This is kind of a depressing list we came up with in our workgroup. It's easy to throw our hands up and say "Oh well, I guess videogames will never help geeks get a date." But Project Horseshoe is all about tackling the big problems head on. So we took a look at this list and talked about what could be done about it.
One thing videogames will always be better at than movies is innovation. Movies excel at dates because they're so well established, but they're also locked into the way things have always been. In videogames, if something doesn't work the way we want, we just change it. We invent new consoles, new delivery methods, new genres all the time. So why not invent the date game?
There are certainly some things games could do better than movies. Games could do a great job of helping two people get to know each other - social networking sites are already exploring this kind of territory. What celebrity are you most like? How does your booklist compare to your friend's? Surely game developers can mine this kind of personal trivia for more social fun.
Games also provide opportunities for two people to cooperate in solving problems or creating something entirely new. Sitting in the audience at a movie theater will never have that kind of power.
Along the same lines, games also provide an opportunity for impressing your date with your leet skillz - whether they be in the form of air guitar or outsmarting the final boss. In the right context, there are opportunities to show off your best - or worst - qualities.
So, where do we go from here? Dustin Clingman picked up the challenge to design a game aimed at being perfect for a first date. He's already brainstormed a list of possibilities and is starting to get serious about fleshing out the game he wants to build. He's shared these ideas with the workgroup post-Horseshoe, and they've helped develop and clarify the problem even further.
A grandmother once told me to watch how a man treats his dog, because he'll treat his wife with the same degree of kindness or cruelty. I wonder if that advice will change when I'm her age, dispensing my wisdom to someone just jumping into the dating pool. "Watch how a man treats your avatar on your first date. You can learn a lot about him in a good game."
Wendy Despain is a game writer and designer with International Hobo. She's getting back together with the Project Horseshoe workgroup gang for a presentation on this topic at GDC09.