I’ve never been good with women. Just ask any of the poor, female sods that I used to go to school discos with and they’ll tell you the same. I can’t flirt, I can’t dance; when it comes to kissing, I tend to smack my mouth and slurp like I’m trying to somehow extract protein from my host’s saliva. I’ve gotten by over the years thanks to chat-up lines I’ve nicked from films and by cultivating a loveable, grouchy persona. But on an objective scale of things that are sexy, I still rate somewhere between used bandages and knives.
Seduce Me felt like it was a chance to prove something. An “erotic strategy game,” it sees you play as a hunky guy who’s trying to bone various women while staying at a luxurious Mediterranean villa. Using sparse dialogue choices and a few simple card games, you, as bell-ends would put it, select a target, approach and open, then demonstrate value. The better at card and computer games you are, the more likely you are to get your leg over; the exact same experience I’d gained trying to avoid women in the real world was about to pay back in sexy, sexy dividends. After hearing it got kicked off Steam Greenlight for having too many boobs, I couldn’t wait to play Seduce Me. This was going to be everything a single, bored, masturbatist could ever dream of, right? Wrong.
See, despite all the women in Seduce Me being different (there’s a submissive girly one who likes getting spanked, a tipsy, older one who wants a toy boy) they all had one thing in common: None of them wanted to bang me. And I don’t mean in a polite “you’re cute but not my type kind of way.” I mean in a “nobody likes you, you need to leave” way. Seriously. After fumbling card game after card game, I was actually been asked to leave the villa. It was only my pathetic, sulky begging during the Confrontation sequences that meant I wasn’t been escorted off the island and tossed in jail with the other sex pests. In a world populated exclusively by desperately horny actual nymphomaniacs, who have been specifically programmed to want to screw me, I still couldn’t get anyone to screw me.
And it was honestly very upsetting. All joking and levity aside, Seduce Me is a game that moved me almost to tears, because my total inability to flirt with the in-game women, and their resulting coldness and indifference, felt painfully close to my real life. These days, I’m in a long-term relationship and everything is cool. But at university it was a nightmare, and Seduce Me dragged that all back up again.
Take the card games. They seem simple enough. If you’re making “Small Talk” with a lady, it’s merely a case of matching whatever card she plays with a corresponding one of your own. If she uses the card with a bottle of wine on it, for example, you play your card with a bottle of wine on it and the “conversation” about food and drink ostensibly continues. The next level up is to have an “Intimate Chat” with somebody, where you have to create ascending runs of cards or matching sets to score conversation points. Again, it’s hardly neuroscience.
Even “Flirting,” which is meant to be the most difficult of Seduce Me‘s card games, is still basic enough, and just adds another stipulation that you let your “opponent” score some runs and sets, too, so as not to completely dominate the conversation. It’s an intuitive, logical system that ought to be playable for anyone who owned a deck of cards when they were a kid. But for me, it was indecipherable and frustrating, and far too reminiscent of my real experiences with women.
I can remember at university watching my friends and flatmates dress up, hit the town and sleep with some gorgeous stranger on a weekly basis, effortlessly gliding from one vagina to another. And like the eager dork that I am, I tried to tag along, pulling on my best shirt and practicing lines in the mirror before hitting the nightclubs. But of course, I had no luck. No matter how much I tried to emulate the other students, I could never get to grips with what seemed like the simple routine of approach, make conversation, see what happens. I’d just freeze up, or stand there looking miserable, or say something weird, before skulking back home to eat a large Dominos while watching old episodes of Peep Show.
That’s what Seduce Me made me feel like. Reading forums and Twitter, I could see other people getting the hang of this card game and making headway with the ladies, but for me, never the romantic, it was just as bewildering as real flirting and the game hurt my feelings.
The character design wasn’t helping, either. Consistently unsexed men and women will know how, when you’re not getting any, the world can seem cruel and taunting. Everywhere you look – magazines, television, nightspots – are reminders that there are people out there, attractive people, boning away like rabbits on shore leave. And you ain’t one of them. It’s a kind of sociopathic impulse where, after enough time, you set up a mental apartheid between yourself, a poorly, celibate loser, and them, the bonking masses that you’re not a part of.
Seduce Me really piles that feeling on. As a bespoke sex-game, its characters are not only implausibly gorgeous, they’re always at it, leaping on top of one another with the slightest double entendre or hint of boob. It’s an exaggerated, hyperbolic sexual Eden, much like I perceived my university campus to be, and when I couldn’t figure out how to join in the fun, it made me tremendously upset.
And I mean, tears; I mean, asking my girlfriend to come round to give me a hug and assure me that I’m not a wobbling mass of hairy unsexy – I am, to her at least, attractive. It was an extremely strong and negative reaction, completely at odds with the game’s alluring set-up, that came from my own ham-fisted play style and troubled background. And the more I thought about it, I loved it.
Seduce Me made me feel awful. It made me feel vulnerable, upset, disempowered and ugly. And although that was all very unpleasant, it was unlike anything I’d experienced with a computer game before. I’m used to muscular action heroes and sultry love interests, kill streaks and trophies – for a game to outright tell me that “no-one likes you” was incredibly refreshing.
It’s rare that a game taps into my personality like that. It happened once with Heavy Rain, during all the grey, struggling single dad sequences, but the typical gamer diet of explosive kill orgies doesn’t really appeal to my mental insecurities. What Seduce Me demonstrates is games’ capacity to use their audience as a storytelling device; the combination of my unfortunate history with women and impatience for card games created an entirely unique experience of Seduce Me, completely separate from the game’s intentions, but a product of its ideas nonetheless.
I love that about videogames. I love how they invite you to test their boundaries and then reward you with an experience all of your own. In some cases, that means putting on a fake moustache nuking Steelport; in others, like Seduce Me, it means having your spirits crushed by a slightly weird drawing who, as it turns out, isn’t even that good in bed.
Edward Smith is a journalist based in London. He covers games for IBTimes UK and says hilarious things on Twitter all the time @mostsincerelyed.