Richard La Ruina is, by very definition, a game developer. He's the creator of "the world's most realistic seduction simulator," Super Seducer, and is about to release its sequel, Super Seducer 2.
But when I spoke to him, he laughingly remarked that he's not that great at the nuts and bolts of making games.
"We're not technical at all," Richard said. "We really like the FromSoftware games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls. We'd love to make something like that."
"But we can't," added Kate La Ruina, who is the producer for Super Seducer 2, and Richard's wife.
"When we finished the first game, it was difficult sometimes for us to play it, because it was a bit awkward and we knew we could have done better"
In fact, Richard La Ruina has made a name for himself as a dating coach and founder of the company PUA Training, with PUA standing for "pick-up artist." Both Super Seducer and its sequel follow that line of training, and purport to teach men how to approach, flirt with, and ultimately date or sleep with women in various real-life scenarios. Players make choices as to how they think they should act in a given scenario. Then, Richard offers critique and advice on why that choice was a good or poor one to make.
In Super Seducer 2, he's joined by dating coach Charlotte Jones in an effort to add a "woman's touch" after the first game was criticized for, among other things, teaching creepy or stalker-like behavior, misogyny, and was referred to at one point as "the world's sleaziest game."
Both games are largely interactive films, with all of the game's scenes and dialogue performed in filmed, live-action sequences. These are knit together into various seduction and dating scenarios, with the player making choices to determine what should be done next.
"We found our niche in video, and there aren't many games that do that," Richard continued. "We were thinking after this production, because we actually got a much more professional crew that actually works on TV shows and films, that we could easily make a feature film or TV series or an interactive game that was like an action-adventure, horror, spy, whatever it might be, but a different kind of interactive game. So if people like the production values and the acting of Super Seducer 2, then we could probably take the same kind of ability to make that quality of video and try to make something in a different genre."
"But also with this kind of game it's especially important that players can see real people, real expressions, real body language," Kate said. "That's what a relationship is all about. Human interactions, right? Especially when you're trying to teach people to have better interactions."
Richard says that some of those key human interactions, however, weren't as polished as they could have been in the first game. He aims to fix that in the sequel.
"Obviously, Super Seducer was our first game," Richard said. "We learned a lot about every stage of the process. Half of it is like shooting a movie, to get all of the scenes. The second half is the coding and promotion. When we finished the first game, it was difficult sometimes for us to play it, because it was a bit awkward and we knew we could have done better. It was difficult to watch some of the Let's Plays. We made a list of all the things we wanted to improve, so just about everything [is different]: the acting, the way it looks, the scripting, the amount of interactivity, the variety; many, many things."
"When we scripted [the first game], we didn't really rehearse or visualize it"
Richard was candid about what he saw as the flaws of his first video game, which he felt suffered from the team's inexperience and obliviousness to the scrutiny that would be placed upon it. The first game only had a handful of actors, and many of its scenes were shot in only a few hours with little preparation.
"When we scripted [the first game], we didn't really rehearse or visualize it," Richard said. "So the actor would show up on the day and we'd be like 'Okay, here's the script. Someone hold that. Okay, what's the next line? Hang on, that doesn't make sense based on what we just did.' It was not well-planned or rehearsed. The amount of footage we got, I think it was nine hours, but to do it properly would have required many, many months of pre-production. We were kind of winging it. It was like, 'Where are we shooting tomorrow? We don't know.' And we would shoot two levels in one day.
"We even found when it came time to put them into the game, we saw some things wouldn't make sense. You'd ask for a number, get it, then later on ask for the number again. We had all of these stupid continuity problems. It was also just a bit awkward because we didn't have professional actors, and millions of other reasons I could give you."
With Super Seducer 2, Richard is working with ten times the budget of the first game. Not only does that mean he can spend more time planning, scripting, filming, and smoothing the first game's rough production edges, but it also allowed him to try some new things. The game includes an interactive standup comedy set, for one. And two of the sequel's ten levels are played through the perspective of a single woman, rather than a man.
Despite this, Richard said the game is still primarily targeted toward men.
"We didn't want to make [the game] fifty-fifty with the women's perspective levels, because we didn't know how people would take to them. We're trying a lot of new things in Super Seducer 2, and if they're popular we would include them, I don't know, we could do a spin-off just for women, or we could do more female perspective levels.
"We do keep in mind that the majority of the players would be male, but I think the female perspective levels do a good job of showing the right way for a woman to go out and meet men. Part of my background is in coaching women as well. We did sit down with a lot of different women and my wife helped with it and a single friend who's gone out and met lots of men. We did a lot of brainstorming to make sure they were right and hitting both angles to be useful and interesting for women, and also give men a little bit of insight into what a woman would think when she's single and looking for men, and how she might show that she's single and interested."
Nonetheless, Richard hopes women will play Super Seducer 2, just as some did the first game.
"I think a lot of women played Super Seducer," he said. "We saw quite a lot on Twitch. I know it was entertaining on Twitch, and I actually preferred to see the woman's perspective on what she'd think would work or not. That's usually a lot more interesting than the male perspective. We watched a lot of that. I'm sure a lot of women will play it. I think it will be quite popular with the big Twitch players, and there are a few I'd like to see play the game."
But speaking of women's thoughts on the game, Richard was very aware that the first Super Seducer was not well-received by many who saw the premise of the game, as well as many of its internal elements, to be sexist, misogynist, or objectifying. To some degree, Richard wants to change that with the sequel. The game's press releases have referred to Super Seducer 2 as having "cleaned up its act," calling it "more inclusive." One email release said, "as the current political and societal climate shows only too readily, it is evermore important to educate what's acceptable and unacceptable when interacting with potential love interests."
"We were thinking, 'It's a game about seduction, so we need some sexy chicks'"
But Richard was careful to distinguish between what critics felt was problematic and what he saw as awkward missteps on a level with the the first game's clumsy production problems. For example, making correct or "green" choices in the first game rewarded the player with praise from Richard, while he sat on a bed surrounded by scantily clad women fawning over him.
"When we made the first game, we just made some casual decisions," he said. "It was not an established franchise, and we were thinking, 'It's a game about seduction, so we need some sexy chicks.' That was our idea. We played games ourselves, and you can pick many, many well-respected, well-reviewed games that use sexuality. Our view was that this was a game about seduction and meeting women, so having attractive women in the game is relevant here, versus like an action game. That was how that came to be.
"We really didn't think that seriously about it, and then obviously we had a lot of time to reflect and see all the comments and criticism. So we were a lot more serious about every decision in the sequel. There was a lot of stuff in the first game where I was kind of flippant. Like, 'Oh, don't do that. It's okay in the game, but don't do that in real life.' Or 'Don't do that in real life because you might get arrested,' instead of 'Don't do that because it's wrong.' Or whatever it was. People picked on certain things, and although I could defend them, I'd rather give less for people to point to. So we were much more careful in the second game to say why you shouldn't do something, why something was morally wrong, being careful that our green choices really are as green as possible, and giving all the disclaimers. "
With the first Super Seducer, Richard felt that the game's "red options," which were the worst choices that could be made, were so bad as to be obviously not correct. Orange choices, he says, were intended to be common, harmless mistakes men might make when speaking to women, such as being boring or talking about themselves too much. "It was a little surprising to be taken so seriously," he said.
Honing in on criticism of the red options' inclusion, Richard noted that Super Seducer 2 will be much more clear about green options being absolutely correct, and the criticism of red options focusing on the wrongness of the act involved. But that seems to be the limit to which he took the criticism along those lines.
"People said, 'You shouldn't bother a woman when she's in the street.' 'You shouldn't talk to a woman reading a book in a coffee shop.' 'You shouldn't talk to two women in a bar having a conversation.' We do definitely have the premise that it's okay to talk to strangers."
I asked him if it was all right, then, to approach women who were obviously busy doing something else.
"I think everyone's busy doing something," Richard said. "I think everyone's on their phone these days, everyone's with someone at some point, or shopping, or whatever. We have a lot of real world experience of people having met in these situations, our female friends, our male friends, and our customers when I used to teach live events. Companies of people who teach women have stories of people meeting in coffee shops, and all places we use in the game. The key thing is you should be able to approach, not in any environment, but public places should be okay. You just need to be respectful and leave the person better off than you found them."
"Just for it being more like a game, we made it so that you can 'win' in every situation"
Though Richard and Kate acknowledged in real life not everyone is interested in being approached, they defended the idea that almost everyone in their game should be.
"If you're in a fighting game, there's no option to make friends with the guy and finish the level," he said.
"Or in Assassin's Creed, not to kill anyone," Kate added.
"We did struggle with that a bit," Richard continued. "The idea is that in these situations the women are generally single and available, and the men too in the women's perspective levels. We might have been able to have a situation where there were three different women in a bar and two of them were not at all interested and you can't get anywhere, and that would be something we could consider, it's just that any time we include more characters and more choices involving different casts, it takes up a lot of time. Just for it being more like a game, we made it so that you can 'win' in every situation, and I think it goes without saying that obviously there are lots of occasions where it wouldn't work regardless of who you are and what you do. I think we tried harder to make that clear in the feedback."
It's worth noting that while some of the scenarios listed for Super Seducer 2 sound like plausible situations where single people might approach one another (such as the "Dating App" scenario), others are a far cry from the coffee shop vision Richard describes.
According to the game's website, one scenario is between a boss attempting to seduce his secretary, promising to teach men how to "successfully navigate and avoid getting fired (or sent to jail)." Another focuses on a strip club customer desiring to see an employee of the club outside work "without paying for tons of dances." Two other titles "Interracial Dating" and "Older Mahmoud, Younger Woman" may be a red flag for anyone who doesn't trust the game to handle its "inclusion" promises respectfully. Another description pokes fun at the idea of the perceived difficulty of dating a feminist.
And beyond the content itself, there are plenty of criticisms of the very premise of the game--the idea that sleeping with a woman is a certain reward for playing correctly, and a premise that can have troubling implications if translated into real life.
Richard says that's not the point at all.
"People might say the subject itself is a problem, and obviously I have big problems with that because there's a double standard," Richard said. "It's dating advice for men at the end of the day. There are a lot of terrible things in the world at the moment, and giving dating advice to men shouldn't be one."
"There are a lot of men who want to meet women, and there are a lot of women who want to meet men," Kate said. "And a lot of men know very well what not to do, because they're being told all the time, but they have no idea what TO do, because no one tells them. Then they can't be happy, and they stay single and lonely and depressed. People have never been this lonely--I just came across some statistic the other day about how lonely the average person in the UK is, and it's a real concern."
"If we were making the game exclusively for women, and it was women's dating tips, we'd get no heat whatsoever"
Super Seducer 2 will launch on Steam exclusively for now, and Richard said the team didn't even try to launch it on other platforms. The first Super Seducer was reportedly blocked on PS4 by Sony, though a specific reason for the block was not given. Richard said he couldn't comment on what had happened, but did say if the second game gets a good response, "we might go back to some other outlets."
Nevertheless, the game's controversy has been a source of frustration for La Ruina, who believes the problems lie in a cultural shift rather than a fundamental problem with the game he's making.
"If we were making the game exclusively for women, and it was women's dating tips, we'd get no heat whatsoever," Richard said. "This is the business I was in. It used to be totally mainstream and accepted. I was on all of the UK TV channels, my book was published by Harper-Collins and Random House, and it's only been a thing in the past few years where it went from being cool to teach dating tips to men to something that's just pure evil where you might easily get compared to the worst people on the planet."
I asked him what he thought had brought about this shift.
"It's definitely the #MeToo movement, and it's definitely the mistakes of some seduction gurus or pick-up artists that have done bad things," he said. "Like anything, there's a spectrum. There's reason for it. But to throw everyone under the bus because of a few bad apples, or to say that because there were some famous guys or powerful guys who took advantage and did some terrible things, that this can translate into a really nice guy approaching someone he likes in a coffee shop in a respectable way, it's a bit of a jump."