The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss

Preparing to write The Game, bestselling author Neil Strauss spent two years infiltrating an online community of alchemists that seek to unlock the secrets to picking up women. Strauss, who has written books with Marilyn Manson, Motley Crue, Dave Navarro, and Jenna Jameson, said that this period was a “journey into one of the oddest and most exciting underground communities that, in more than a dozen years of journalism, I have ever come across.” His time in this fraternity of pickup artists taught the author that you don’t have to be a movie star driving a Ferrari with a Rolex on your wrist to get any woman you desire. You can be an out-of-work 40-year-old computer geek living with your parents and still bed Playmates at a rate rivaling Hefner. The Game explains how.

Despite his career as a writer for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and his list of bestsellers — not to mention time spent in the company of rock gods and porn stars — Strauss writes that he is “far from attractive.” He lists a number of physical limitations when it comes to attracting women: his nose is too big, his hair is thinning, his eyes are beady, he’s shorter than he wants to be and skinny to point of looking malnourished. So meeting women was always a chore for Strauss until an editor asked him to delve into the online pickup artist community to record their various tips and techniques in a how-to book. Strauss was apprehensive — his goal was to write literature, not give advice to horny adolescents. However, he writes, writing the book changed his life. In the beginning, Strauss communicated with the pickup artists online, but he realized that talking to men online was not going to be enough to change a lifetime of failure” I had to meet the faces behind the screen names, watch them in the field, find out who they were and what made them tick. I made it my mission — my full-time job and obsession — to hunt down the greatest pickup artists in the world and beg for shelter under their wings. “

To do this, Strauss created his own screen name and persona. Under this cover, he traveled to Odessa, Belgrade, London, New York, and remote locations such as Trans-Dniester in order to learn from the masters. He absorbed the extensive vocabulary used by pickup artists and fluently used terms to ultimately became the top ranked pickup artist in the world. (Some of those terms, by the way, include “sarge” (pick up women), “IOI” (indicator of interest: a sign a woman gives a man that indirectly reveals she is interested in him), “IVD” (interactive value demonstration: a short routine intended to hook the attention and interest of a woman by teaching her something), and “triangular gazing” (a technique of making eye contact used directly before attempting to kiss a woman.)

The Game provides extensive information on how the pickup artists ply their trade. And it also reveals some hilarious insights into the lengths men will go to develop the necessary skills. One person, for instance, devises a plan to learn how to remove a woman’s bra: “What I’m going to do is take one of my mom’s bras and tie it around a pole or something. Then I’m gonna walk toward the pole blindfolded like in pin the tail on the donkey, reach the bra, and try to undo it.” Some people are more skilled than this guy and have reached the lofty status of Master Pickup Artist.

One such master is Ross Jeffries, rumored to be the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s character Frank T.J. Mackey in the 1999 film Magnolia. In 1988, Jeffries founded the school of Speed Seduction using neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a controversial fusion of hypnosis and psychology. Not content to just teach his techniques, Jeffries, like all the mavens in this community, fiercely protects his turf and his followers. Competition amongst the experts is fierce in this community since many of the masters make their living from delivering seduction workshops that earn as much as $2200 per person for a three day seminar. Therefore, the shepherds are always vigilant in guarding their flocks.

In fact, Jeffries becomes a topic of conversation between Strauss and Tom Cruise during an interview. Cruise denies that his character was based on Jeffries but during a tour of the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood, Strauss makes a crucial observation. Watching Scientology students in a classroom, role-playing scenarios for converting new followers, Strauss notices that “what they were rehearsing, I realized, was a form of pickup. Without a rigid structure, rehearsed routines, and troubleshooting tactics, there would be no recruitment.”

It is precisely this realization that causes all the trouble in The Game. After gathering some of the top pickup artists in the world into a rental at Dean Martin’s old home in the Hollywood Hills, what should be a utopia of hot babes quickly deteriorates. Like Strauss’ realization at the Scientology Center, the pickup artists learn that they can use their technologies on men as well as women, for any purpose. Instead of creating a golden age of sarging, the community devolves into a Lord of the Flies meets Fight Club power-struggle. The household, labeled Project Hollywood, splinters in arguments over money, respect, supremacy, and the most clichéd point of contention in the history of mankind: a woman. The world’s greatest pickup artists, who can have their pick of any female, damage their brotherhood over a woman.

This book is guaranteed to piss people off. And Strauss and ReganBooks aren’t pulling any punches. Even the design of the book is gutsy. At first glance the pseudo leather cover, gilded page edges, and red ribbon bookmark could easily be mistaken for The Bible. If you overlook the stripper girl icon on the cover, that is.

If the book’s design isn’t enough to get critics riled up, the subject matter certainly is. Naturally, many people are going to object to the book not because of the literary merit, but rather the subject matter itself. Throughout the text, Strauss strives to retain non-chauvinistic attitudes in this world, and he frequently comments on how women shouldn’t be treated unfairly. Nonetheless, it’s inevitable that some critics will focus on one pickup artist mentor who suggests neophytes read Dog Training by Lew Burke “for tips on handling girls,” while another expert’s home library contains Seduction Begins When the Woman Says No.

But for readers willing to overlook some of the less seemly aspects of this community, The Game provides a number of possible interpretations. There is enough discussion of pickup strategies that male readers can improve their own success with women. Women can learn about the male psyche and the lengths men will go to in order to attract female attention. Or perhaps women readers will recognize the pick-up artists openers so they are better prepared to defend themselves against guys doing magic tricks in bars. Readers of both genders can enjoy the exploration of this community and the group-dynamics and conflicts that arise. And for people who just want an engaging and hilarious read peppered with appearances by Tom Cruise, Courtney Love, Heidi Fleiss, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Scott Baio, that’s available as well. Trips to various bookstores have discovered The Game shelved in the self-help section, the memoir section, and the culture section.

Certainly, there is enough evidence to interpret The Game as a cautionary tale for those inclined to do so. Strauss writes: “seduction is a dark art. Its secrets come with a price and we were all paying it, whether in sanity, school, work, time, money, health, morality, or loss of self. We may have been supermen in the club, but on the inside, we were rotting.” As Strauss learned, “sarging could be hazardous to the soul.”

Conversely, there is indeed a happy ending to the book. For the participants who know how to maintain the proper perspective (or who eventually learn to do so), the dark trip through The Game can also be empowering. Men who were previously bashful and shy learn confidence that can be used with women or in the workplace. Inattentive and scattered men in the book who become obsessed with learning seduction techniques realize they can successful at law school or in business if they apply the same level of focus. As the reader will learn, Strauss’ own personal life has benefited immensely from his experiences in this community.

Featured in multiple issues of Esquire, covered in an upcoming Primetime Live special, and optioned for a movie by Columbia Pictures, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss is an illuminating exploration of an underground culture that most people never knew existed. Read it for the tips, for the salacious details, for the celebrities, for the power plays, for the things that go bad, or the things that go well.