While love, sex, and romance are topics considered in most mediums, games have not always had the greatest success in doing so.
That isn’t to say that the pursuit of the object of one’s attention is not a central concern of gaming. After all, from gaming’s earliest days, from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Bros., the idea of love as a central motivator for the protagonist of a game has been a mainstay. That being said, Mario’s quest to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong or Mario’s search for Princes Peach are merely narrative devices in those old Nintendo titles. They suggest a reason to ascend a tower of girders to face off against a giant ape or to vault chasms in quest of a princess, but the game mechanics that these goals promote are ones related to action, not romance. They are narrative justifications for gameplay activities. The activities do not reflect these goals themselves.
Simulating relationships seems a more difficult concept to pull off in video games. Certainly The Sims creates a social and romance simulation that plays out before a player’s eyes, but the mechanisms of those relationships are the result of a fairly simple activity in the game, make sure your sims that like or love one another talk with one another regularly. More complex relationship simulators have been attempted in games like the dating simulation mini-games of Grand Theft Auto or the friendship simulation that is at the heart of Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball.
Both systems are extremely object oriented, as the latter game pretty much exclusively suggests that the way to a woman’s heart is through gifts. Dead or Alive asks the player to discover in part through some trial and error what types of gifts and types of colors a young woman likes and then to barrage them with such gifts, preferably in those colors, until they like you. This is love as a deductive process. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas likewise gives the player the opportunity to lavish their potential romantic interests with gifts, though in an even more simplistic and stereotypical way (Girls like flowers, right? So, get a bonus when you go on a date with them by giving them flowers.). Additionally, you “get to know” the women that CJ Johnson dates in the game by noting how they respond to certain things and planning dates around those things that seem to please them, a slight attentiveness to details.
These mechanisms and gifting simulators while certainly reflecting some aspects of real human interaction (it is nice to please someone you are interested in or that you love with something that they like) still tend to feel rather inhuman in their mechanistic execution. Get the flowers, give the flowers, get the points. Repeat until a “love meter” is filled.
Despite the super campy vision of the universe seen through the eyes of a drag queen, curiously Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker is a game that somehow manages to take the idea of creating a game system that reflects courtship rituals and dating and makes them feel more natural than many other efforts of the past.
Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker is a dating simulator, though it is not one that sees the player taking on the role of someone seeking a potential romantic partner. The game puts you in the shoes of an agent of the Kitty Powers’ matchmaking service. You will connect men and woman, men and men, and women and women in an effort to locate soul mates for these individuals.
In essence, most of the game systems of Kitty Powers are based on memory challenges. Each client that you serve has a brief dossier describing their interests, the physical characteristics that they prefer, their sexual orientation, their occupation, their economic status, and their astrological sign. Likewise, any clients that you will potentially hook them up with have a similar dossier describing them, which is the basis for sending the two on a date in the first place.
Once they go on a date, though, you must remember all of these details as best you can, as you will serve as a fly on the wall during the date, directing topics of conversation between the two as well as other minutiae, like what to order and how much to tip the waiter. Coaching the client on what to say and do will hopefully steer the date on a positive course. Remembering what the other dater is like is critical to successful conversation overall, but lots of minor random events on the date also require a good memory. If the client’s date returns from the restroom having changed some part of their appearance, noting what has changed is important, which requires remembering what they looked like before they left the table.
Memory matching games, noting the difference between several things, and paying attention to what the client’s date is saying and what is going on in the environment in general are all necessary to continually prove attentiveness throughout each date. In essence, what all of these familiar games of memory ask the client to prove is that they are “listening.” It would seem that unlike the gifting simulators of past games, what Kitty Powers suggests is that what defines love is good listening skills and an attentiveness to the object of one’s desires, which doesn’t seem altogether unreasonable given human psychology. Being paid attention to is what we often see as evidence of someone else’s love for us and what we crave. It makes us feel good about ourselves and good about the person paying attention to us.
Other systems are layered onto these memory mini-games, like a pre-date stop at the salon to potentially change your clothing style or color your hair, based on judgments about what a client will potentially like best, which is also based on remembering the details of their dossier. Such preparations are very familiar in traditional dating and courting rituals, and once again, they are systems still based on memory and a proof of attentiveness to the desires of a potential loved one.
What Kitty Powers does that I can’t recall seeing before in an effort to simulate courting rituals is layering systems on systems on systems, which begins to paint a more accurate representation of the complexity of such rituals. Love, desire, and interest are complicated, marred by small infractions of expectations and then perfected by a consistent commitment to attention and concern for what someone else wants and needs. Kitty Powers is also smart because while it has so many systems operating at once, it keeps things cohesive by resting all of those systems on a singular theme: attention to others is everything.
Love in Kitty Powers is attention, and success in love is measured in a performance of attentiveness and concern for what others have said and what others want to hear. In this conglomeration of memory games, Kitty Powers has created the most accurate simulation that it can of what it is like to be a very good listener.