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The Game vs. Match.com

Megan McArdle is partying like it's 2006 and talking about "Pick-Up Artists" and “The Game.” I tend toward the view that the whole thing is harmless: It's a way for guys to pump themselves up before trying to meet women by tricking them into thinking that they have the right lines and psychological tools to control the encounter. They don't, of course, but there's a non-trivial chance that the thought itself helps shy men work up the courage to talk to women and those interactions quickly leave the realm of textbook and become just two people talking. So that's good.

But my larger sense is that “The Game” is quickly becoming anachronistic. It's primarily a manual for approaching women in public places. And 10 years ago, when all this stuff was apparently developed, that sort of manual was necessary. If your social group didn't have much to offer you, apparently-single women in public places were sort of your only option. But now, the sort of guys who would study to learn how to meet women are the sort of guys who will go onto an online dating site that obviates the need to approach strangers in public places. It's not clear to me that a book of techniques for cold approaches has much relevance in a Match.com world. It's hard to pretend to be interesting for more than a few minutes. At some point, usually between appetizers and main courses, you actually have to be interesting.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 13, 2010; 11:43 AM ET
 
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Comments

Having not read McArdle (and probably won't ever), I think part of the problem with the whole PUA movement is the objectification and the 'neg' approach that it preaches which is not an overall positive thing to instill in men. After all, men already do a damned good job of looking at women in a negative light, they don't need to think that that is the way to success with women.

Posted by: GregHao | July 13, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

You clearly haven't read any these books, have you Ezra? The Game doesn't count, that's just an autobiography. Give them a try: read Natural Art of Seduction by Richard La Ruina, for instance. The best of these guys can genuinely offer a stunningly incisive into human psychology during social interactions. It's fascinating even if you don't plan on utilizing any of it.

A further point is that it's often misinterpreted by people, like GregHao, who don't really know anything about it. All these 'pick-up artists' are offering is the best way to open and guide your social interactions. It's not a substitute for being interesting and they make it clear time and time again that none of this stuff is a magical trick. Everyone, consciously or subconsciously, has their own strategy for making people like us, or attracting the opposite sex in a social interaction: some are successful, some are not. All these guys do is watch the guys who are successful, and imitate what they do. It's practical psychology, and it really can be fascinating. People who dismiss it with, "of course this stuff doesn't work, it's nonsense..." are people who haven't read the books.

Posted by: bigmandave | July 13, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I also meant to point out that teaching a strategy for attracting women does not entail a negative view of women, in itself. It depends on the intentions of the guy using it. If you're trying to attract women to use them and dump them, then yes, that's negative and misogynistic, and that's what some pick-up artists are like. But if you're trying to attract women because you love women and want a relationship, that's not negative. Richard La Ruina, for instance, is the latter. The same thing applies to any guy trying to attract any woman, anywhere.

Posted by: bigmandave | July 13, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I found "the Game" a very disturbing read. All of the men profiled fall back on excuses about how shy they are and how disempowered they feel because they think the playing field tilts against them. This just doesn't mesh with the way patriarchy and gender operate in our society.

Furthermore, the PUA mentality sees women as Them in the strongest sense -- an inscrutable other that can only be manipulated, not understood. And women are treated as a means to an end, since the real goal seems to be ego-boosting using their approval as a tool of validation.

Posted by: rusty_spatula | July 13, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

The one big positive thing to remember, oh lonely guys and gals, is that every single one of your ancestors found someone willing to have sex with them.

Grandma did. Great-Grandpa did. Mom and Dad did. And so on back through history to Unguh, back in 78,000 BC, who sat on a log and told his buddy Wangoh how he had no luck with the ladies.

But Unguh, despite being infested with lice, sporting a beard and hair style best described as "early caveman," and only being 4'8" tall, still managed to get Surrg interested in him. "Why?" she said during an interview, "Because he makes me want to mother him, that's why."

Anyway, Surrg (who worried that her breasts were too floppy and didn't realize that her eyes were lovely) soon got pregnant. Unguh invited all the boys over for the birth party, and baby Browwish grew up to be the cutest female on the whole veldt -- but shy.

And so on, for many generation, and here you are, latest in a long line of people (and pre-humans) who thought they would never mate.

Posted by: roblimo | July 13, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

@bigmandave - you are indeed correct, I do not know too much about the whole PUA thing and if I have any misinterpretation, I fully acknowledge my own ignorance, that was simply the impression that I got after reading The Game (incidentally, it's actually kind of an interesting read and would have enjoyed it immensely if it were a work of fiction.) I also further agree with you that a strategy for for attracting women definitely does not need to include a negative view of women, it just seems like so many of the men in The Game held such a view. Nevertheless, I concede that this is not an area with which I have a lot of knowledge.

Posted by: GregHao | July 13, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Every time this comes up the defenders of things like "The Game" come out of the wood work defending it to the end as "psychology" or whatever. Opponents bring up "negs", which I understand to be a strategy of subtly degrading or critiquing the woman you're talking to as a way of making her more receptive to your advances. The "psychology" of negs, again, as I understand it, is that they make women self-concious and therefore more likely to lower their standards of possible mates, or to be somewhat more charitable, to consider men they otherwise would think our below their league.

I've never seen a good argument from a proponent for negs or other behavior which I think makes them sound like jerks. Is it dangerous or are they all rapists/abusers? No, of course not. Some surely are, but I don't doubt them that the vast majority of guys trying this are just shy. That doesn't mean the behavior they're using is good or that success in bedding a woman (even if it leads to a relationship) is praise worthy.

Posted by: MosBen | July 13, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Not that online dating sites are actually an improvement over trying to meet people in public places. There are a different set of problems around the online dating world- http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/2010/04/07/why-you-should-never-pay-for-online-dating/ is one example, also http://bigthink.com/ideas/20749

Leveraging social networks is clearly a better strategy and has been through history, and with social networking sites it becomes easier, but people who are do not manage to find love that way have always been and will continue to be left with worse substitutes.

Posted by: tmorgan2 | July 13, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen - never seen a good argument for it? What about the fact that women like it?

Ever heard a guy complain that women "don't like nice guys" like him? Odds are he has no sack. Women don't want a good-natured doormat or a guy with no self-confidence.

We spend so much time trying to get women to have self-respect and stand up for themselves - it shouldn't be toxic to have men do the same thing.

Posted by: mdg1111 | July 13, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

The point of a neg is not to "degrade" anyone. An attractive woman in a bar has a higher social status than anyone in the room. She'll have guys coming up to her all evening, agreeing with anyone she says, complimenting her, asking her questions about herself. A neg is a subtle and playful jibe, like "your nose looks really cute when you laugh, do that again!". Firstly it lets her know you have self-confidence and self-esteem of your own - that she doesn't have a higher status than you, and that you're not just fawning over her for her looks. Secondly, it means that when you do give a compliment she'll realize that it's genuine, and not just the words of a yes-man trying to agree with her every word in the hope that he can get her into bed.

Posted by: bigmandave | July 13, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the purposes of "The Game" and Match.com are entirely coextensive.

It's interesting that the "neg" seems to get more attention than anything else in "The Game." And I love the armchair psychology (charitable description) attached to these strategies. I wonder if anyone in the ivory tower has taken an interest in these "diagnoses"?

The psychology of the neg, if there is any, seems much more basic to me. Saying something provocative often gets someone's attention. This is especially true about a person's favorite subject. And, generally speaking, the favorite subject of young people in America, regardless of gender, is themselves.

Posted by: dollarwatcher | July 13, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Leaving aside the argument of how pickup artistry perpetuates misogynistic and generally antisocial attitudes, I'm not sure that we actually do live in a Match.com world. Sites like Match.com and OK Cupid and whatever the kids are using these days don't provide the same service as public places like bars where people go to meet people (and hook up). They only cater to a certain subset of people that might be interested "The Game" and in fact they might be completely different groups of people.

Posted by: slyc | July 13, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The only lesson of "pickup artistry" is to talk to lots of people and don't worry about rejection. The end. If you approach 100 people the chances are good one of them will like you, no matter what stupid rules you follow. 9 times out of 10 dropping a juvenile "neg" will result in the woman thinking you're a ridiculous jerk. But for the one that doesn't...success! See, it obviously works! There's nothing going other than raw numbers.

Posted by: stormhit | July 13, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

If The Game were about making men confident,it wouldn't involve making women feel insecure and bad (which is all "negging" is. You don't cut down people you love, or intend to love, period. It's about manipulating women's insecurities. And men who manipulate this way justify doing it by presenting themselves as victims who are shy, insecure, etc., and attractive women as incredibly powerful people that they have to cut down to size. If you can present yourself as a victim, you can justify anything.

Posted by: ciocia1 | July 13, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I think you confound meeting single women for dating purposes with picking up single women for one night stands. I find it likely that "The Game" is more useful for the latter, and so what might be offensive about it is the idea of learning how to trick single women into thinking you are interested in a relationship when that is not the true intention. If so, then it's not that men won't use the game anymore, but rather they need an updated version for using it with match.com (although from antecdotal evidence myspace or facebook might be more succesful venues).

Posted by: Levijohn | July 13, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Roblimo, you're hilarious. Right on.

Posted by: Klug | July 13, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe I'm commenting on The Game on a policy blog, but here goes...

Go read the original article McArdle posted about the phenomenon, where it describes the techniques these people use. Think about what sort of principles are actually being suggested here.

"Be confident around women. Don't look desperate. Talk about interesting things; banter with them. It can help if you have a friend around!" That's boring advice; you could hear it from your grandmother.

"Ease the target's nerves with a False Time Constraint. Demonstrate value using a cube routine in conversation. Neg them catch their attention and keep them off guard. It can be helpful to have a wing." This, on the other hand, is the advice of a pro, someone who knows exactly what he's doing. Only one problem: it's almost exactly the same advice. Strauss, et al, just substitute exact, rigid scripts for the more general principles anyone else would recommend. Then they throw in a healthy dose of jargon. Finally, they use pop psychology to tie everything together in a way that appeals to men who are frustrated or bitter with women. In the real world, "negging" works because people enjoy a little bit of playful back-and-forth (it works on guys too, for instance). But that's too mundane for "pick up artists," so instead they turn to ridiculous explanations involving secret self-loathing and daddy issues.

There's really a cargo cult element to it. They go through the motions, and sometimes it even works, but they couldn't say why it works. It's actually sort of funny -- you have these guys who have developed an excruciatingly precise routine, which, when practiced correctly, perfectly emulates a confident, engaging, slightly impudent barhopper. But instead of simply realizing that women like confident, engaging, slightly impudent men, so-called PUAs ascribe near-mystical meaning to the exact song-and-dance they use.

Posted by: WHSTCL | July 13, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

"Secondly, it means that when you do give a compliment she'll realize that it's genuine, and not just the words of a yes-man trying to agree with her every word in the hope that he can get her into bed."

No, baby, that's a genuine compliment, it's not just words I read in the comments section of a blog. In the hope that I can get you into bed.

Posted by: dpurp | July 13, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

WHSTCL, that is one of the best comments I've ever read. Sorry you had to waste your commenting prowess on this topic!

Posted by: dpurp | July 13, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

I think Ezra is half right. It's mostly a placebo for confidence, but I do think it matters that guys don't walk up to a girl and tell her she's beautiful. Ignoring her looks is a really good thing for guys to do, and is for some reason not an obvious point. This goes for online dating as well. You'd be shocked at the number of girls on online dating sites who have to put "please don't just tell me I'm cute when you message me, say something creative."

OK Cupid puts out lots of data on what works and what doesn't in terms of getting people to respond to your messages. Some of it is writing out the word "you" rather than "u", and some of it is length of message. Is this not "game", and if not, what is it?

As to WHSTCL, I'm just gonna go piece by piece:


""Be confident around women. Don't look desperate. Talk about interesting things; banter with them. It can help if you have a friend around!" That's boring advice; you could hear it from your grandmother.""

Agreed, but it's not easy. It's really really hard for a lot of guys. It's like saying "work out a lot and eat better and you'll lose weight" is boring advice, and it is, but it's hard for people to do that unless they're given tools. The routines, etc. are tools so they can fake it until it's not hard.

"In the real world, "negging" works because people enjoy a little bit of playful back-and-forth (it works on guys too, for instance). But that's too mundane for "pick up artists," so instead they turn to ridiculous explanations involving secret self-loathing and daddy issues."

I think that gives them too little credit actually. Negging works because girls are used to getting hit on in stupid obvious disgusting ways, and it's different. It's not psychologically manipulative honestly. Girls just react with "oh who is this guy" rather than "ugh, not another guy." It wouldn't work if everybody did it, because I think it's mostly just a signal that the guy is different.

"But instead of simply realizing that women like confident, engaging, slightly impudent men, so-called PUAs ascribe near-mystical meaning to the exact song-and-dance they use."

Like I said above, I think they really think that's basically the whole point, but that a lot of men lack confidence, and will continue to lack confidence until they go out there and try. So they give them tools to use, like a workout routine and a diet plan. Being successful with women breeds confidence to be successful with women. People subscribe to crossfit, and spinning, and yoga, and atkins, and south beach or paleo diets or whatever. There's a certain cultish element to all of them, but really, it doesn't make the things they make you do wrong, or non-reality based, it just means they're a bit overhyped.

Posted by: joelw | July 14, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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