Editor’s Note: Salutations, readers! My partner, Al Valentín, had some THOUGHTS on the recently released Super Seducer. What follows is a well documented tale of their experience with the game.
The best survival horror game of 2018 has already been released, and it’s Super Seducer: How To Talk To Girls on Steam. Do you enjoy cringing at poorly scripted dialogue with even worse execution by the actors? Do you love getting questionable advice about how to interact with the people you desire? Do you want to be given the chance to be a harasser of women and say the things you know you should never say but in a controlled environment where you don’t have to actually get cussed out? Then, boy, is this the game for you. Play it and get ready to be thrust into an endless oscillation between cringing so intensely that you feel trapped in a void of pure embarrassment with no recourse but sheer terror, or laughing in sorrow at the state of the world until you cry. Or at least, that’s how I felt.
Developed by RLR Training Inc, the company of noted “seduction guru” or Pick Up Artist (PUA) Richard La Ruina, this game uses dating simulator style mechanics to put forth a live action visual novel guide for straight men trying to speak to the straight women they desire. La Ruina starts the game by letting us know that he’s designed a “psychologically challenging” game experience that utilizes “real dating principles” to allow you to reach romantic success. The game is pitched to players as though it’s the freaking Never Alone of the PUA community, allowing you to gain a grasp of the bizarre and mysterious brains and language of women. While it’s framed as a challenging and useful guide, it mobilizes a completely generalized understanding of what women want as though the category is essential, static, unchanging and lacking any diversity in their opinions, outlooks or desire.
With ten different scenarios, players are asked to take control of La Ruina, guiding him through the date with the goal of a kiss, a phone number or a date. Your goal is essentially to impose on women in a variety of everyday situations to get them to want to date you or be with you. This ranges from women walking on their way to meet friends, women you work with, women you see at the club, women you’re friends with. The goal is to not “make it too easy” for the woman to leave without talking to you, to ensure that you can “do most of the talking at first.” You’re trying to create a captive audience as you aim to sell yourself as a person she should want to date.
At first glance, this may seem like what all dating amounts to but there’s a big difference here. These aren’t tips that are aimed at helping people determine whether or not they’re compatible in meaningful ways, but rather teaching people how to manipulate the information they are given by a woman to lull her into a sense of security and enable you to get what you want: sex.
La Ruina and “seduction coaches” like him aren’t here to tell you that you should be yourself and find a person that respects and appreciates that. Instead, they tell you 1) that women don’t REALLY know what they want and it’s your job to MAKE THEM SEE what they really want and 2) what is most important is the end goal of dating and sleeping with a woman rather than treating her like a person, so lying or obscuring the truth is perfectly okay. This is the ethos that guides the game and much of popular culture at large in its depictions of heterosexual romance specifically, as well as more generally. It reflects a culture of coercion where bodily autonomy and “no” actually means “convince me.” It’s a thought process that’s dangerous in any context but particularly that of dating and romance where violence (sexual or otherwise) is a constant concern for many women, men and non-binary people. To not think of this game and the PUA community at large in this way is to be missing a large and important part of the puzzle.
Acknowledging how this ethos shapes the game, we then have to think about the imagery and choices that are built into the game. The goal is first and foremost to help you learn how to navigate social interactions with women. But there’s also two other main aims. One major one is to excite the player. This is done through its casting of attractive actresses to play the parts but also in the way that women are framed as props throughout the game. From the main menu screens where La Ruina makes duck face while wearing guy liner as he’s surrounded by women, to even when he offers us “coaching” tips in between the choices we pick throughout the game, we will be given a different view of the women in question based on our success that is meant to “reward” us.
If you get the question totally wrong, you’re given a red broken heart and La Ruina sits alone on a bed. If you pick an answer that’s merely acceptable, you get a yellow half heart and there are two models who look off camera like Stepford Wives wearing dresses. And if you choose the correct answer, the women surround him, laying on the bed in just lingerie. Their attractiveness tempered, for me at least, by the vacant looks in their eyes, so clearly bored and unengaged. It’s also important to note that literally every single woman within the main game as a model or actress is thin and white, representing a very narrow ideal of who is beautiful and desirable. While body diversity and racial inclusion in a game like Super Seducer isn’t really a prize, it’s plain to see how even this decision again reflects a normative understanding of how women should be and who men should and do want to be with.
But outside of arousing the player, the game is also aiming to make them laugh by giving them outlandish answers that you can choose. There’s a scene midway through the game that aims to teach us about how to get out of the so-called “friend zone,” which begins with La Ruina awkwardly staring at a woman’s pictures on his laptop, biting his lip and stroking the screen with fervor. We then cut to him in a coffee shop with this woman who we learn is his longtime friend. This whole scene offers some of the most upsetting choices. You are given the option to check out another girl while talking to your friend which is absolutely fine especially if the relationship is platonic. But when you select the option that allows you to make note of the woman being sexy and attractive, what actually takes place is La Ruina talking about the woman’s breasts and “fanny” in a way that clearly makes the friend uncomfortable, even going so far as saying how he wishes he could just “slip it in” a little. I’ve got just the tip for La Ruina: that just makes you look like an asshole.
Furthermore, it’s noted that as a person’s longtime friend, you have no obligation to help them unless you can assure that she’s eventually going to have sex with you. When the friend asks for a favor, you can tell her that you’ll do it but only if she gives you a blowjob. Later on, when the friend breaks up with her boyfriend, La Ruina visibly smiles and looks overjoyed at the news, centering himself and the chance to have sex with somebody who he’s supposed to care about rather than centering how she may be sad. Then, the player is instructed to get her to drink wine, make her feel comfortable before kissing her. He’s told to emphasize how “weird” this whole thing is, to pre-empt her objections so that she won’t be able to voice them. Then, when the character asks if he has a condom before they engage in sex, you literally have the option to say, “A condom? What, do you have AIDS or something?” Such a statement is not only inappropriate, but dangerous. Also, if that’s how one might treat a friend, who needs enemies?
La Ruina tells the player to challenge a woman on something she believes, make them prove themselves as intelligent or worthy of an opinion, then approve of them. He tells us that this has a “powerful psychological effect” and will make women want you. But I’ve got to say that if, like in one scenario presented, I’m sitting at a coffee shop reading to prep for the class I teach, and some random man comes infringing on my time and space to then ply me with questions about my work and research, making me prove to them that it matters, my first reaction isn’t likely to be attraction or arousal. It would likely be immense irritation.
Still, the scene with the blonde professor remains one of the most hilarious for the actress’s deadpan delivery that made me guffaw. There’s a moment where La Ruina aims to make a Back to the Future reference and she plainly says she doesn’t know what he means and his response is essentially, “Oh, ok,” before changing the subject. There’s one part where you can ask for her number “too early” and then she says no and he asks why, suggesting she might be a lesbian and she states, “I just don’t want to see you again.” She’s the real MVP. May everybody who finds themselves in such a situation have the strength to stand firm in the face of pushy pickup artists!
But even this scene then just asks us to ask a couple more questions before we inevitably get the number. This extends back to my earlier point: the idea that women can and will say no because they simply don’t like you is not entertained. Instead, it’s just a matter of making the right approach because if you say the right things, follow the right steps, you can never fail. Chemistry is an alien concept for pickup artists; it’s really just a matter of wearing a woman down to the best of your ability.
In yet another scene, La Ruina approaches a woman randomly in the park, and begins to interrogate her on where she’s going and why she’s dressed up while walking by. The woman’s acting skills are pretty poor and the chemistry between them feels robotic, incredibly awkward and like one of the most painful things to watch. As La Ruina continues asking her questions, he then decides it would be good to engage this stranger in a debate about immigration! Not only does it seem ridiculous that somebody would think it’s going to be an effective pickup line but it is about simply arguing against whatever the woman says and trying to get her to see the “other perspective.” This means that if she’s pro-immigration, you’re meant to tell her why immigrants shouldn’t be allowed her and if she’s anti-immigration, you’re meant to try and change her mind with a quick sentence. Changing one’s political opinion is rarely ever that easy, especially with strangers, but it also completely means that there’s no element of ethics here. You’re meant to debate on whether immigrants are people who deserve rights, protection, safety and resources like all human beings in the hopes that it will get you laid! And it’s made all the more absurd by the fact that the actress you engage in this debate with is very clearly an immigrant with a thick Eastern European accent!
Later on, we’re treated to another scene with the same actress where they go on their first date. A friend and I made our way through the last half of the game and were desperate to finally finish it. Once we finally completed the last date, we’re treated to a cutscene of La Ruina congratulating us for “beating” it and giving us some trivia. He tells us that one actress appears in a few different scenes with a wig on for those less observant players. He informs us that the close friend scenario actually stars a close friend of his and is in some ways based on real life. And then, he tells us that the woman my friend and I said had absolutely no chemistry with him, who he awkwardly debated on immigration, is actually his wife. We literally screamed, confused, shocked, shaken and hysterical. In some ways, the torture of playing this game was almost all worth it in that moment.
I’ve seen plenty of reviews on Steam and elsewhere that emphasize that the game is actually quite funny. I can’t disagree with that but I can say that it’s not because it always intends to be comical. While this game may make you laugh, it’s oftentimes in the way that you awkwardly laugh because you can’t believe what you just saw or that people actually think this way. La Ruina claims to be a master of seduction but if this was a chance to show off his skills, it’s a chance that he missed terribly. He comes off as stiff and strange, not usually charming or engaging except for perhaps one scene where the actress working with him is so sassy and funny herself that she’s able to carry the scenario. Still, when you’re playing as somebody who has actually been sexually harassed or had to deal with the unwanted advances of pushy men in any way, you’re left feeling more angry than amused.
Overall, Super Seducer represents a poorly conceived, poorly executed and deeply problematic dumpster fire of a videogame. It presents no real challenge, as surely men must know that most of the options are completely ridiculous and unlikely to be effective, leaving fairly obvious choices. It doesn’t teach that much and that which it purports to teach is built on a faulty and problematic understanding of gender and sexuality. The scenes never feel sexy or interesting but mostly just painfully awkward. For those of us who have or do struggle to connect with people romantically or have social anxiety, a guide on how to do it seems like a wonderful idea. But if the guide treats the object of your desire as less of a person and more like an object, it’s not a good one. If it mobilizes overly simplistic understandings of what an entire gender category wants, it’s unrealistic. And if you think that listening to another man like La Ruina tell you what women want rather than asking an individual woman that herself, you may be part of the problem. Perhaps one day we’ll get a visual novel dating guide that can effectively help us in our romantic endeavors. For now, know that Super Seducer simply ain’t it.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Al Valentín is a PhD student in Women’s and Gender Studies living, loving and nerding in Brooklyn, NY. Their research brings game studies and gender studies together to think through questions of subjectivity, affect, emotions, difference and social justice. While they grew up on games like Sonic, Streets of Rage and ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Al’s gaming love now mostly revolves around shooters, role playing games and dating sims. In addition to gaming, they enjoy baking, selfies and designing their next tattoos. You can read more about their work by visiting their website or following them on Twitter.
A problematic dumpster fire of a game: not the game we need, the game we deserve
Helpful Advice - 2/10
Gameplay - 3/10
Design - 4/10
Super Seducer's boring and overly simplistic gameplay, incredibly bad acting, and general lack of helpful, ethical advice makes it good for a pained laugh and not much else.