• Georgie Parkin

Are Dating Apps Turning it into a Game?

Is the gamification of dating creating a generation of ‘game players’ and addicts?

As millennial's, we are very accustomed to everything being at our fingertips. Instant messaging, instant food, instant banking, online shopping, I even have an app that reminds me to drink water. We live in the’ instant era’. But did you ever think that finding love would be manipulated into a small square on a handheld device making it at simple as a few clicks or a couple of swipes?

Okay, maybe it isn't quite that simple but that’s how you pass level 1. We swipe, we tick, we cross, we try to decipher ambiguous song lyrics or emoji bios until we get a match and level up to round 2.

Level 2- Let's call it the ‘points round’. Let the small talk begin. We ask the same few questions to try and work out the opposing player. They’re a family man - plus 10 points. They love dogs - plus 20 points. Minus 100 for using the wrong ‘there’. You keep going until you settle on a final score, if they come out over 500 it’s time to progress to level 3. The leveling up goes on and on until you either win the game or strike out. And because of the addictive nature of gaming, a loss doesn’t stop us from going right back to level 1 and starting the game over again, hoping this time we make it past level 3.

The Science

Scientists have done studies on dating apps and found that the neurochemicals that are activated when we ‘play’ are the same as the chemicals released when we play video games. Getting a match is like winning a prize. We can be swiping for ages, almost ready to give up when ‘BOOM you have a match’ flashes onto your screen and we get a rush of hormones which scientists say activates our brains reward system. Even the anticipation of a potential prize releases a flood of dopamine in our brains. According to studies, this powerful neurotransmitter rises twice as much in anticipation of a reward compared to actually opening a message or being matched with someone on a dating site. So even when we are swiping, hoping the next right flick will win level 1, the constant nail biting, edge of our seat anticipation is fueling our brain with dopamine even before we get that BOOM. It's no wonder so many of us have become addicted to swiping.

Is the problem the game or the players?

I don’t think dating apps themselves are ‘bad’ but I do think they have significantly changed the way we approach dating, relationships and finding love. We can’t argue with their success rate. Recent studies show that 1 in 5 new relationships started with a swipe. So we have a 20% chance of winning the game, those aren’t bad odds, and the more you play the higher your chances.

But I do think the gamification has allowed for a loss of humanity. So many of us treat the person behind the photo as a ‘player’, or a mere pawn in the game. We don’t know them nor have we met them in real life so it can be easy to detach all human emotion from what appears on our screen as just a picture and a few words. We ghost, we lead them on, we unmatch as soon as they say something that wipes out all 500 points in one fatal move. And we flick on to the next, not even remember their name. We might as well rename our matches ‘player one, player two’ and so on, at least during level 1.

But that being said, for the most part it is all pretty harmless. The men do it, the ladies do it right back and we continue ghosting and blocking until we find someone we want to progress to level 2 with, and decide it’s probably worth learning their name.

I think the real danger comes when we take these game playing tactics off the app. Blocking someone you have never met is pretty inoffensive. They may be a bit miffed but at the end of the day you are a stranger to them just as much as they are to you. No harm, no foul. But are these apps turning the whole concept of dating into a game? To me when you reach level 3 the ‘game’ part ends. You are not players anymore. They are a real person who you have laughed with, shared a drink with and told stories about family. The player has become a human and the tactics, point scoring and leveling up should end here.

So by all means play the game, dish out the points and score as many for yourself as you can but put the controller down once you surpass level 3. And take a step back if they are holding on firmly to theirs. Don't let yourself be a pawn in someone else's game.