When you meet someone at a bar (or café, party, bookstore, sporting event, etc.), there are those who play The Dating Game. The mind games and the flirting rituals, gearing up with the necessary word repertoire and donning their game faces: More Confident Than I Actually Am, More Makeup Than I Usually Wear, More Interested In Magic: The Gathering Than I Will Admit To. It’s a widely known and often written about phenomenon, and we’ve all experienced it in some way, shape, or form. But here’s the thing. The nuances of The Dating Game are laced intricately through the fabric of human interaction between two people. Like chess, you can’t play alone, and you can’t make a move without the other person knowing their turn is next.
Tinder is decidedly a single-player game. The game masters have spoken, and the rules are established as such: you flip through an endless stack of polaroids, each presenting a different character to Like or Pass on (controller options are to swipe right or left, respectively). Some have captions while others don’t. If and when you do mutually Like each other, you’ll Match. After you Match, your options are to Message them or Keep Playing. Such diction is not a mistake. You’re quite literally playing The Tinder Game.
The Tinder Game does not rely on human interaction. It relies on endless characters, thumb dexterity, and points for photographic desirability. Of course, you can try to make the argument that all online dating applications lack the foundation of human interaction. But there is no way Match.com, OkCupid, or even Hinge (which has a similar UX to Tinder) would allow their messaging to read “Keep Playing.” Rather than game masters, they have rule makers, and the rule makers don’t want these apps to be games. They want them to be liaisons that push people to join The Dating Game. Tinder, on the other hand, is a standalone activity.
I spent 24 hours playing The Tinder Game, and here are my high scores! Here are the people I Matched with and spoke to, a survey of characters you might encounter if you decide to play yourself:
The guy who just doesn’t quite care enough. Mike is one of the first people I Matched with, and the actual first person I enjoyed talking to. He seemed smart, fun, funny, and able to hold a conversation. We ended up exchanging real phone numbers (RPNs) and have texted on occasion. But our connection ends there. He doesn’t care enough to make plans, to meet up, to abandon The Tinder Game (for a night) and try his hand at The Dating Game. Mike, if you’re reading this, I hope you had a great time in Brooklyn last night with your friends!
The guy who needed a guarantee that I was hot enough. Gabe was sweet, at first. He was good at Messaging and subsequently good at texting when we got to the RPN stage. He asked questions and sent me videos of himself singing and playing guitar. But meeting up was too risky for him. He needed some kind of guarantee that I was hot enough to warrant any sort of physical effort beyond fingers tapping on a screen. I don’t do the whole “sexy photo” thing, so I sent him to my Instagram. Gabe, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry it wasn’t steamy enough for you, but I hope you agree that my brunch from this morning looked incredible.
The guy who tried to talk to me about sports. Needless to say, we never exchanged RPNs. Tom, if you’re reading this, sorry for the preemptive Game Over, but I’m just not the girl for you.
The guy I’m not attracted to. Not only did Kwok and I graduate from Messaging to texting, but we actually met in person for a real live date. On his profile, he said, bluntly, “no casual hookups,” which seemed simultaneously promising and scary. There are a million things about his demeanor and our conversation that I could cite as the reasons we’re not right for each other. But the truth is, those things might’ve been okay if we had more chemistry. Kwok, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for the radio silence, but I can’t bring myself to force it.
The guy I was real with. Chris was the guy I dropped my Tinder character for and just straight up told that I was deleting the app in a few hours and that he could reach out to my RPN if he wanted. He texted me quickly, asking why I was quitting The Tinder Game. I answered truthfully: “a strange combination of ‘too easy’ and ‘no one actually cares’ – not for me.” Chris, if you’re reading this, your lack of response proves both my points, so thank you.
And there you have it, five archetypal characters of The Tinder Game. My point is not to talk anyone out of playing. My beloved roommate, for example, met a wonderful, special character in her run, a guy currently playing the role of The One. They’re happy and stupidly cute together, and I’m the first to credit the game for that. It doesn’t make their relationship any less real or amazing or something to be truly thankful for.
But understanding the fact that it’s a game – and that games make it so much easier to strip the humanness from the thumbnails swimming across your little iPhone screen – has made me realize that like golf or World of Warcraft or poker, it’s just not the game for me.