A few years ago, I bought a book. It’s black and leather-bound, has an embossed title, gold around the edges of its pages, and also comes with a red bookmark string that’s attached at one end to the spine.
No, it’s not the bible. But I don’t think it’s a purely coincidental fact that Neil Strauss’ The Game bears such a striking resemblance – as far as construction/design – to the holy writ. I remember it being paraded around as a sort of “Bible,” for guys on how to act at a club or a bar so that you could maximize your chances of hooking up. And I remember being so intrigued by this idea (there was a point in time where I couldn’t turn a corner without running into some poor shmuck rambling about this book) that I picked up a copy for myself.
Now, let me get one thing straight – this is not a book you read in plain sight in the student center at your university. That was the first thing that piqued my interest – it seemed to be a book that everyone (or every guy) was reading, but it wasn’t a book you would ever read in plain sight or put on your “favorite book” list on Facebook. It was like something that everyone had read but no one would admit to be reading. Of course, when I began perusing it for myself, I quickly realized why – it turned out to be one of the saddest reading experiences of my life.
A few years before Neil Strauss even published his “Bible,” I once knew of someone who embodied everything The Game would eventually come to be. He was a kid who went to our school – let’s call him Kyle. I had a friend who knew him personally but I only knew of him; at least, I knew several girls who eventually found themselves in his “clutches,” to use a clichéd term.
Let me get another thing straight – I hated Kyle. Not as a person, but I hated everything he stood for. At the same time, I was forced to almost admire just how absolutely slick he was at doing what he did: picking up girls. Kyle could get any girl he wanted. And I mean, literally, ANY girl he wanted. He was just that good. In fact, he once dated a friend of mine and broke up with her. She ranted about him for months, telling me about how she realized what a sleazebag he was. This friend of mine was a good girl. She really was. And I guess that was when I first learned to resent Kyle – kind of on behalf of this girl. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out yet a few months later that he had managed to convince her to give him another chance and they started going out again! And this would happen with another friend of mine. And countless others.
Like I said, Kyle was just that good. He was SO good, in fact, that he managed to make guys like him, too. I talked to someone about this once – about how sometimes, a sleazy guy could push the right buttons with a girl, but other GUYS – genuinely nice guys – would always recognize just how much of a creep he was. Not so with Kyle. He was the kind of guy who could steal your girlfriend and then make you feel like he was doing you a favour.
In a lot of ways, to fall victim to Kyle’s charms was proof that you were human and operated within the norms of society. He recognized that deep down, we all have certain buttons that could be pushed, and he was so good at exploiting this that you’d find Kyle telling you exactly what you wanted to hear.
When I read The Game a few years later, it basically felt like I was reading about Kyle. I didn’t fully realize this at first, but that’s what The Game is: a guide to how women behave and how you can use this to your advantage.
As I read The Game (I confess, I didn’t finish it and I still haven’t but I got through a good 85-90%), I realized two things. The first thing was unsettling. The second was ugly. The first thing I realized was that Neil Strauss was right. Kyle was living proof of this. He illuminated a lot of truths about how we interact socially and why certain gestures, words, and behaviours were always bound to elicit the same responses (good and bad). I remember reading about being the “Alpha Male of the Group” and how you need to make yourself look better than every other male in the immediate vicinity and that putting them down was fair game. I remember reading about how teasing (a.k.a. “negging”) was important because if you complimented a girl, you’ve put her in the “driver’s seat.” I remember reading about all sorts of things that someone like Kyle seemed, innately, to understand. And I remember feeling bothered by the fact that this was how society operated… that traditional symbols of good character like dependability, compassion, chivalry, and kindness had become warped, contorted, and branded as “boring”; and in their place, “negging,” slickness, flash, and style rose to prominence as being cool, sexy, and exciting.
When I put it this way, it all sounds quite over the top and some of you might be saying “That’s not how our society works!” But actually, if you look at the fundamental “rules” of social interaction, I think you’ll find that it’s more true than you realize. They find their way into almost everything we do, even if it’s only on a micro-scale. I remember talking to some friends years ago when MSN was still in vogue and someone mentioned how you shouldn’t message someone as soon as they come online because it makes you look like you were sitting there waiting for them to sign on just so you could talk to them. And even if that wasn’t the case, you waited 5 minutes anyway just to “show” that you were “doing something else and only just realized that they had signed on.” I also remember thinking, “What’s wrong with messaging someone as soon as they sign on, even if it DOES make you seem eager to talk to them? Maybe I AM eager to talk to them.” But no no no, you can’t do that… you don’t want to make it seem like you wanted to talk to them, god forbid. You had to make it seem like talking to them was just no skin off your back. You had to play it cool; like they were no big deal… even if you would have cried yourself to sleep that night if they didn’t respond.
So that’s the first thing. And yeah, it’s a little unsettling. But you know what really got under my skin? This second thing. I was horrified to find out that instead of reading The Game and saying, “Wow, we are a bunch of messed up and disgusting creatures,” guys were saying, “Wow, now I know how I should act around women!” Instead of being a social commentary that could be used as a jumping off point for rectifying these flaws in our society, guys were actually buying into Neil Strauss’ philosophy! I remember some of my friends – kind, solid guys with good hearts – reading The Game and thinking that the book was a signal to them that they had to change; that they had to start ignoring women and become the Alpha Male of their Groups; that they had to start treating women like they (women) weren’t important because that’s how you could be “successful” at “the game.”
No! That’s wrong! Completely and utterly backwards! And I’ll tell you why. I mean, we know the most obvious reasons why this is wrong: it objectifies women. The Game is one of the most patriarchal, misogynistic pieces of literature I have ever read because not only does it reduce women to “prizes,” it actually ventures to assert that that is what women want.
But I’ll tell you the other, more latent, reason behind why The Game is terrible. Guys who learn the rules of The Game rarely ever end up being happy. And this is something that many guys don’t realize when they buy into its philosophy. The Game only promises you sex; it says nothing about love, happiness, or fulfillment. It would be bad enough if only guys who wanted sex read The Game. However, a good number of guys who read The Game and hail it as their Bible… are, deep-down, simply lonely and tired of being single. And the most ironic thing is that in order to play “the game,” you MUST be single; everything taught by The Game revolves around staying single so you can practice and perfect your “craft” – being a really good pick-up artist. It’s not about finding a girlfriend and yet, the guys reading it do so because they want to fall in love.
In the end, I wouldn’t be too quick to place blame on any particular party. As I’ve said, the fact that The Game works is more proof that we’re human than anything else. I would never go so far as to say that girls shouldn’t let themselves get caught up with guys who practice The Game but I would like to say something to the guys. In the end, The Game is just that: a game. The words you say don’t mean anything; the connections you make, artificial. If you want something better than that, you have to BE better than that.