Dating apps are often compared to bars where everyone is single. Now one of the biggest, Tinder, is literally casting itself as a party where all your friends are gathered. They're drinking, dancing and trying to squeeze some fun out of the fact that a (fictional) comet is heading straight for Earth. And yes, those friends are hooking up with one another.
This is all happening in Tinder's Swipe Night, a choose-your-own-adventure video game that will be live on the app from 6pm to midnight every Sunday, starting this weekend. (Sunday night is the peak swiping time on dating apps.)
Curious about how Swipe Night works? I did a demo and can confirm that it was cooler than I expected.
If you open Tinder during Swipe Night hours, you'll see a big START NOW button. Click it and you'll see a news report about a near-Earth object (a comet) that's heading close to Earth. You're the game's main character, and you're going to ride out the night at a party at your friend Molly's house. When you arrive, she answers her door in an all-black outfit with neon green piping, her dog similarly dressed, and you'll face your first decision: You can compliment Molly or insult her. This being Tinder, all the decisions you make will be done via left or right swipe.
I complimented Molly and entered the party. If I had insulted her, would she have slammed the door, forcing me to roam the streets? Try it and let me know.
Every decision you make in the five-minute video (such as: upload to your Insta-story or stay in the moment as the comet gets close) changes the course of the experience. And you get only a few seconds to make those choices. If you fail to make a decision, Swipe Night will choose for you.
The game is an immersive experience: The camera bounces and jostles, as if you might have pregamed before showing up at Molly's. And the close-ups on the other characters make it feel as if you really are face-to-face. Your phone will buzz with every new emergency alert or text message your character receives. Everything is bathed in a dark blue and pink light, reminiscent of a party or club, and the music is bumping.
Tinder clearly put a lot of thought into Swipe Night's aesthetics and story: Karena Evans, who's done music videos for Drake, directed; Nicole Delaney (a writer for Netflix's Big Mouth) and Brandon Zuck wrote the screenplay.
The actual matching that Tinder is known for happens not while the video is playing but afterward. Once you've finished, Tinder profiles will pop up, displaying the choices that these users made in the game. As usual, you can swipe left or right on people's profiles. Then once you match, you can ask: Hey, what does happen if you insult Molly? Or: How could you?!
Tinder product lead Kyle Miller hopes the video gives users two potential points of connection - "the shared experience that you did the same thing and the curiosity over the things you didn't choose," Miller said in a video conference call. Tinder reports that half its users are members of Gen Z (ages 18 to 25) and that Swipe Night is meant to speak their language.
Swipe Night isn't something you can binge, Miller said. If you miss this Sunday's episode but show up for October 13, you'll get the highlights of what already happened and then be launched in to explore Episode 2. (It runs through the end of the month.)
Tinder is not the first dating app to infuse video into its platform. The gay dating app Scruff, for example, has an embedded quiz show (modeled after HQ Trivia) where users can win money - or contact with other users also playing the game. And several dating apps feature video chatting as a way to allow users to "talk" before they meet up in person. Miller says Swipe Night is a deliberate choice to give users something to talk about, not just a new way to communicate.
Of course, the final step in the choose-your-own-adventure formula is whether Swipe Night will lead to better conversations and more interesting dates. At the very least, it's an amusing way to spend five minutes.
© The Washington Post 2019