Tinder: A Reality Game

Tinder, the most ubiquitous dating app among American millennials, has been downloaded more than 100 million times as of last year. Nearly 80 percent of users are millennials.

Basically all millennials are accustomed to the often anxiety-provoking experience of using online dating apps — such as Tinder — in which users swipe left and right on an incessant stream of profiles to (ultimately) find a date. In practice, these apps are the equivalent of reality games. When a user “matches” with another user on Tinder, and they begin conversing within the application, the user is not external to the time of the “virtual” world, even though they are not physically involved in the space of the virtual world.  There are time limits to the user’s actions, in the sense that they impact the behaviour of the other Tinder users. By making a choice among a set of potential matches, the user has the freedom to determine the fate of the “storyline,” which in this case may result in real-life outcome of the interaction the matched individuals have. This gives Tinder users ontological power over what one may call the “storyworld,” or the virtual conversation.

Tinder users swipe left or right on different profiles to generate matches, which produces a game-like quality.

The user cannot loop back and choose a match that they have already “left swiped”, or rejected, thereby making their choices “linear”. The choices that these users make actualizes one of the outcomes at the expense of the others. In this case, the same action, which is “swiping right,” can lead to different consequences and a unique evolution of each specific “storyworld” depending on the compatibility of the “matched” users. The user may choose to initiate multiple conversations and interact with more than a single “match”, and each individual virtual conversation can be looked at as an individual “storyline” that may result in a unique real-life outcome. This allows the user to enjoy ontological power each of the “storyworlds.”



Tinder’s game-like qualities foster “roleplaying,” but may also lead to real-world dates—allowing users to transcend the virtual world into reality.

This kind of internal-ontological interactivity lends the Tinder user the power to “role play” in the sense that they can present themselves the way they choose in the virtual domain. By choosing their own profile pictures, bios, description, interests, etc., they are able to create a façade of themselves which may not be identical to what they are actually like. This may make meeting with the date in real life exciting and adventurous because the users do not know if the virtual compatibility w

ill transition into reality. The failure of a successful outcome for one match can easily transition into another “storyworld” with a  different match- the equivalent of “the online world Second Life” (p 164, Ryan).

For all the well-trodden polemics about what the proliferation of dating apps like Tinder signifies about the state of dating in 2017, one can’t overlook the fact that Tinder’s ubiquity partly emanates from its game-like platform, which keeps users continually engaged and yearning for more matches and more dates.

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