Tinder, reviewed as a game

Gita Jackson and Maxwell Neely-Cohen apply a traditional video game reviewer's eye to recent years' hottest downloadable sensation.


Before 2013, it would have been hard to imagine a game that could eclipse World of Warcraft's impressive subscriber count, but here we are. After two years, with tens of millions of users, and daily individual player actions numbering in the billions, Tinder has arrived.

It may be tempting to call it a roguelike, but Tinder is more of a free-to-play mobile MMO with RPG, puzzle, and text-based elements. Driven by an ambiguous morality system, it asks you to read and make choices on "profiles" of the characters that populate its sparse world.

The player is essentially limited to "swiping" left or right on the touch screen, relegating these in-game choices to the game's equivalent of "Renegade" or "Paragon". But don't be fooled: Tinder still proves a challenge not only for your judgement, but for your endurance.

Like Dark Souls, Tinder is unrelenting, unforgiving. Your connections will be torn asunder as quickly as you can make them. The emergent, player-led narrative is bittersweet: In a land of endless thirst, Tinder is a mirage in a dessert, offering sweet relief and then mercilessly taking it away.

The gameworld is inhabited by a menagerie of dangerous humanoid creatures: "Dudebros" wield abs and pose shirtless by the pool, while "Glamazons" will aggro only for high Instagram follower counts. Most of the time, you'll encounter common "nice guys" or "really nice guys" — some of them are so nice they'll never understand why girls don't like them, because they're so nice and they see things in you no one else does.

You'll encounter men that really want you to know that they own or have recently been around a puppy, packs of "Basics" and "Glorified Basics" who arrange their group pictures so it is impossible to tell who you're really attempting to interact with (although these appear to be procedurally generated), an awful lot of men who seem to be friends with real live tigers, and men wielding fish.

In the present build it's difficult to distinguish between computer-generated NPCs and genuinely-illicit spam accounts. Tinder offers no hand holding — often, your attempted interactions merely elicit a "haha", left up to you to interpret.

With an active and creative modding community, the Tinder experience is always evolving. Today, you may chat with a generic Business Bro who lives in Chicago's River North, tomorrow a woman with high intelligence but frustratingly-low response rates. The system is too opaque for you to ever know why she refuses to grab a drink with you.

The game deserves praise for the freedom it allows the player in character creation. While most opt for the default of straight, white, IPA and Arrested Development-loving male, avatars run the gamut of Clippy the Paperclip, your Uber driver, and that one guy desperately hawking his comedy album. Polyamorous couples who have invitations to exclusive sex parties in abandoned factories "just for tonight only" co-exist in a system with a significant player base that affirms they are "not looking for a hook-up" and use their profiles to quote various bible verses.

It's unclear if Tinder's controversial recent attempt to monetize what was once a primarily free game (you pay just a small amount of self-respect up front) will greatly affect the gameplay. But if it succeeds, it will surely mark another huge win for free-to-play and subscription model advocates within the industry.

Is Tinder worth it? Probably. I swear, my friend's still dating the girl he met on there.

Score: 8 out of 10

Gita Jackson is a critic and gallerist living in Chicago. She writes a column on fashion in videogames for Paste Magazine and is co-founder of HUME, an alternative arts space. She previously wrote "We Are Not Colonists" here at Offworld. Maxwell Neely-Cohen is a New York-based writer, author of Echo of the Boom and a contributor to The New Inquiry, The Millions, and This Recording.