Super Seducer

RLR Training Inc
RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive
PC, Mac
March 6, 2018

Sidequest was provided with a copy of Super Seducer for PC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Super Seducer has been awash in a sea of controversy and backlash since its release. Though much has already been said regarding its problematic content and the message it attempts to convey, there is always room for elaboration.

Content warning: this review will discuss misogynistic elements and contains images that are sexual in nature.

Super Seducer was conceived by the puzzling philosophical hivemind that is pick-up artists (PUAs). PUAs believe that certain techniques and calculated actions can strongly improve how women perceive the men that perform them, theoretically increasing the chances of these men getting with them. For instance, “negging” refers to a tactic attempting to demean a woman to raise the man to a higher standing. It is psychologically manipulative, attempting to corner the target so that she will have no choice but to compliment the man.

PUAs assert that there is a degree of professionalism to the craft, denying that the philosophy is driven by sexist notions and that the practice isn’t disrespectful. However, it is very clear that the PUA philosophy centers on treating people like a game. PUAs operate as players within a world generated to serve them and their satisfaction, with the world like a game that can be won through selecting the correct, predetermined choices. Super Seducer translates the PUA bible to a fitting medium: a video game.

Super Seducer is the pet project of professional pick-up-artist Richard La Ruina. When opening the game for the first time, players are subjected to an introduction by La Ruina himself. The scene looks like what one would see used in a commercial: a brimming white kitchen area with minimalist furnishings. La Ruina sits behind a white counter with a laptop open to the game’s main menu. He expresses all the heart put into the game’s production, thanking the player for supporting it. He makes nothing less than a sales pitch to the player, telling them that he, and PUAs by extension, are marketable. The vignette is like an ad for a sleek, new smartphone, but is instead for PUAs. It’s presented like a package, as if wrapped under a bow to disguise the festering harmful ideas.

Following the introduction, which thankfully does not have to be dealt with during consecutive playthroughs, the player is brought to the main menu. One side lists the options while the other side is a small slideshow of La Ruina posing with models, dressed and posed deliberately to suggest coquettishness and provocation. La Ruina is centered in all of these pictures; the models are mere props to frame him.

Title screen. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

La Ruina does not waiver his confidence to hide the fact that he is the centerpiece of the game.

The game is comprised of chaptersstages that players have to clear to move forward. Gameplay revolves around watching a scene and then picking from a selection of given choices to proceed, very much akin to most systems of episode-based gaming. Although Super Seducer is literally a dating sim, it lacks some of the complexities bigger titles within the genre have, such as a calendar cycle and other influential elements that can hurt or heal your relationships developed outside of dialogue. The game is more similar to the model of many of the text-based, interactive dramas by Telltale Games.

La Ruina acts as the player’s avatar in the game’s cutscenes. An example of some the stages include attempting to hit on a woman who is walking in a totally opposite direction from you or invasively sitting next to two friends in a booth at a party to hit up one of them. The goals include getting a woman’s phone number or completing an actual date smoothly. Later stages outright state that the primary goal is to have sex, but nothing is explicitly shown. There’s nothing blatantly pornographic, with scenes cutting away before such acts happen.

Production-wise, the scenes do look good. Save for a number of hiccups, the acting is also mostly decent. Overall, the game’s pacing is more boring than actually bad. Conversations feel drawn out as the player spends most gameplay just watching dates unfold.

La Ruina also has this flair of social awkwardness about him, as if he has forgotten how to interact with women normally and not through crosshairs. Much of his dialogue is long-winded, drawing upon the idea of talking women down to get the upper hand and “lead” a conversation. Despite attempts to be impressive, La Ruina says a number of lines that are downright cringey, robotic, and that defeat the image of the impressive smooth-talker that PUAs project themselves as. Again, the lines and how the actors present themselves are not the worst part of the game, but the corny and clunkily written conversations baffle the player as to how a woman would receive them as positively as they do in-game. Ultimately, the game’s saving grace is that most cutscenes have a skip option.

This game’s notoriety comes from the consequences of choosing the more odd, deviant, and deliberately sexualized choices. Upon making each choice, the screen cuts away to a shot of La Ruina either criticizing or applauding the player. Making the wrong choice subjects the player to La Ruina’s scolding, alone and sitting on an empty bed. A right answer, on the other hand, “rewards” the player with a shot of a La Ruina flanked by two unspeaking women posed sexually in lingerie.

Incorrect choice. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

When the player makes the wrong choice, they are greeted with La Ruina stepping in to give some advice or outright scold them….

Correct choice. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

…But when the player makes a correct choice, on the other hand, they are greeted with the “reward” of two scantily clad women.

La Ruina hypocritically scolds the player for being a creep when making a “bad” choice when the game’s inherent concept and whole being is problematic. The grosser choices are obviously wrong and exist as attempts to be funny, but it is difficult to take in the humor when the game has no self-awareness. There are also other attempts at humor, such as when La Ruina has a case of wandering eyes or makes exaggerated, sleazy faces. Despite being a promotion of the PUA cause, it conflicts with the message that they want to be taken seriously as committed respecting bodies.

Choice screen. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

It is clear that the more inappropriate and downright unsavory choices that players can make exist for humor or to make an example out of a situation, but it is difficult to take those lessons seriously when the game itself is unsavory.

The game is also poorly optimized. Despite being a full motion video (FMV) game, it certainly should not have needed the several gigabytes that it took to install. More contemporary FMV games such as Her Story and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker demanded considerably fewer specifications to run. Even the more recent remaster of Night Trap requires less drive space than Super Seducer. Lag sometimes disrupted the gameplay, and some cutscenes would not load properly.

Cutscene load-in glitch. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

Is there something wrong with my graphics card? Is the game poorly optimized? Or is my computer simply reacting to a bad game?

Nonetheless, the game does mostly function. You make a choice, and you get a result.

However, other video games with wooing mechanics were not made to make generalizations about whole groups of people, and gameplay generally establishes the awareness of the parties involved in the initiation. These interactive fantasies establish consent. Super Seducer felt like it encouraged deliberate power struggles in conversation, where the player wins by deceiving women. Dating sims often have multiple routes and consequences for failing to meet a goal or outright doing bad things, but nothing really happens when a player does not beat a stage in Super Seducer. After making a wrong choice, the player is simply taken back to the previous screen to try again, as if in an almost symbolic suggestion that nothing is stopping you from shamelessly pursuing someone despite their hard decline.

Perhaps it is from having grown numb to the shock of pervasive misogyny, but from my perspective, something about Super Seducer is more surreal than offensive. Microphones are sometimes blatantly visible. Actors walk and idle in places in strange places. At times, there is a suggestion of uncertainty, as if these people don’t really know where they are supposed to be at the moment. Sets are clearly reused. My initial discomfort turned into bewilderment. The game literally feels like it is set within a place where there are no other people and space is limited.

Many shots feel like paintings by Edward Hopper, an artist known for painting work where individual, sometimes minimalist subjects are situated in big spaces that feel lonely and isolated from the rest of the world. In Hopper’s earlier work, the male gaze is also more apparent in works featuring women who were alone. Compared to Hopper’s paintings, which built consideration and changes in perspective over time, Super Seducer is a piece of broken art that has no consideration for itself or the ideas it wants to promote.

Random café woman. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

In this shot, this woman randomly walks in, disrupting a date by “distracting” La Ruina for comic relief. The setting is a completely empty café save for La Ruina, his date, and this woman. The woman walks towards the back and never comes back out. I don’t think there is a restroom back there.

In a piece on Vice’s Motherboard, La Ruina fervently defends his title against the haters, claiming that the women involved in the production are fine with it, and that the project is a victim of political correctness. The game’s lonely, isolated feeling reminds me of how harmful ideologies tend to thrive and fester if maintained in insular communities. In addition to the game’s own lack of awareness and La Ruina’s overcompensating bravado, there is no one else in the world to criticize or stop his behavior. The system Super Seducer seeks to promote thrives the best in a confined bubble.

Super Seducer is something that should be treated as an example of what not to do both in developing a game and in reality. It is fine to play Super Seducer for the strange, and sometimes cringingly funny experience it can be, but it is important to remember that it is promoting ideas that are downright dangerous and inherently misogynistic. It is easy to mock disagreeable ideas, which may lessen their impact, but it important to remember to consider small ways to halt toxicity outright. PUA ideas are a corruption of social behavior and overall human dignity, reducing men and women to predator and prey. The ideology teaches men how to treat women in a harmful way, in addition to conditioning and pressuring men to conform to toxic masculinity.

Compared to Super Seducer, there are many titles that display healthier perspectives of relationships and social behavior. Other dating sims, like Dream Daddy or Rose of Winter, remove the predatory aspects of pursuit, with affection generally developed mutually between the people you can potentially woo. These games are free from sexual content, and consequences are made clear when the wrong decisions are made. On the other hand, a game like Ladykiller in a Bind, by Christine Love, displays a heaping amount of sexual content, including BDSM practices. However, the game accomplishes establishing consent and communication between its characters numerous times. Love has also been consistently receptive to making changes to the game to make it more accessible.

Super Seducer is certainly an experience. However, it is an experience that is not worth the support of a gamer’s wallet when that support can go elsewhere to something more productive. Laughing and mocking harmful things can reduce their power, but we should simultaneously be supportive of media that promotes better-conveyed ideas and healthier values developed by the creators that deserve it. People in reality have the power to choose what they buy and play, unlike the women in Super Seducer.

Same, girls, same. Super Seducer, RLR Training Inc, Red Dahlia Interactive, 2018

Same, girls, same.