Angela Washko dissects pickup artistry with dating simulator ‘The Game: The Game’
Internet spelunking isn’t just a hobby for Angela Washko. It’s a vital academic and artistic pursuit. The Carnegie Mellon professor, multimedia artist and independent game developer is bringing the fruits of her research into the “manosphere” to Park City.
“The Game: The Game” is a dating simulator that takes place over the course of one night in a bar. In it, the player, adopting the perspective of a femme-identifying character, is confronted by a series of “pickup artists,” or PUAs for short.
Washko originally thought of translating her research into a book, but says the video game medium presents an opportunity to convey pickup artistry in a more effective way.
“I thought, instead of just telling people what’s going on, ‘The Game’ is an avenue … to have somebody actually sort of experience it,” she said.
It will be available to play from Jan. 18-25 at the Slamdance Film Festival’s DIG (Digital Interactive & Gaming) exhibit in the Treasure Mountain Inn and will be released on digital storefronts sometime this year.
PUAs are people who consider themselves scientists in the field of picking up women. It’s a largely male community that often gathers in online spaces like Reddit and other forums. PUA tactics range from the subtle and harmless, like adjusting body language, to the overt, like breaking down a target’s self-esteem and denying their escape.
While the PUA community of the present is often closely tied with nationalism and far-right politics, Washko doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of those who come to seduction coaches for advice.
“The problem is that some of these particularly anti-feminist pickup artists and seduction coaches have a monopoly on the answer to that need,” she said.
Washko’s work often covers online culture, like her “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft,” a multimedia project which examined subculture, segregation and misogyny within the massively multiplayer online game “World of Warcraft.”
Mixed into the array of characters of “The Game: The Game” are suitors based on real-life PUAs, ranging from Neil Strauss, who first brought the subculture into the mainstream with his book “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists,” to Daryush Valizadeh, commonly referred to as Roosh V, an alt-right figure and founder of the anti-feminist website Return of Kings. Valizadeh, author of a series of books on how to pickup women in various countries, gained notoriety in 2015 for a “satirical” blog post where he proposed legalizing rape. Washko has encountered him and his worldview before on a separate project.
“I realized the person most opposite to my own core values was Roosh V, and so I pursued interviewing him as a way to try to understand how he ended up developing this particular perspective and strategies,” Washko said.
All of the dialogue in the game is inspired by real concepts put forth in seduction coaches’ material, and Washko has embarked on projects documenting this community before. While critical of the attitudes some PUAs have toward misogyny and consent, she wants to map out the spectrum of their tactics with an open mind.
Gameplay in a dating simulator, a subgenre of visual novel games, takes place as the player engages in dialogue with various characters and chooses between options of responses. A hallmark of the genre is the ability for the player to determine multiple story outcomes based on choices they make during gameplay.
Washko said the game, with a soundtrack provided by experimental band Xiu Xiu and which she wrote, coded and illustrated, contains about 400 pages of dialogue total.
She isn’t interested in dictating how the player should reach one of the more than 50 endings.
“It’s more about deciding, as the player, who you are interested in interacting with, how you interact with them and whether or not you end up being interested in pursuing the pickup artists who are interested in you, or maybe you’re more interested in getting away from them,” Washko said. “I don’t shame the player in any way, so if you do end up wanting to go home with one of the pickup artists, you can play out those scenarios as well.”
The finished build of “The Game: The Game” has already been shown in New York, and Washko is looking forward to seeing how the festival audiences in Utah respond to her work.
“It’s primarily been shown in art gallery and art museum contexts, so this sort of festival context is interesting to me in the way that it’s linked to cinema,” she said. “It’s exciting to see how that will play out in conversation with the film programs that are there.”
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