Entertainment

Tinder's Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Experiment Makes Dating Even More Complicated

Tinder, Swipe Night
Tinder

Swiping through Tinder, a dating and hookup app intended to foster relationships, has always felt a bit lonely and isolating. Its latest marketing venture, however, is all about bringing users together around a communal eventized entertainment experience: Swipe Night. A first-person point-of-view interactive series written by Nicole Delaney (Big Mouth) and Brandon Zuck (Five Points) and directed by Karena Evans (Drake's "God's Plan," "In My Feelings"), Swipe Night threw Tinder users into an impending apocalypse where your choices influenced both the story and your dating profile. 

The series, which ran for four episodes that "aired" on Tinder nationwide each Sunday in October, kicked off with a party (set in an indeterminate location) to celebrate the passing of a comet with your friends Molly (Shea Gabor), Lucy (Angela Wong Carbone), and Graham (Jordan Christian Hearn). Things went haywire when the comet entered Earth's atmosphere instead of passing by in orbit. Within seconds, your phone buzzed with an alert to take shelter from its impending impact. Your choices, from there on out, determined whether or not you survived the apocalypse. 

tinder, swipe night, choice
Swipe to choose how to respond to your impending doom. | Tinder via Palmer Haasch/Thrillist

Swipe Night took full advantage of Tinder's iconic central swipe mechanic: In order to make choices, you swipe right or left. The ultimate goal was to make it to a bunker that Molly knows about on the outskirts of town where you'll be able to ride out the apocalypse, but there were at least six discrete endings ranging from dying alone after your parents don't pick up the phone to inspiring a superhero to stop the comet and save Earth. It was unapologetically bonkers: along the way, I saw an air conditioning unit fall on someone, got picked up by my friends on electric scooters, and punched Riverdale's Hart Denton.  

In theory, Swipe Night was supposed to help you get more matches and start conversations with other Tinderers. While the app's original pitch -- "[choices] also impact who [players] match with and what they will chat about once the story ends" -- made it seem like Swipe Night would automatically match you with those who made similar decisions, it actually was more of a glorified icebreaker. After each episode, your choices would appear on your profile so that others can browse your actions and ask you about them. 

Single, available, and found the puppy bunker, ladies. | Tinder via Palmer Haasch/Thrillist

I'm a "bad" Tinder user. I downloaded the app sometime during my sophomore year of college in 2016, and since then, I've swiped in countless geographic locations, been on one (1) Tinder date, and had five or fewer conversations that lasted longer than three messages (one of them was comprised entirely of Avatar: The Last Airbender GIFs, which dubiously counts). 

For me, Tinder has always been a game with no concrete purpose. At first, it was a low-stakes way for me to explore my newly realized bisexuality. Now, it's a source of idle entertainment and a way to kill time by swiping and imagining potential relationships. The fact remains that swiping and matching are fun on their own, and something that I've been happy to do for the past three years without making any concerted efforts to go farther. 

Swipe Night is supposed to lower the conversation hurdle, but in the end, it just felt like another layer of my already gamified Tinder experience. Each person's profile is already flush with data: if someone diligently fills in all the boxes, a glance will tell me their age, gender, profession, what kind of music they listen to, the kind of relationship they're looking for, and if they're basic ("The Office and chill??" and/or a fish holding pic). At a certain point, knowing if they picked up a first aid kit rather than a bag of Cheetos at the ransacked convenience store in this fake apocalypse scenario doesn't tell me much. That said, it was still fun seeing what other people had chosen, but only within the parameters of Tinder being a fun game in and of itself. 

Luckily, Swipe Night's story actually does stand on its own. At its core, the series is all about the desire to find human connection in the face of impending doom. I didn't really get this until the final moments: my choices led me to the "Puppy Bunker" ending, in which I rode out the impact with Rico Nasty (who guest starred throughout the series) in, yes, a bunker full of puppies. I felt jealous seeing people who had gotten the "Love For The Homies" ending in which you, Graham, and Lucy join Molly on a dock to ride out the apocalypse together. My survival felt hollow knowing that the friends I had spent the entire series trying to reconnect with were dead. 

If you read too much into it, there's a message there about learning how to prioritize and find meaning in your relationships in the chaotic digital age. Taking it at face value, though, Swipe Night manages to foster genuine character attachment in bite-sized pieces of content that are, first and foremost, part of an elaborate marketing scheme. It also lends a bit of ethos to the short form content we'll see on experimental streaming service Quibi, which includes gimmicky series like Spielberg's After Dark, which will only be available to watch when it's, uh, dark outside. Ultimately, Swipe Night manages to spoof the demographic it's targeting (users ages 18-25) without feeling like it's pandering, and hits a surprisingly empathetic note in its final stages. And in the end, it did get me back on the app, swiping away. 

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Palmer Haasch is an entertainment and culture writer. Follow her @haasch_palmer.