From apps like Bumble and Hinge to virtual Zoom dates during Covid-19, dating has changed a lot over the past 10 years. But imagine what it will be like in 10 more – what emerging technology could find its way into our love lives today? NFT bundles? Marriage certificates on the blockchain?
Samantha Cheah’s youth novel, It’s a game, guess what dating might look like in the 2030s by combining the centuries-old tradition of arranged marriage with a non-human matchmaker, artificial intelligence (AI). Set in London, the sci-fi book chronicles the bizarre dating experience of Sarah, a university student from Hong Kong.
A polite, introverted girl, Sarah never made dating a priority until her best friend, Jen, began to abandon her for her new boyfriend, Nate. Wesley and Anais, Sarah’s classmates and friends, also constantly flirt with each other.
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As a result, Sarah feels lonely and begins to weigh her options. After a series of horrific dates – some virtual, some in real life – she decides to ask Delphi, her Artificial Intelligence Virtual Assistant (AIVA), to use her preferences to match her on a date. . But things don’t go as planned and Sarah has to face some hard truths about wanting technology to control her life.
One of the central topics of the book is whether it is possible to have free will, the ability to make one’s own choices and mistakes, even when a more powerful entity has some influence. In romantic fiction, free will is often controversial as authors constantly undermine character choices, creating predictable and sometimes unhealthy tropes.
In this novel, the main characters rely on the AI but ultimately have to choose for themselves. It introduces the protagonists to decisions they can make about love and life – and reminds readers that they can make those choices too.
Science fiction novels explore what the future might look like and can shed light on how we react to technology today. Graphics: Shutterstock
The narration feels like reading a sitcom with brilliant three-dimensional characters. Sarah’s experiences are inspired by the author’s forays into online dating, making the story funny and original.
Sarah grows beyond just being “the perfect one”, and even other characters like Wesley, “the funny one” who looks like Jake Peralta from the popular sitcom Brooklyn 99, get more depth as the plot progresses. Towards the end, we see the perspectives of different characters, which show how they have matured and the reasons for their actions. Additionally, the author has taken it upon herself to portray the diversity of London, as most of the main characters are people of color.
In the author’s note, Cheah explains that although she is not an AI expert, she believes the technology in this novel has the potential to exist. Futuristic objects are used in routine contexts, such as virtual reality glasses, self-driving cars or holograms.
There are also contemporary references that give the impression that the book is set in a very possible future of our world – for example, mentions of the Covid-19 pandemic or Brooklyn 99.
However, it is not a perfect book. In its tight 280 pages, the first part about Sarah’s dates drags on, while the plot twist arrives late and feels rushed. The novel’s main problem – and most shocking moment – is resolved too quickly.
While It’s a game isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a hilarious and innovative quick read. The novel is also timely in how it deals with our morals and ethics regarding technology.
In particular, as Cheah says, if you “are the kind of person who finds it both frightening and fascinating when an ad for something you’re talking about on your phone pops up on your laptop,” this book is for you.
It’s a game was released on February 14.