Reality Bytes

Reality Bytes
Grinding the Dating Scene

Robert Yang | 18 Aug 2009 12:59
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The Endgame

As effective as the site is at recruiting and training new users, OkCupid: The MMORPG suffers from one glaring flaw: There's no content for high-level players. After a month, I've messaged my share of users and even gone on a handful of dates, but I'm already feeling a little burnt out.

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Now, I check my profile once every week or two at most; my other friends don't bother to log in for months at a time. There's no constant user interaction, no publicized number about how many friends I have - in other words, no incentive to stay, gain more experience levels and watch big numbers get bigger. Presumably the "elder game" is posting on the OkCupid forums and writing quizzes and journal entries. But none of those are core to the dating game, and thus, they're not compelling. Once you exhaust the supply of "mobs" in your area, maybe go on a few coffee date "raids" here and there, then there's not much else to do but sit and wait for new content. An MMOG would solve this problem with a new quest or instance - but on OkCupid, a slow and hopeless trickle of new users is all one can hope for.

There's not much OkCupid can do in that regard - it's dating, not social networking. When you get rejected, there's little point in maintaining contact. That's the problem with seeing all the fish in the sea - the damning certainty that yes, you've overfished, and there's nothing here for you.

You can't blame OkCupid for failing to answer the question that every single person asks themselves on Valentine's Day: Why aren't I in a relationship? Is it my fault?

The problem is, the game of "dating" itself is broken at a fundamental level. There simply isn't enough feedback to keep players interested - no "arousal" bar floating above your date's head, no red flashing HUD when you make a tactless joke about AIDS over lunch, no on-screen message that tells you "I like you as a friend, but nothing more." It's like trying to cast a costly spell without knowing how much mana you have left - and every failed cast reminds you of high school. If dating were a videogame, we would call this poor interface design.

But that's what makes dating fun; it's the sheer difficulty of analyzing and interpreting signals, the vagueness (or complete absence) of player feedback that makes it so incredibly compelling, so all-consuming, so worthwhile ... well, at least in theory, I tell myself.

So now I sit here, alone, in my darkened room; alone, in my week-old underwear; alone, lit only by the cold, blue, unfeeling glow of my monitor - alone.

Yep, online dating is just like the real thing.

Robert "Campaignjunkie" Yang designs levels and weird pretentious art-house mods for Half-Life 2. You should play them. In his spare time, he's also an undergraduate English student at UC Berkeley.

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