I wrote a brief critique of this app in Methods last year (before I even knew it was a critique, and before I had any training in critique). It is an interesting app to me in a category I find interesting (personal informatics for people in intimate relationships), so I thought I’d try to expand on my previous critique here using some of the new shmancy techniques we’ve learned!
A little background on the PUA community
The pickup artist (PUA) community consists of men seeking heterosexual relationships with attractive women, generally sexual in nature. The community’s origins lie mostly in a book called The Game, but there are an absolute ton of resources for men out there both online and in books.
The general idea is that by using psychological techniques when interacting with women and improving one’s own confidence, finding attractive women for sexual relationships becomes much easier.
Some tips and hints for men include:
- Touching women when talking, to build a physical connection as early as possible
- Using “neg hits”, or criticizing a woman in a playful manner to get her to “drop her guard.” Example: “Your hair is beautiful, but it would look great if it were longer.”
- Work on projecting confidence and personal style/grooming
- Be very deliberate with body language. For instance, try to put yourself in a position where you are leaning against a wall and she is facing you. This causes her to feel like “she is hitting on you” rather than the other way around
- “role-playing”, or, directing a woman to pretend she is a man’s sexual partner or girlfriend in order to stimulate the brain in the same way that it would be if she actually were the man’s sexual partner or girlfriend
The PUA Tracker
The PUA Tracker is a personal informatics iPhone app for men in the PUA community. Its philosophy is, “What gets measured gets managed.” PUAs can track their “pursuits” and “incidents” and get gamer-style achievements for completing certain tasks related to sex and relationships. For instance, if a man logs an incident of having sex outdoors, he will get an “Achievement” and a little icon of a trophy will appear in the app.
After logging data for a while, a user could tell whether he has better luck picking up women in bars or in coffeehouses (for example). Additionally, he can share his data and achievements with friends via social networking features.
A couple terms, defined:
- Pursuit: A female target of affection; someone the user is attempting to seduce
- Incident: A sexual encounter
Some critique of the PUA community by others (a little sociocultural context)
There is considerable feminist critique of the PUA community at large. For instance, many feminist critics mention that PUAs treat women as objects of pursuit rather than as individuals with their own agency, and that PUAs assume women are never interested in sex themselves and want to “guard” themselves unfairly. One site  put it this way: “PUA techniques are based on the premise of women as objects, targets, things to have, protectors of pussy, preventers of male sexual pleasure.”
On the other hand, there are also commentators that mention that the PUA techniques actually work, and they serve not to objectify women but to give unconfident men skills in confidence and ways to meet women they might not be able to meet otherwise. Rather than being something that objectifies women, they are something that empowers men.
My critique of the PUA Tracker
I do not intend to critique the PUA community as a whole here (considering the fact that it’s pretty big and has a wide diversity of opinions), just this particular app.
I argue that the terminology the app uses does serve to objectify women and remove their agency as human beings. I take absolutely no issue with wanting a sexual relationship and nothing more. However, calling women “pursuits” serves to reinforce the idea that these women are ultimately objects or goals to be had rather than people with their own preferences, lives, and agency.
The addition of the “Achievements” system only increases this objectification. In video games, the targets are either not at all sentient (when players are fighting pre-programmed enemies or interacting with scripted characters) or they’re on-screen representations of your friends (as in multiplayer games) in a situation that everyone is clear is fantastic and not real. (When shooting their friends in Halo, players know that it’s just fantasy and not really shooting their friends.)
By turning romantic or sexual encounters into a game, this app conflates the mental model of “not-real” that users associate with video games, with something that is very real (i.e., intimate relationships with a living, breathing person with agency). I argue that this is an example of juxtaposition in interaction design, and it is ultimately dangerous and misogynistic.
A few resources
Some stuff I skimmed through while researching this post.