Love in the time of “Gameification”

There is a fascinating article in the current SF Weekly about the way App designers are trying to improve your romantic life.  Members of the Smart Phone Set are all so busy, you see, and romance tends to lose its fizzle, so they turn Apps that schedule them to do nice things for their significant others:  make romantic gestures, offer sacrifices, fill up your “love tank” – and offers points and rewards to make it easy and fun.

“It’s basically gamification of your relationships,” says Sonja Poole, a 43-year-old associate professor at the University of San Francisco (who uses the App).”

This could work, the article goes on, because:

“(F)rom a psychological perspective, human relationships “are inherently game-like,” saysProfessor Andrew Colman, a psychologist and game theory expert at University of Leicester in the U.K. According to a 2009 study that analyzes dating in terms of game theory, humans assess potential mates according to investments, risk-reward behaviors, and other factors that mirror the way we analyze a game. Game theory, for instance, explains why we love “the chase.” “A male’s willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male,” study author Robert Seymour writes.

Or a stalker.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that in the 21st century the way to a man’s heart is through his phone.  Got it?

Do you really?  And does it make your skin crawl?  Because it does mine.

Not to say that some people … even many people … won’t lead better lives because of this App.  I mean sure, why not?  The phone says “kiss your boyfriend passionately” so you kiss your boyfriend passionately.  He likes it.  Everyone has a happier day.  The phone says “have you brought her flowers?” so you bring her flowers.  Small gestures mean a lot.

But surely we can agree that it resembles love a lot less than it resembles taking your car in for scheduled maintenance.

And some people love their cars.  More power to ‘em, I suppose.  But while the end result of the romance App may simulate romantic thoughts about another person, what it has actually done is outsourced them.  You get the App so that you don’t have to think about your significant other, or what they might like, and when.   Instead of putting more of yourself into your relationship … or opening up what’s really going on inside of you to your paramour … you are committing less of yourself.  You are actually dehumanizing the person you love by reducing his needs to a checklist that can be crossed off and then forgotten.  Being “reminded” of your partner is not a substitute for “thinking” of your partner, let alone feeling for.

The “gameification” of love doesn’t enhance the feelings humans have – it reduces love down to something your phone can process.  This may be helpful for people who just don’t have the time to process their partner’s emotional needs themselves, but it’s not a win.

Now if the App is used by healthy, loving, people to enhance a healthy, loving relationship … if it’s the romantic equivalent of adding a sex toy to an otherwise healthy sex life … where’s the harm?  None that I can see.  Could be fun.

But the farther you go down that road, the deeper you invest in the app, the more you depend on it, the more you commoditize yourself and dehumanize your partner.  The more seriously you take it the worse off you are.