Navigating dating apps is the premier social experience of our age, and doing it as an earthling searching for love in the stars adds a new level of complexity. I think anyone with extensive experience with either will agree that Tender Creature Comforts captures the dynamics of text-based online dating with anxietal triumph.
Unicorns Aliens and Ghosting
Tender is a narrative game about navigating rejections, pickup tactics, and earnest conversation on a swipe-right app. As with real dating apps like Tinder, Tender shows you a stacked onslaught of profile pictures and punchy captions to either match with or swipe away in your search for alien connection. The galactic dating pool is a large place for a freshly single earthling, so you’ll be doing a lot of swiping.
Tender Creature Comforts recreates the experience of a dating app through a few clever ways. The stories and various dialogues are revealed in real-time, so while some characters may be down to talk a lot, others may take time. In my first playthrough, I struck up a conversation with an artist-musician about overbearing social media presence that went well only for the timing to plague the rest of the conversation. It became rather apparent that Tender was a game played a few minutes every day rather than all at once, much like an actual dating app. I don’t know; maybe there are some dating app speedrun videos I should be watching to maximize potential.
Regardless, everything and every personality of the modern era is here. Alien bros looking for a unicorn for them and their partner, The Office watching statistics to measure compatibility, and zodiac sign frenemies to lovers (don’t tell Aliyah you’re a cancer, it’s brutal). In my playthrough, I spent a lot of time wading through conversation starters, ghosting messages, and a match that quizzed me to make sure I actually was from earth as they only date earthlings. There are some pretty obvious references to the more toxic aspects of swipe dating. A good one is being unmatched after a quick message to let you know it was an accidental swipe right. Nice.
Connections and Dates
Finally, I got a date. The scheduler also works in real-time much to my dismay as I realise I actually did not show up for the first date. Fortunately, Carl was free to reschedule, so I tried again.
The dating portion plays much more like a visual novel or minimalistic narrative game. The scene is set at the park, and Carl warns me not to touch him for my own safety. Always an excellent way to start a potential date. The rest played out about as awkward as the first few moments. I’m honestly a little astounded at how well the writing in Tender captures having such an awkward interaction. The whole date took about 10 minutes and seemed to have an extensive branch of choices and dialogue. It ends, and I go to message Carl and say we’re not a good fit, but they’ve already sent that very same message. Feels bad, I guess?
Fully Automated Intergalactic Online Space Loneliness
Another week of playing Tender, and I’m a string of bad connections and collapsing dates deep into nowhere. As an earthling, you have a visa that allows you ten dates before you can’t go on any more. I’m pretty close to filling that up with mostly nothing to show for it. That comes to be another theme of the game, people looking for friendships over hookups or romantic connections because of the very same situations.
The longer I get to know some of these characters, the more I see the effort and complexity to showcase actual human (and alien apparently) problems. Emotional cheating, intimacy issues, and physical incompatibility clashing with emotional compatibility… Tender Creature Comforts is very comfortable portraying the melodramatic horrors of modern dating. The ironic icing on the cake is that the first connection I’ve made playing this game is my character’s ex, who was established at the beginning of the game.
With intergalactic loneliness on the table surrounded by other lifeforms facing the same, I can’t help but be impressed by Tender Creature Comforts as a modern storytelling experience. So effortlessly, the dread of relationships is captured right along the often more spoken of fear of being single. An apparent and large theme of the game is comfort in where you are rather than where you want to be. So many of the characters you meet become friends rather than romantic partners- something I was impressed to see. The writing for these characters stays about as substantial as the writing for the characters you can date.
Tender Creature Comforts is a shifting experience. At first, the gameplay is focused on creating an online dating experience, and it does this very well. The latter half of the game shines a light on compatibility, sexuality, toxic relationships, and the existential dread of loneliness in space and the people we keep close to keep it at bay.
If you long for the awkward horrors and fast-paced romance of online dating in the deep void of space, you should give Tender a try. The game is available for all modern phones and should be released on Steam soon.