Readings — From the June 2018 issue

Space Invaders

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From game play of The Game: The Game, a dating-simulation video game developed by Angela Washko, an assistant professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University. Washko modeled the characters and dialogue on prominent pickup artists and their coaching materials. The player chooses her dialogue in conversations with the characters she meets; this conversation is adapted from one potential pathway. The character Erik is based on Erik von Markovik, aka Mystery. The game was exhibited earlier this year at the Museum of the Moving Image, in New York City.

You step into your favorite bar. It’s starting to get crowded. Your friends are with a group of people you don’t know. As you join them you see a tall, long-haired man wearing a cowboy hat and black nail polish appear to make a woman’s cocktail glass levitate.

The man’s name is Erik. He abruptly turns to you and asks in a firm and loud voice:

erik: So … who the hell are you?

player: That’s a broad question … uh …

Erik stares at you intensely. 

erik: Actually …

He pauses.

erik: I don’t think we should get to know each other. 

player: Why not?

Erik looks in the direction of his friends and shrugs. 

erik: I thought you’d like to join the party. But you seem like too much of a nice girl for me. 

player: You don’t know shit about me!

Erik smiles. He leans in and looks closely at your hair. 

erik: Is that your natural hair color?

player: No.

erik: Well, it fits you. 

The compliment seems to be delivered with sincerity.

erik: So check this out. Did you know that Elvis Presley dyed his hair?

player: No. I can’t say I really care about Elvis.

Erik gives you a look of disapproval. 

erik: You come on strong. 

He pauses. 

erik: Save that for later in the relationship. 

Erik turns to his friends. 

erik: Hey, guys! What movie is this from? “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”

group: Dirty Dancing

They erupt in laughter. He turns back to you. 

erik: Do you think spells work? Like magic spells? I was having a debate with some friends. 

player: Weird.

Erik gestures for you to tone it down. 

erik: You really wrecked a moment!

He looks at you with disappointment.

erik: Your ex-boyfriends must have hated that about you. 

He laughs, then pushes his drink toward you and positions his hands on either side of the glass like a sorcerer conjuring visions from a crystal ball. 

erik: Here. Hold this.

He puts your hands around the glass. 

erik: I don’t know whether you can remember the last time you were able to feel an incredible connection with someone.

He pauses. 

erik: When you feel that, it’s almost as if you can imagine a cord of light extending from you to that person. And as you begin to glow with the warmth of that connection, you can imagine a time in the future, still feeling that amazing sense of connection, and look back on today as having been the start of it.

player: Please just stop.

Erik rolls his eyes. 

erik: We are so broken up. I want my CDs back.

He laughs and briefly turns away from you, as though someone or something else has caught his attention. Then he turns back toward you and firmly grabs your shoulder. He gives you an intense, urgent look. 

erik: Is there more to you than meets the eye? There are lots of beautiful women here. 

He moves his hand from your shoulder and looks away as he awaits your response. 

player: Come on, give up the lines. 

Erik looks shocked.

erik: I don’t think my girlfriend would like you flirting with me. 

player: What girlfriend?

Erik bursts out laughing. 

erik: Oh my God! You’re attracted to me! I knew that would make you jealous. 

He smiles smugly and looks off in another direction.

player: So, what is your story? What do you do? 

erik: I’m an adventurer. 

player: What does that mean?

erik: Have you ever played Dragon’s Lair?

player: Yes, of course! I’m surprised when anyone knows that reference.

erik: Well, I’m Dirk the Daring!

Before you can respond, he continues: 

erik: And you are the fair princess Daphne. I’m here to save you from the evil dragon.

He contemplates for a second. 

erik: I’m not really a video gamer, but that game was way ahead of its time!

player: Yeah, it was really unusual. You must be talking about the arcade version.

Just as you deliver your statement, a young woman comes by and puts her arms around Erik. They exchange a brief but sensual kiss. She whispers something to him and walks off. He returns his eye contact to you. You say nothing.

erik: Real quick, and then I have to rejoin my friends. If you could be anything in the world with no chance of failure, what would you be? 

He smiles slyly.

erik: And don’t say a princess.

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