I'm not saying that online dating is a digital hellscape akin to crossing the desert of Mad Max in search of an elusive and possibly non-existent oasis, but it is. At least with the game Hot Date, it's an adorable hellscape.
Created by George Batchelor, it simulates a speed dating event with one unusual twist: All your dates are dogs. Sometimes they have male names, sometimes female names, but your pug-like paramour always exactly looks the same, sitting across the table from you in the candlelight.
For three minutes, you can ask them a wide range of questions ranging from the cliche (What superpower would you choose?) to the personal (What are you afraid of?). You can ask for advice, learn more about their job and their background, or ask how they feel about jazz, base jumping, graphic novels, and even their favorite Pokemon.
The answers you get back seem randomized; ask them if they like you and you could get an effusively positive response one moment, and then a negative one the next. Are they negging you, you wonder? One moment you might think you're really connecting over your love of Sartre, and then next they're mocking your name, judging your taste in books, or bursting into tears.
While that can make for some uneven conversations, there's something about it that feels almost true to the hesitance of first dates, or the initial messages exchanged in online dating. I always felt a little bit off balance with my doggy date, a little uncertain or untrusting, because for all I knew, they could turn around and say something mean or deal-breaking at any moment. And sometimes, they did.
After several rounds, Hot Date announces that "YOU'RE THE BEST" and rolls credits before launching you right back into yet another date with the same identical dog, over and over until you finally give up and quit. There's probably a metaphor there, but at least Hot Date has something going for it that real online and speed dating rarely does: adorable dogs. The game is pay-what-you-will for Windows, Mac and Linux users.