ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Name of The Game —

So, there’s a book out there called The Game. This entry is not really about the content of the book as regards the direct subject. The direct subject, by the way, is about the world of Pickup Artists, guys who have crafted methods that border on sure-fire for charming and seducing women. Credit where credit is due; it was this weblog entry by Aaron Swartz and his linked full review that got me to go pick this thing up in the first place.

No, while the subject matter may or may not be fascinating or relevant (I can imagine a range of people who would read it and twitch with anger through most of the chapters), it’s the structure of the book that I want to focus on.

The structure of this book is brilliant. It takes a hold of you very quickly, and then for over 400 pages (!) it leads you through all the permutations of a subculture. When you finish this book, you feel like you’ve been there, seen the ups and the downs, and you feel like you know more about stuff than when you picked the book up. The book is about this subculture of pickup artists, with the author being a star player in that subculture, but that’s not what I’m saying in terms of fascination; what’s fascinating is that you follow the growth of this subculture, ebbs and flows, and you round out at the end like a car has slowed down a little and kicked you to the curb, onward to more adventures, wishing you could tag along.

Not very many books do this, or accomplish it.

Finishing this book, putting it down and contemplating what I’d experienced going through the stories, it occurred to me that this was the kind of book a hacker, phreaker, cracking subculture could use. It doesn’t punch people in the face; it doesn’t have to. The criticisms, when they come, are in the nature of the subculture itself. When someone uses someone else, they use techniques learned by others to do pickups; they’re just taking it to the next level. It really is the case of “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. It’s reflexive like that; you enter a mindset and you end up on the other end realizing you’ve been thinking in this mindset throughout the story arc.

It’s a narrative; the author is the main character, telling you how things happened through his eyes. He brings in people, helps you keep track of them, but he tells you about himself as much as anyone else. But the thing is, he doesn’t start out ruling the world. He doesn’t end up ruling the world. He’s another player in the story, and yet also asides to you his discoveries, growth, disillusionment, and delight.

I wish a book like this was written for hacking. I wish there was someone who would construct a beautiful narrative, with them as the center of it, going through the era of the 1970s up through to the 1990s. Even if they had to start things at 1985 or even 1995 and reference the “old school” as we progressively continue to label anything ten years old, it would still have a lot more potential to rule.

Reading “hacker books”, I grew sick a long time ago of the journalist types going “boy, these are some fucked-up little gumballs, aren’t they”, snickering the whole time and making everyone out to be a vicious backstabbing automaton. People aren’t necessarily evil to the core; they have reasons, fears, hopes that drive them to make bad decisions. Trust me, I can attest to this fact. Evil’s an easy thing to write about; just make someone a psychotic robot. Bringing nuance to explain how things got that way is so much harder.

The book is good stuff. You may enjoy it. You may not. But the structure… there we have something truly great. Let’s see more of that. Maybe I’ll have to write that book myself.

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  1. Josh K. says:

    It’s been a while since I read The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling, but from what I remember it had some of the features you’ve outlined.

  2. Ravenwood says:

    I would recommend Mystery’s The venusian arts handbook as well as David Deangelo’s Double your dating.

  3. says:

    Oh God. If there is any subculture that I loathe and despise it has to be the whiole stupid “PUA” internet subculture. In my experience the majority of people attracted to that subculture are socially inept dorks who end up with huge attitudes and superiority complexes even though they “score” a hell of a lot less than the average guy (or Average Frustrated Chump as they call others not in their stupid little scene).

    Anyways. I agree that a book like what you described about the Hacker subculture would be awesome. I would buy it.

  4. spinsane says:

    I think I’ve read parts of The Game in ebook form and, if it’s the book I recall, you’re spot on. A compelling narrative about anything “oldschool” BBS related would be a joy. With that, I need to remember to pick up a copy of Commodork.