Lovelink is a dating app alternative that lets you swipe through potential love interests like all the ones you most likely know of already, except that what makes this one special is that it’s a simulation where you can flirt with and date many virtual characters of your choosing.
Our relationship with technology grows exponentially closer every year. But now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many health regulations that come along with it, it has gotten more complex for people to date. This has also meant a massive flocking of people to digital means of dating, such as Tinder, which saw its largest number of swipes ever in March 2020, when most countries embarked on their first lockdowns. Luckily for anyone looking for romantic action, Lovelink is free to access and features a concept that has been all over media for the past decade –unless for some reason you missed watching Her, Ex Machina, and Black Mirror altogether– of looking for romance through technology. Lovelink happens to be a much more charming and positive iteration of narratives like those in which the human protagonist begins dating a digital partner. In the app, users are given the opportunity to match with a diverse set of virtual characters.
What certainly makes the app outstanding, is that 50% of leaders in Lovelink are women, and on the artistic part (responsible for both content and art), 100% of them are women. When given the opportunity to lead, these women have created a unique and safe environment to interact with many different love interests of your choosing. Their leadership has also meant that these romances prioritize consent and forging healthy relationships while at the same time the app helps its users cope with and respect the public health guidelines, offering an alluring escape during these difficult and unprecedentedly lonely times.
If you decide to download it, you will begin talking to your romantic interests in a dating-app simulator and later be able to virtually go on dates with them, after nourishing your relationship with them. The game was designed and developed by Ludia Inc. Ludia is one of Canada’s leading mobile video game companies (obtaining Apple’s “Canada’s Best Game Maker” award in 2018)
Lovelink allows its users to build any relationship they desire due to the game’s wide arrangement of characters, which is one of the best features of the simulator. It allows for freedom and open possibilities: letting the player choose the gender and identity of who to date. Some of the most popular characters include a K-Pop star, an adventurous nature explorer, and even a vampire, which means many users will be able to live out their fantasies thanks to the app.
We got the opportunity to talk to Gemma Stewart – Lovelink’s producer -regarding the app’s production in an interview below.
Considering the clear and long-standing gender disparities in the gaming industry, how does it feel to lead in an industry where women in high positions were long overdue?
Having come from previous studios where I was the only woman in leadership to Ludia, it has honestly been a life-changing experience in a very positive way. For a long time, I think I simply accepted the former as my reality and to now be working freely in such a different context is a huge difference for the better. Being able to work with other women that not only understand the challenges of the job but who can also provide a united front of support, understanding and act as a soundboard for improvement is invaluable. Being able to bring those previously less represented perspectives to the table in that way is also incredibly valuable for the team culture as a whole, ultimately creating a new normal for us all that we probably now take for granted! I’m exceptionally proud of my team and what we have been able to do, and I am grateful for the unwavering support of Ludia, for trusting me to lead them.
The role of consent in the game is innovative, since in simulators usually characters don’t emphasize its importance, an importance that has been unluckily normalized and neglected in our society. What impact do you aim to achieve in society by portraying this important value?
My content team and I have always considered it somewhat of a duty to be as socially responsible as we can with our stories. We know that it’s possible to create fun engaging content for players while also taking the opportunity to normalize consent as being a healthy (and often very sexy!) part of a relationship. We always acknowledge the value of thrill and danger when it comes to fantasy romance, we have found a good balance of fulfilling those thrills without taking the path of the more typical and often toxic, tropes. Yes, the game has its ‘spicy’ moments or even more unpredictable or edgy characters but stories only continue with the player’s consent, in our case, by making a choice in the chat that opens that branch of the story. Players can also unmatch characters whose stories they don’t connect with.
How do you approach the achievement of true, authentic diversity in the narrative of your characters?
We hold open brainstorming sessions with the team and have invite voices within the studio as a whole to hear their input. We have also consulted with representatives of different communities and always keep a line of communication open for feedback and suggestions. We also take time to read what our players tell us they want directly on various social media outlets such as Reddit. We have in the past delayed or rewritten some stories and pitches to better reflect the lived experiences of team members out of respect and also because we feel including those experiences enriches the stories as a whole. We take pride not only in our ability to listen to feedback and criticism while remaining open but also in our willingness and excitement to take risks in our stories you might not see typically in other games in the genre. The very structure of the platform is designed to support diverse characters and stories at its core. The more characters we have to swipe through, the more stories player will potentially get to play! Providing a diverse cast of characters means that we’re more likely to provide a fun exciting match/es for everyone who tries the app.
What is the most important when developing both realistic and captivating personalities for your virtual characters?
When we design our characters and stories we spend quite a lot of time developing their backstory, their ambitions and motivations, even simple things like how do they type? Do they use proper grammar and punctuation or do they prefer to use lots of texting slang? We take all of that to ultimately answer the question “why is the character on Lovelink?”. With all that information we can craft a narrative. Ultimately, I think the most important part is sincerity and embracing the fantasy. One of our rules when writing for Lovelink is that playing a romance story should be fun guilt-free wish-fulfillment, especially in the current context. Lovelink is a game where you can have all the highs of meeting and getting to know a new person on a dating app, with none of the stress! With that in mind, we work to keep our character voices dynamic, engaged and focused on the player. So even in the cases where the story itself is something you might be more likely to see on a daytime soap opera, the sincerity is there, and I think that’s a big part of what keeps players coming back to talk to their matches.