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Literature / The Game (2005)
aka: The Game

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"Those who have read the early drafts of this book have all asked the same questions: "Is this true?" "Did it really happen?" "Are these guys for real?" Thus, I find it necessary to employ an old literal device...: The following is a true story. It really happened."
Neil Strauss, because the book really is that weird.

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists is a 2005 book that explains the techniques and concepts used by a society of pickup artists living within the United States, written in the form of a novel instead of a typical self-help book. Using himself as an example, former Rolling Stone and New York Times writer Neil Strauss tells the story of his transformation from an AFC (an "Average Frustrated Chump") to one of the greatest pickup artists in the world.

The book follows Strauss as he signs up for a pickup artist class held by "Mystery", a revered leader in the seduction community. Strauss takes on the Screen Name of "Style" and begins to assimilate the concepts, pickup lines and routines Mystery teaches them. Together with a group of fellow pick-up artists, the duo move into a mansion in Los Angeles which they open as a "haven" for other PUA's, called "Project Hollywood". Eventually, however, Strauss finds himself rejected from the community, and learns that all the seduction techniques in the world don't mean much when he finds his true love. The book also breaks down the "codes" used by various PUA's, and details the different types of "seduction communities" that currently exist on message boards.


The Game was a bestseller, and caused a firestorm of controversy from fellow pickup artists who believed Strauss had sold them out. A companion book, Rules of the Game, was released in 2007 and another book that can be considered a sequel, The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book about Relationships was released in 2015.

Not related to The Game (2006) or The Game (2014) or The Game or The Game or The Game or The Game or even The Game...that you just lost.


This book contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: Having a life full of women will not solve your problems: only you can solve them.
    To win the game was to leave it.
  • Assimilation Plot: Zig-Zagged, possibly Deconstructed.
    • Neil himself wants to emulate the top pickup artists, only to later develop his own style. Then, he noticed how everyone else wants to do this, but rather than develop their own style, they copy them verbatim and become "social robots."
    • Exploited near the end: the Real Social Dynamics team decides to teach everyone to emulate Style so he no longer appears unique, weeding him out of the PUA community.
  • Being a PUA Sucks: Not an opinion which Style himself completely submits to, but it is more or less the conclusion the book leads up to. Then again, see Do Not Do This Cool Thing below.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Project Hollywood is a disaster, Mystery and Neil are kicked out of the house, and Tyler Durden and Papa take control of the house. However, Mystery recovered, Neil is now comfortable with himself and he got the girl he was after (for the time, at least; see Downer Ending), and Tyler Durden and Papa got kicked out of the house for running a business in a residential zone. Adding more to the sweet in a meta example, rivals Mystery and Ross Jeffries were brought together later by Neil to conduct a seminar together.
    • Downer Ending: At the end of the book, Neil begins a serious relationship with a woman, one that he believes will last for a long, long time. Several months after the book was released, the woman (a former guitarist for mutual friend Courtney Love) broke up with Strauss.
  • Camp Straight: Mystery specializes in "peacocking", which is wearing deliberately ridiculous clothing (such as tophats, feather boas, etc.) in order to attract women.
  • The Casanova:
    • Almost everybody is one, including some women.
    • Casanova Wannabe: However several people are actually this, such as the customers for the courses.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Hits about halfway through the book as the lighthearted antics of becoming a PUA turns into a battle for power and struggle for self-fulfillment.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Landers: Virtually the entire cast, save for maybe Neil. Extramask, a comedian, out-Cloudcuckolands everyone.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Throughout the book, Strauss explains that pickup artists have to be prepared for every possibility, from the first line said to a woman to what would happen if another male attempts to hit on the same woman as the pickup artist.
  • Daddy Issues:
    • Most of Mystery's issues go back to this.
    • One of Neil's attempted conquests in Rules of the Game, Samantha, tells him that her father shot himself in front of his family at dinner one night and her mother abandoned her when she was young.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The last quarter of the book focuses on Neil's attempts to get a woman named Lisa (a mutual friend of Courtney Love) to open up to him, after she no-sells his attempts to seduce her.
  • Downer Beginning: The prologue takes place after Project Hollywood hits rock bottom, and the opening starts Neil off in a romantically lonely place.
  • Genki Girl: Courtney Love (yes, that Courtney Love).
  • Heel Realization: The end of Rules of the Game involves a friend giving Neil a blistering speech on how the latter has no clue how to maintain a stable long-term relationship because he goes into them expecting to fail. After the friend tells him that couples have to build emotions and not rely solely on sex, Neil comes to an epiphany and pledges not to be as heartless when it comes to relationships.
  • How We Got Here: The prologue begins as Project Hollywood falls apart and Mystery is on the brink of suicide.
  • Idealized Sex:
    • Averted early on with Extramasks' post on his first lay. As the book progresses, sex is either treated as ridiculously complex or as no big deal (with one unedited section full of typos that Neil wrote while having sex).
    • The only idealized sexual encounter in the book, wherein Neil has a wild threesome to get his mind off of Lisa, is then ruined when the encounter doesn't help him get his mind off Lisa.
    • In the case of the two women who are explictly noted to be virgins in Rules of the Game (Linda and Stacy), the former's first experience is explained by Neil in romanticized detail, while the latter's first experience takes up the course of an entire chapter (via letters written to each other with flowery prose).
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You:
    • The book ends with Neil realizing that the one woman he has feelings for, Lisa, isn't affected at all by his attempts to seduce her, and in the penultimate chapter, he comes clean with her by throwing all the phone numbers he accumulated from women over the years in his bed to convince her that he loves her.
    • Meta twist: he ends up losing her anyway after the book is published.
  • Instant Seduction: This is the basis of the techniques and openers used by Mystery and Style (to great effect), although it's later subverted when Style (months after he walked away from the pickup community) tries his original openers and lines on several different women, only to find that the PUA community had more or less discredited his techniques due to overuse.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Katya, who seeks to destroy Project Hollywood by ingratiating herself with the PUA community.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Discussed, and named as such. The PUA artists claim that "All Women Are Lustful" is the truth, but women have a last minute anti-slut defense mechanism that makes them appear as "All Women Are Prudes", and the key is to appease the former.
  • Manipulative Bastard: All the pickup artists, but Tyler Durden and Papa take the cake.
  • Mental Fusion:
    • Part of Neil's training with Steve P. and Rasputin involves this.
    • Weaponizing this trope and Assimilation Plot, Tyler Durden teaches the students to become Style.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: One chapter in Rules of the Game involves Strauss seducing and bedding two sisters, the latter of whom is younger and chooses him to be her first sexual experience. Once he realizes how he hurt the other sister, who found out about what happened and went back to an ex-boyfriend (who subsequently got her hooked on drugs), he realizes he made a terrible mistake.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The author writes this in the intro. Who can blame him?
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Neil wonders whether Extramask is really crazy or just trying to be funny.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Every character that's in "the community" takes on a nickname ("Style" for the author himself, "Mystery" for another character; one of them calls himself Tyler Durden) and they always call / refer to each other by their nicknames, even those of them who know each other in real life and know each other's real names.
  • Only Sane Man: Neil Strauss tries to portray himself as this. Any self-criticism or sense of self-awareness in regards to the many questionable or simply idiotic actions he undertakes is remarkably absent.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Mystery, to an extent.
  • Quest for Sex: Deconstructed: they get it, and it solves nothing.
  • Really Gets Around: All of the PUAs are guilty of this, especially Mystery. Despite having suicidal thoughts and being dropped off at a mental health clinic by Neil at the opening, he still attempts to seduce the psychiatrist who's trying to treat him.
  • Romantic Wingman: Katya performs this role in the original book, while Leslie has this function in a chapter from Rules of the Game.
  • Sensei for Scoundrels: Strauss holds the mantle of foremost seduction authority in the world for several years, and spends time teaching thousands of hapless men how to seduce and trick women. However, he eventually becomes disillusioned with the community (especially after being driven out by Project Hollywood) and decides to go straight with one woman.
  • Shout-Out: Many, but the most obvious one is Tyler Durden, who blatantly took his name from... well, Tyler Durden. In fact it's a coincidence that the latter part of the book becomes close to the very plot of Fight Club, what with Project Hollywood and all.
  • Spanner in the Works: While Project Hollywood was already decaying anyway, Katya turns it into chaos.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Neil describes walking through a hotel lobby with a woman on each arm (including his romantic wingwoman, Leslie) in this way during a chapter from Rules of the Game.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Strauss goes from an "average, frustrated chump" who can't get laid to save his life into (for a time) the foremost authority in seduction and pickup artistry in the world, and gets paid thousands of dollars to teach workshops where he seduces even more women.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Papa, who conspires to take down Strauss by teaching his PUA style and methods to the other members of Project Hollywood, thus ostracizing the latter from the community.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Neil Strauss himself is bald and ugly. A significant group of PUAs from the community don't look any better.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The book begins with Mystery having a psychotic breakdown and threatening to kill himself when his girlfriend leaves, before being checked into a mental health clinic.

Alternative Title(s): The Game