Modern Romance: The gamification of love

This Valentine’s day, you might be waiting with your boo for a table at a crowded fancy restaurant or, like many others, you are at home swiping left and right on dating apps.

Finding “the one” nowadays is more of a game than stars aligning, according to Texas State lecturer Jessica James, who authored her master’s thesis, “Mobile Dating in the Digital Age: Computer-Mediated Communication and Relationship Building on Tinder.” 

James’ thesis focuses on gamification of mobile dating and its effect on user behavior.

A lot of mobile apps turn mundane everyday tasks into games, which is a concept in psychology called gamification, James said.

That includes finding a partner. Historically, matchmakers helped people find love, but now the process is done in an artificial environment with lots of presentation control and the goal is less about finding a partner and more like instant gratification, James said.

“When you look at it traditionally, people have used matchmakers for a long time. So online dating, mobile dating applications now serve as a third party matchmaker … Now, mobile dating apps allow you to have speed, you have convenience, you have access. You have all the elements of, you know, user centered design that people enjoy. So now you have a, a space where it becomes, I guess you could say gamified,” James said.

The motivation behind dating apps stems from the human primal desire for compassion. The same psychological factors that drove personal ads are now in a new form. People have two types of motivations – intrinsic motivations, like needing to eat, sleep, find shelter and procreate – or extrinsic motivations, which are reward based like making good grades and getting invited to the pizza party.

Another aspect that keeps users coming back is the security in Tinder profiles because the user can control their image and presentation and messaging someone allows you to perfect your responses, James said. This aspect can be comforting for people who are not seriously looking for love and looking to feed their ego, but it can be discouraging for people trying to meet new people.

“There’re so many external factors that contribute to why young people aren’t getting married at the rates that they were, such as student loans and the job market. And this is kind of like, I mean, I feel like for some people, mobile dating is probably torturous, because there’s some people that don’t ever want to meet up and they just sit there and talk to you and as soon as you inquire about meeting in person, they go AWOL,” James said.

James said the dating apps are almost too easy to find a partner. Having a network of available people can stop people from settling down because of the ‘what if’ factor.

“If you don’t find somebody, like, meet somebody else, you can meet somebody better. Well, if she’s not good enough, I can find somebody who’s better. Or, you know, I’m mad at him I might as well just dump it off, find somebody better than that man, that’s kind of dangerous because it’s almost like you can never be satisfied now, so a lot of vulnerable barriers and feelings are attached to it,” James said.

James’ thesis included a 30-question online survey that was administered at Texas State University through an email, producing a random sample of 578 respondents. The results between men and woman proved in line of stereotypes.

“Men are just looking for casual sex. They’re using it to pass time. They’re not really invested in the product in the app like women are … at least from my sample, to use it with a little more integrity, a little more foresight. They actually are interested in finding guys,” James said.

In the modern technological space of dating apps, users should consider if there is a right or wrong way to play the dating game, especially online, James said.

“So now you have a space where it becomes, I guess you could say, gamified. a you’re told how to play it, right? Is it technology telling us what to do? Or are we telling the technology what to do kind of thing,” James said.

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