couch, catching up over a glass of wine. Your goal is to find the best way to infiltrate their conversation. If you try to leave them alone to enjoy their evening, the game chastises you until you successfully breach their bubble. When one of the women, a blonde with perfectly curled hair and a sapphire dress, informs you that she has a boyfriend, you aren’t deterred. You can’t be, since the entire point of the game is to seduce every woman you meet, regardless of her comfort level. You press forward.

You’re given several different options for how to proceed, but the “correct” one, according to Super Seducer, is to ask the woman if she’s going to marry her boyfriend, and later if he would mind if he found out she’d talked to you. Once you select this option, the game cuts to a video of a bearded man sitting on a bed with two scantily clad women lounging wordlessly beside him. This is Super Seducer’s creator, Richard La Ruina, and he tells you you’ve chosen wisely.

“This works psychologically because you’re taking away her independence,” he says, smirking. “You’re saying, ‘Well, would he allow you to talk to me? Are you allowed to do that?’” Naturally, he continues, she’ll want to push back on this and assert that she’s allowed to do as she pleases. In essence, he’s advising you to make a woman feel like she’s in control, while manipulating her into giving you exactly what you want.

Since Super Seducer was announced for Steam and PlayStation 4 last September, it has been described as “the world’s sleaziest game,” with critics suggesting that it normalizes stalker behavior and “teaches men to be creeps.” (It has also been under fire after its legal team issued a DMCA takedown request to a YouTuber who made negative comments about the game.) In an interview with The Verge, however, La Ruina makes a claim that is as opportunistic and manipulative as Super Seducer itself: that his game can offer men valuable insights into how to approach women “more respectfully and playfully,” particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement.  

“I made it with the intention of helping men who are generally shy, introverted, and scared to approach women,” says La Ruina. But he also takes a defensive tack when talking about the movement, worrying that men “will be even more scared in the current climate because they just don’t know what they should do, because everything seems wrong.” With this, La Ruina is tapping into a sympathetic contingent that’s grown more vocal over the last few months — the one that wrings its hands over “witch hunts” and fears what they see as the new rules of sex and dating. Unfortunately, Super Seducer is not a useful tool for teaching men how to treat women. It’s just another blunt promoter of the pickup-artist stereotypes that say women are predictable objects that can be mechanically manipulated, and the only point of interacting with them is for immediate sexual gratification.

La Ruina is tapping into a sympathetic contingent that’s grown more vocal

La Ruina, who founded a company called PUA Training that promises to help men “become a pickup artist and pick up girls,” adamantly insists he is not a pickup artist, but rather a dating coach. “In 2018, it’s not cool to be a pickup artist,” he says. “I thankfully am not one. I’m 37 and married.” He acts not only as Super Seducer’s advice guru, but the star of its “instructional” live-action scenarios — he’s the player’s avatar, the everyman just out to meet a nice lady.

The game offers a variety of scenarios for players to explore, from picking up a woman at a club (and more inappropriately, the office) to interrupting — always interrupting — an unfamiliar woman at a coffee shop who’s trying to read a book. When I ask La Ruina whether he believes Super Seducer gamifies women, he replies that it’s not “dirty” for a man to learn to be more adept at seducing women — a definition that conflates seduction with psychological coercion, rather than explicit consent. Anyone who disagrees, he adds, probably won’t like the game. This much is true.

”I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a guy learning how to seduce a woman from the point of her being a stranger to getting into a relationship,” La Ruina says. He notes that “the friend-to-girlfriend [scenario] is called friend-to-girlfriend, not friend-to-sex” — despite the fact that the objective for the scenario is literally listed as “sex.”

Unsurprisingly, the way the chapter plays out feels far more insidious than how La Ruina describes it. It’s heavily focused on the tiresome myth of the “friend zone,” as the player tries to push a longtime pal who’s already in a relationship into a sexual encounter. One of the ways to accomplish that, according to Super Seducer, is to openly objectify other women in front of your friend, in hopes of inspiring jealousy. La Ruina’s character lustily gazes at an off-screen woman at one point, commenting to his friend about how nice the stranger’s breasts are, and how he can’t help but think of “slipping it in.”

Later in the chapter, after your friend has broken up with her boyfriend, she comes to your apartment. “I thought he was the right person to be my husband,” she says. “Mm. Not now, right?” replies La Ruina, before cracking open a bottle of “good” $12 wine and making a move on her. Before long, he’s pulled a condom out of his shoe (…) and successfully had sex with his emotionally vulnerable friend.

When asked why a man looking for a hookup would want to walk around on a prophylactic, La Ruina says it’s just a joke, and that some people are taking aspects of the game too seriously. “The idea was that you should have condoms in your house and not break the tension by saying, ‘Okay I’m going to go down to the store,’” he says. “It was more like, have one handy. We just used the shoe/sock one because it was silly and funny.”

This is a common refrain for La Ruina: that Super Seducer is an important educational tool for men when that framing is convenient, and “just joking” when its coercive advice and harmful stereotypes are called out. “I consider it more toward the Hitch end of the scale in dating coaching, meaning just helpful psychological advice,” he says, referencing the 2005 rom-com starring Will Smith. The game is for young, single men who “want my dating advice, but also the men out there that might buy it because it looks funny.”

There is no option to simply leave a woman alone

The truly humorous parts of the game are so few and far between that if you blink, you might miss them. More often, these “funny” moments are better described as options where La Ruina blatantly harasses his would-be dates. Should you talk about your job and how boring you find it, show passion for your work, or say you’re an “ass model” and then try to grab a woman’s butt? Should you ask about how serious her relationship with her boyfriend is, or offer to have sex with her a whopping two times a week and say “a girl can never have too many dicks”? When you spot two women you’d like to talk to, do you drop a joke as your in, or do you creep up behind them like a storybook goblin about to snatch a child?

Super Seducer throws in these outlandish options as clearly wrong choices to entertain players — assuming, of course, that you find harassment entertaining. The game is so poorly conceived and executed, however, that even the “right” moves often wind up feeling as awkward and butt-clenchingly painful as the obvious missteps. La Ruina is no actor, and most scenes — whether they end with you successfully getting a number, or watching a furious woman sprinting away as La Ruina yells, “I’m not trying to fuck you in the ass or anything! Just a little kiss!” — are filled with dialogue so stilted and dull, it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like the Shakespeare of rom-coms.

La Ruina pushes back against the idea that the game promotes manipulation, and claims that these “wrong” options point at the sort of tactics that men should avoid: never lunging at women, touching them inappropriately, or making overly explicit sexual suggestions. But throughout Super Seducer’s 10 chapters of seduction scenarios, not one of those includes the option to simply leave a woman alone. In the rare case where you have to walk away from a conversation, it’s considered a failure — a remarkably poor message to send to men who are learning how to interact romantically with women. If there’s one lesson men need to pay more attention to — in the wake of #MeToo, but really at any point in time — it’s knowing when to back off and leave women alone.

“We started the game before the #MeToo stuff, so obviously it was created in a different light to the light it’s under today,” says La Ruina. “In retrospect, I probably would have done it differently and had, for example, a female coach sitting there with me and we’re kind of critiquing it. Definitely, there would have been some things we did differently.” He says he hopes people can appreciate Super Seducer’s “strong” female characters and that it’s “an easy angle to take, saying the game is whatever, sexist or anything else.” The game does, indeed, make that critique very easy.

Sexy women are treated not only as conceptual rewards for Super Seducer players, but as visual ones. If you make a particularly bad choice, there are no women present when the game cuts back to La Ruina for advice. If you make an acceptable choice, bored-looking, half-dressed lingerie models appear in the background. If you make the best choice, your success means getting them in their underwear. When I ask La Ruina why the game uses these women as literal props, he says the gamer crowd is used to having sexy women thrown in their faces in games like Grand Theft Auto or God of War, often without context.

“It really wasn’t something we sat down and thought about for hours. It was like, ‘Okay, we need to differentiate the bad, medium, and good answers. And why don’t we reward the guys with some eye candy?’” he says. “Obviously that quick decision back then hasn’t gone down that well in general. I recognize that now. I see what we would have done differently. But at the time, it seemed completely fine, because you see all these games that have gratuitous sexual elements that are really nothing to do with the plot or anything.”

These decisions, which La Ruina admits were made with little thought about how they treat women — and encourage men to treat women — get to the heart of Super Seducer’s problems. The widespread objectification of women in video games doesn’t make it more appropriate; if anything, it’s the opposite. And just because harassment has become a more visible problem doesn’t mean it wasn’t important before, and it certainly doesn’t mean it wasn’t already happening. Even in the video game community, there have been vocal critics like Feminist Frequency speaking out against the depiction of women in games for years.

Yes, flirting is a little awkward by nature, and giving men better tools for how to appropriately date or talk to women is a noble goal. But the conversations we need to have most right now about sex and dating are the ones Super Seducer specifically ignores: ones about power dynamics, the complexities of non-verbal consent, and how easily flirting slips into manipulation. There is one lesson above all that men seeking women need to learn, and that is knowing when to fuck off. As a game that claims to have any regard for women’s wishes, Super Seducer fails on the most basic level by refusing to let its players retreat when women resist or recoil, and promising that any woman can be yours if you can only figure out what to say, or how to say it.

There will surely be some men who take the game’s lessons seriously and learn to mimic its toxic behaviors and attitudes, while others take advantage of the plausible deniability La Ruina offers — the same sort of excuse that has always been offered in response to sexual harassment. If you take it too seriously and consider it demeaning to women, well, can’t you see it’s all just in good fun?