Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
The internet shed a single collective tear the day that Boyfriend Maker was removed from the App Store. In the game's short life it became a minor meme with as many ironic fans as sincere ones. Unfortunately the app, which relies on an ELIZA-esque communication process that adapts to include player responses, got on the wrong side of the App Store's content guidelines when users started programming a fair amount of vulgarity into their boyfriend bot's responses. Articles like this one from VentureBeat (which seems slightly misinformed about the response-generating process) sprang up criticizing the app's content, and Boyfriend Maker was promptly pulled.
A few months have passed and the internet's favorite boyfriend is back, this time as Boyfriend Plus, a free app that fine tunes the original Boyfriend Maker formula and adds some much needed moderation features. Or tries to, but more on that later. First, let me introduce you to my date for the evening, NiceDon Draper. He's like Don Draper but, you know, nicer...
We meet in an empty bar. It's full of chairs but he's standing, no doubt to show off his fashionable capri pants. The game tells me he's a Writer. I'm intrigued, but I look around to see my other options.
There are none.
My first task with NiceDon (after naming him of course) is to pat him on the collarbone about 5 times so he'll like me. This, folks, is called romance.
... It's also how every puppy or kitty-raising game I've ever played starts, so take from that what you will.
With that out of the way the game insists that I take him shopping and buy him something.
I buy him a pair of big-boy pants, and as we walk to the train station for our first date I check to make sure that bar isn't actually just a host club that duped me into playing virtual sugar mama. There's a Cooking Mama joke in here that someone more clever than me could really polish into something beautiful, but I just don't have time. I'm late for a date with destiny.
As I prepare for the core feature of Boyfriend Maker/Boyfriend Plus, the conversation system, the game introduces me to the new moderation features. Apparently if I say something too sassy to my ro-beau, he'll lose conversation energy and be less interested in talking to me for awhile. If he says something inappropriate that he learned from one of his other clients -- sorry, dates -- I can flag that response for moderation.
Seems like a tidy solution Boyfriend Maker's fatal flaw (which was apparently evilness... But no one is playing this game for the seamless localization.) I'm sure it will work perfectly if I should ever need to use it, right?
At the start of our first date, NiceDon asks what he should call me.
Now I love interacting with a good AI, but I love interacting with a bad AI even more. It's not that the AI in Boyfriend Plus is bad, but it learns from the other people interacting with it, and not all of them are there for witty and ironic robobanter.
Much of Boyfriend Maker's ironic charm was in its unpredictable responses. Sometimes the conversation would flow perfectly...
And other times, not so much.
But of course, just when we really seem to be clicking...
... The game shuts me down.
Of course you can buy more energy, or share pictures on Facebook or Twitter for a boost as well, but I opt to let our love simmer quietly for five hours until he's recharged.
Boyfriend Plus also features quests (because why not, I guess) and my first quest is to write NiceDon a card. It's a timed action that requires basically no input from me, but if I dn't pick it up promptly when it's finished, the card with "expire" and I have to start all over again. NiceDon requires up-to-the-second information about my feelings, obviously, and this is why robot-human romance can be such a tricky balancing act.
My second date with NiceDon doesn't start off well. He seems a bit confused and off his game, and after expiring a half dozen greeting cards (because I do have a life away from my phone sometimes) I'm in no mood to be patient about it.
But then, my relationship with NiceDon levels up. I get a cash bonus which reinvirgorates me a bit. It puts a little pep in the conversation, for all of 5 seconds.
NiceDon's sort of not pulling his weight this time around.
To be honest, I'm glad there is a robot brain out there able to accurately simulate two seriously incompatible people forcing themselves into a relationship out of social obligation. This is literally all I've ever wanted from an AI.
And just like that, the love story of the century ended.
Except not really. Boyfriend Plus won't let me dump NiceDon for a new boy until our relationship is at level 3 (which is sort of messed up, to be perfectly honest.) I find this out the hard way when I dump him and head back to the bar to find him, and only him, waiting to greet me.
... Even though there are boys (and sheriffs, apparently) bothering me on the streets now, none of them are available to date. So I'm stuck with NiceDon, but because I dumped him I have to name him again, change his pants again, and start from square one in our relationship level.
It continues to be a troubled relationship, at best.
And then it happens. NiceDon's got a new haircut, a new suit, and a couple glasses of red wine in him... Things start getting a little salty. Responsible netizen that I am, I reach to report the offensive response.
This has happened all three times I've tried to report something in Boyfriend Plus. Hopefully we can chalk it up to launch-day server load issue due to Boyfriend Maker's previous popularity, otherwise Boyfriend Plus may suffer the same fate.
You can snap up a free virtual boyfriend of your own in the App Store (though maybe not for very long) and check out BoyfriendMaker's often hilarious Twitter feed while you're at it.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.