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Dating has always been a game. Until the arrival of dating apps, that game was played slowly and often out of sight. Now, with the increased use of dating apps, that game is not only much faster, but is designed into the technology. Last year, I interviewed people in order to understand how the design of dating apps, such as Tinder, have influenced how people experience dating.
Through that research, I found that for Tinder users, the app seems more like a gaming app than a dating one. Technology changes the way people look for romantic partners.
In other words, app design has changed the way we date.
Playing the game: Tinder’s design features
Since the launch of Tinder, dating apps have frequently included the ‘swipe’ action in choosing a partner. This design feature, as well as the app’s convenient location within the phone, is an integral part of how dating apps have changed the way dating works.
The swiping feature has been shown in studies to increase enjoyment and cognitive engagement. This was reflected in my research, where participants talked about the fact the swiping motion is a common function in smartphone-based games. The act of the swipe is also associated with other game like features, such as the prompts and display messages within the app.
Tinder has included gamified features within their design in many ways, not just the swipe. Until April 2016, Tinder included “Keep Playing” as an option when users matched with a profile. This has since been updated to “Keep Swiping” but the sentiment remains unchanged. Within chats, app-generated prompts include “Next level reached!”, reinforcing the game nature.
In my research, participants discussed how the gamified design of Tinder led to more enjoyment and longer use. One participant told me the features were flashy and unnecessary, but made potential-partner-seeking more fun and engaging. By creating a fun environment in which to ‘win’ matches, Tinder’s design capitalised on many of the same design features found in slot machines. This finding reflected earlier work which showed that swiping on Tinder can start to look very similar to addiction.
Through gamified design, these apps can also lead to the idea of dating as a game to be won. This leads to concepts such as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which can result in users choosing to seek new partners constantly, in case there is a better option than the match they currently have. Constantly seeking new and ‘better’ partners is often associated with discussions around millennial generations choosing to wait longer prior to getting married, as well as discussions around millennial ‘hook up culture’.
Many dating apps also design matching based on fast Yes/No decisions, such as the swipe on Tinder, which has also increased the speed, and gamified attraction. No longer are romance-seekers expected to go through multiple dates in order to find attraction, instead, a fast decision on an app is all that’s needed. If that match doesn’t pan out, there’s the rest of the app to play on.
The convenience of smartphones
Modern dating apps location within the phone is also integral to how dating has been gamified. By including gamified design features within a device which is not only already associated with gaming, it increases the association of Tinder and playing. In interviews, participants talked about how Tinder automatically felt less serious and more like a game just through the fact that it was on their phone. The location of Tinder in their phone also meant that users were likely to use Tinder as a recreational activity to relieve boredom.
The gamified features of Tinder also lead to shifts in the way that people use dating apps, with users developing strategies to maximise their Tinder experience. There were gender differences across my participants, with women reporting that they learnt it was common to receive matches, so being selective upfront in match choice gave them the best reward for their invested time. Men in my research, however, found that the best strategy as men was to say ‘yes’ to everyone and filter out matches later on. These practices were discussed by all participants, with common findings reflected regardless of sexuality.
Do gamified features trivialise relationships?
While there are reported concerns that the gamified design of dating apps could trivialise relationships, it is also possible that gamified dating may present a more interesting way to seek long term relationships. As many people dread dates and partner seeking, apps that allow a more relaxed and fun way to engage with an ever-present part of society may not be a bad thing.
Those interviewed for my research agreed that Tinder was more fun, and more engaging, than other methods of partner seeking. Enjoying the process could lead to people being more willing to engage with partner seeking, and destigmatising exploring different partner options.
Felicity Dunbar is a founding editor for FRM, and has been researching queer spaces in the digital age.