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Special report: The gamification of courtship

Game: Harry Stevens and Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The gamification of courtship has gone global, from viral matchmaker shows in China to Tinder users who don't stop swiping even after finding love.

The big picture: Apps are the new norm in dating. But the hyper-personalized and endless choices enabled by technology may actually be making it more difficult to meet “the one.”

Gamification is now built into dating:

  • TV series like "The Bachelor," China's "If You Are the One" and Britain's "Love Island" have played off cultural courting traditions to create popular, dramatic and competitive game shows.
  • In apps, the format of swiping can intensify pleasurable chemical reactions in the brain, and the “infinite scroll” persuades users to continue swiping into perpetuity.
  • With almost endless options for partners, dating has become about "fast sex, slow love," Helen Fisher, chief scientific adviser for Match.com told Axios.
Quote"The mechanics of the swipe feature: It's fun, it's a yes or no game."
— Justin McLeod, CEO and founder of the dating app Hinge

By the numbers: Millennials spend 10 hours per week on dating apps, according to Badoo, the world’s most popular dating platform with more than 400 million users in 190 countries.

  • And almost one in six singles (15%) say they feel addicted to the process of looking for a date, per a 2017 Match survey.

Why it matters: Part of playing the game is to make yourself as desirable as possible, which can lead to high, unmet expectations.

  • "We’re showing people this near perfect version of ourselves. It is highly tailored," Ohio State University's Jesse Fox told Axios. "You build up your hopes and expectations and then you meet — and it's awkward."
  • Many dating app executives who spoke with Axios are wary to call the platforms a game. "People are trying to maximize to find the ideal," Bumble's in-house sociologist, Jessica Carbino, suggests, "which is the sort of market nature of love."
  • "People are able to go on more dates, find more people and, as a result, they're actually waiting longer to get married than ever before, but they're also, I think, choosing the best partner for them," McLeod said.

The bottom line: In 2017, 39% of U.S. heterosexual relationships and 65% of same-sex relationships began online. And apps aren't going away.

  • For some, "it's a form of work, not just a game anymore," says Stephanie Tong of Wayne State University.
  • A cottage industry of services to write profiles, tend to matches and get swipes is popping up. Some, like Relationship Hero, have coaches around the world, available 24/7 to text, call or even video chat through a user's dating woes.
  • Now, Tong says, it isn't about projecting confidence face-to-face but about how to write a fancier profile.

Go deeper: Read the special report on the future of dating