Editor’s Note: Salutations, readers! My partner, Al Valentín, played a preview build of Super Seducer 2. After their experience with the original, let’s see how what they thought about the sequel.
When I heard the announcement for Super Seducer 2, I was surprised and more than a bit turned off. After a release surrounded by criticism and controversy (some of which I myself put forward upon Super Seducer’s initial launch), I didn’t anticipate the game improving at all. But once some of the initial press releases came out, I will admit that I became far more intrigued.
You see, Super Seducer 2 was being framed by creator and pickup artist (PUA) veteran Richard La Ruina as a new and improved gaming experience. It was to be written and created with much more women’s input as well as attention to cultural and racial diversity, two points on which La Ruina and company sorely failed on in the first game. “How incredible would it be if it was just fantastic?,” I excitedly asked my skeptical friends. I tell you all this to say that I really did go in hopeful and WANTING to see a change.
But after playing a preview of the full game, which releases tomorrow, September 12th, I’ve got to say that Super Seducer 2 has certainly impressed me. It has done so by managing to be even worse than the first installment, an incredible feat for La Ruina indeed. Whereas its predecessor seemed to be created with a complete avoidance of social issues altogether, the sequel cynically makes reference to conversations around consent, assault, harassment and diversity without any genuine sort of care or real understanding of the ongoing debates themselves, let alone their nuances. This approach makes the game feel even more difficult to get through and even less educated than its predecessor.
The preview gives us access to three different scenes. The first begins at a yacht club and allows us to try our luck with an actress, a model or another task entirely. The second centers around a boss trying to get lucky with his new secretary. And the last is entitled “Interracial Dating” and stars La Ruina’s “British Born Chinese” friend Michael trying to get with a “Western” girl.
I’ll start off by first giving credit where it’s due. In some small ways, Super Seducer 2 has improved on its older formula but only in its most superficial aspects. First, La Ruina finally seems to be in on the joke that is himself to some extent. Some of the press releases called him the Tommy Wiseau of the gaming industry, a point that admittedly had me cackling at its accuracy. La Ruina has seemed to lean into his own absurdity in the new game and at times that can be hilarious, perhaps even delightful?
The game’s first scene begins with shows of nature on a sunny day before we’re suddenly hammered with an army tank riding across the grass. Soon, La Ruina pops out instructing his tank’s driver that he’s hungry and they should go to the restaurant. La Ruina sits on top of the tank and they head out. Once they arrive at the yacht club restaurant, he begins walking towards the fellow patrons, randomly eating a small basket of tomatoes (I think they’re tomatoes but also where the hell did they come from?), as restaurant goers fawn all over him, checking him out, dropping their coffees all over themselves and spilling juices dramatically. As I saw this first scene, I literally screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?” and laughed hysterically the whole way through.
Additionally, the game does feel more polished with more production value in terms of set design, lighting, and filming. And the dates or encounters you have with the women in each scene do feel far more robust. You can definitely spend a lot more time trying various options and unlocking different scenarios with three or more unique endings in some cases. That certainly allows for more options for the player but I tend to value quality over quantity and it is in this regard that the game falls on its face.
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I’ve got to start by discussing the acting a bit. The first game’s acting was incredibly weak with La Ruina and some of the women having no acting chops, no charisma and seemingly no will to go on as their vacant eyes glazed over during the scenes with only a few exceptions. This entry is not much different. It honestly feels like the game is set in a beginner’s improv acting class where nobody knows what they’re doing and everybody feels unsure of what to say or do. It feels like they’ve given the actors sort of vague guidance and then just had them say something based on that prompt. While one might have thought the unscripted feel would make the game feel more realistic or endearing, it just makes it feel more awkward with long pauses that really exacerbate my intense secondhand embarrassment.
At least, in this case, La Ruina isn’t the only man we see go on dates. While the preview only allows access to three scenes, his friend Michael is the star of interracial scenarios. He’s far less irritating than our usual leading man if not perhaps a little deadpan. Deadpan or not, I do think that I prefer him over La Ruina. Based on what I can see of the further episodes that were not yet unlocked, he has his friend Mahmoud being the lead on a different date with a younger woman. So at least we will have some other men participating throughout the game. Even still, the most important thing missing in a game about dating is chemistry. Every pairing so far still feels forced and odd. I was considering arguing that they might have benefitted from having actual couples play out each date but then I remembered that one of the most awkward encounters from the previous game was between La Ruina and the woman I later found out was actually his wife. Maybe that wouldn’t have improved things after all…
Moving on to some of La Ruina’s claims on improvements to the game’s gender and racial politics, the game might have a couple persons of color (POC) peppered within it but this isn’t nearly enough to save it. Beginning with his claims of racial diversity, even if he’s introduced two friends, who are men of color within the preview build, it’s important to think about how they’re presented. When we’re introduced to his friend Mahmoud in the first scenario, it’s through a phone call La Ruina gets. An icon like an iPhone call alert pops up with what appears to be his entry for Mahmoud in his phone, complete with an emoji of a man with a turban next to his name. Mahmoud doesn’t wear a turban in the game so that bit feels unnecessary. It’s, I suppose, there for the lulz but it definitively fails at being funny. Furthermore, Mahmoud being there to help him blow up a convention full of YouTubers that had poorly reviewed his game (I’m not making this up) feels bizarre and offensive. This is an age where Middle Easterners still have a hard time getting roles where they’re not wrongly associated with terrorism. It will be interesting to see how Mahmoud’s date goes the full build of the game.
And while we’re on the topic of racial depictions, why does the “Interracial Date,” as it’s titled, need to be set in a restaurant where he’s having his British-Chinese friend, Michael, teach him Chinese as he’s wearing Asian inspired clothing? While POC obviously don’t need to have their cultural differences downplayed as though we’re ashamed of them, La Ruina’s approach feels like a cheap and thoughtless way to seem inclusive. Not to mention that if education is the name of the game, players would likely benefit by having white men interact with women of color. This would be in addition to helping them learn how to not say offensive or microaggressive things to their dates. Having both experienced these types of comments and known many, many, many POC who have experienced them as well, this seems like a worthy addition. While it doesn’t seem to be included within the rest of the scenes, perhaps I’ll be surprised by the full release. Still, I’m not holding my breath. Lastly, La Ruina’s coaching essentially boils down to, “Oh, just try to talk to Western girls even though stereotypes of Asian men do exist! But also make sure that you go against stereotypes by showing HOW EXPRESSIVE you can be as an Asian man.” Was this part written by the people who cast Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell? Wasn’t that the same shitty, racist reasoning that they used? And how are we really helping stereotypes when La Ruina tells Asian players to talk about Buddhism and Indian players to talk about yoga to seem interesting to women? It feels like he’s advising them to fetishize their own culture to get dates. Certainly, talk about things that are your genuine interests! But as a Puerto Rican person, I wouldn’t take kindly to a dating coach advising me to tell a date how much I love dancing salsa, playing maracas and eating spicy food as a means of impressing them. Or being asked to teach white folks I’ve just met little bits of Spanish to impress them as though my language is a fun parlor trick.
Outside of the men, there’s not much diversity found within the game. The women who are seen as objects of desire or dating material are white. I saw one Black woman and one Asian woman but only during the cutscenes that give players feedback on their dating choices. They stand or sit around La Ruina (who sits on a throne of sorts if you get the correct answer). He has “co-host,” Charlotte Jones, but isn’t really engaging and clearly only there for diversity. It will be interesting to see when the full game drops what the final tally is, and whether there are a couple if any, women of color that players can pursue. There appears to be one other black woman in one of the date scenes but it’s unclear what her role is. In addition to the two women of color in the cutscenes, there’s one Black man. Well, unless you count one half of the duo that force La Ruina to do various tasks at gunpoint if you pick one of the bad options.
Even the updated Super Seducer 2 logo misses the mark, with the classic portion of La Ruina surrounded by three white women. While they did add an Asian man drawn off to the side, he’s oddly positioned. Why is he so far off to the side? Why is he wearing a basic white t-shirt while the rest of the figures are dressed formally? It’s just one of the many things that feel bizarre, awkward and like a shameless way to feign inclusivity. It’s not only terrible graphic design but indicative of the lack of substantive understanding and changes the game was promoted to have.
When we consider the way that gender politics are handled within the game, it is incredible that La Ruina touted how many women were part of the process of working on this game. References to a “woman’s touch” being just what the doctor ordered fall flat in the face of a game that feels especially off base after the rise of the #MeToo movement and ongoing conversations on sexual assault and accountability. Much like the first game, you’re given the option to do all sorts of horrible things to women for a laugh. This includes slipping something into their drink to “make her more compliant.” She finds out and is angered but the feedback on this option is so bland that it never fully addresses just how awful or serious that is. La Ruina basically says it isn’t nice and his co-host Jones says, “Disgusting and very illegal.” Are you serious? That’s it? The game fails to take a real stand in moments like these, fails to really educate or admonish those that would pick such an option by giving them real context or understanding about what that means. It exists as a joke and not as the very real reality faced by people in a world where acquaintances are still far more likely to be attackers than strangers.
There are moments like this throughout the three preview dates. In one, when La Ruina is about to have sex with a woman, you have the option to pull out a contract and dramatically read it over to your date before you proceed. His date says, “This isn’t sexy!” To which, La Ruina replies, “We can’t be sexy anymore. It’s affirmative consent. These days we need to cover ourselves.” This is a slap in the face to people who emphasize the importance of affirmative consent. Literally, nobody is saying you need to pull up a contract. What people are asking is for you to check in and make sure somebody still wants to participate in a given act which can be done very organically and sexily with the tiniest bit of effort. And the comment about covering ourselves nowadays seems more concerned with making sure the man won’t get accused, versus the woman who might experience something incredibly traumatic: rape or assault. It’s a self-centered sentiment that frankly enrages me.
In the feedback, La Ruina then goes and asks Jones what she thinks. She echoes what he says, that affirmative consent isn’t sexy and that you should be able to tell with body language. But this is entirely the problem. Particularly because the people who this game is marketed for likely don’t know how to pick up on that body language at all. The game is there to help them understand social interaction because they’re having issues. While I fundamentally believe that affirmative consent doesn’t have to ruin the mood (particularly if you’re at all creative, confident or compassionate), how about teaching them cues to look for? That is ACTUAL useful information in this context. Even still, the whole point of the game is to try and manipulate women into doing what you want them to do. How can body language be seen as consent to someone who clearly can’t pick up on it due to their poor knowledge of women and dating? I.E. when to leave them alone when they’re clearly not interested. Or when the answer to their disinterest is to just keep pushing until they relent? Moments like these are absolutely disgusting and do more harm than good.
The boss and secretary scene follow suit here. It takes no accounting for the power dynamic that makes such a sexual interaction complicated and dangerous for the secretary. It also doesn’t clearly say, unless she shows interest in you, you have literally no business trying to flirt with her at all. And even then, it’s STILL probably better left alone. The closest warnings they give you are to not try anything too early. You employ a variety of tactics to get her to like you. In one part, you can give her some “juicy” office gossip to try and interest her. The juicy gossip is that a manager in the company is gay and having sex with a tailor who keeps him dressed in nice suits. La Ruina laughs that the manager is “getting bummed by the tailor.” This feels gross and homophobic in an otherwise obviously heteronormative game.
This date in particular also has reference after reference to real life assaults and scandals. He makes references to doing a “wine stain,” which is played up repeatedly to reference Harvey Weinstein. He asks if his secretary mentioned the “wine stain” to anybody to see if he’s been “caught.” At one point you can masturbate in a plant pot and then in the feedback, he says that it was a real one because Harvey Weinstein did it. Don’t worry, in the feedback, La Ruina makes sure to emphasize how bad it is for the plants. There’s another part where you can call your secretary and jerk off while she talks to you about random things, coaxing her to say anything to you. In the feedback, La Ruina points out this actually happened and tells Jones it was Louis C.K. to which she simply replies, “Ugh.” Towards the end, if you play through and get your secretary to give you a compliment thus insinuating she’d like to get to know you better, you can choose to hit a button under your desk which locks the door behind her. La Ruina then undoes his belt and tells her about how he’s got new job responsibilities for her while she bangs on the doors, yelling for help. This horrifying scene feels like a reference to alleged reports about Matt Lauer locking women into his office in a similar manner. Not only does the game then, mock appropriate and healthy consent patterns but it mocks literal experiences of assault presented here as comedy.
All in all, Super Seducer 2 needs more than fetishizing racial inclusion and a woman as a co-figurehead to make the dating sim not only successful but responsible and educational as well. This game needs a complete overhaul in its underpinning logic. There are many ways in which I can see a dating sim in the vein of this being quite useful. But the game is far too bogged down with desperate and callous attempts to seem funny, often at the expense of the people the game claimed to have in mind when they designed it. Time and time again, the series has missed out on important chances to actually give players true wisdom about social interaction and respect for others. Perhaps before worrying about getting laid, you should first learn how to treat others as humans with their own desires and needs. What a concept! It’s time for somebody to dethrone Richard La Ruina as the king of this genre and I hope they do it soon.
Today I found out that Super Seducer 3 is slated to come out in 2019, with a Steam page already up teasing the new installment. While I had high hopes for the sequel, I’m now dismayed at the idea of a trilogy. I certainly don’t recommend that gamers waste their time and money on the second installment. But if you’re looking for something educational and ethical, I suggest you check out The Game: The Game. It’s an extremely different look at the pick-up artist (PUA) community told through a dating sim style format.
Al Valentín is a Ph.D. 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.