In the world of dating, playing games gets a (deservedly) bad rep. Ghosting, breadcrumbing, and zombieing are just a few creative terms dating experts have come up with to make these games a little more bearable... but what if playing games didn’t have to be bad? What if games could be, like, something resembling fun? And what if we should actually be playing more games while dating — just not the emotionally manipulative kind? Dating experts and entrepreneurs alike think that it’s time to start planning some play dates, sans the playground equipment (unless you’re into that).
The popularity of these dating games has been a long time coming. Back in April 2020, Bumble launched their in-app Question Game, which gives matches the opportunity to ask and share personal questions and answers with each other. The catch? Both people have to answer the question before each answer is revealed. Then, in September 2020, Serena Kerrigan, creator and founder of Let’s F*cking Date, released her first expletive-filled card game (and sold out twice within 24 hours). She’s since launched two more decks: Let’s F*cking F*ck and Let’s F*cking Play. Lox Club, a members-only dating app for people with “ridiculously high standards,” entered the game field in May 2022 with Date Mode, their first in-app game, designed to be played on first dates. For all these games, the premise is similar to the one that had you playing spin the bottle in middle school: Games lighten the mood, encourage people to get more vulnerable, and ultimately lead to more connections. The best part: you’re (hopefully) not going to wind up making out in a cramped closet in someone’s parent’s basement.
Think of these games like 20 questions, but hotter, or like sexy Jenga, minus the toppling tower and annoying cleanup. “These games give people an excuse to ask really raunchy and personal questions that we’re all secretly wondering but too scared to ask,” Austin Kevitch, CEO and founder of Lox Club tells Elite Daily. Still, they want to give you some leeway if you’re not up for getting too personal. Date Mode divides these questions into categories, TMI (risqué questions) and Kosher (safer questions), depending on how open you’re willing to get.
And Lox Club isn’t the only one adopting a ~choose your own adventure~ mindset to these games. Kerrigan’s decks are similarly divvied up. “The cards are organized by base: first base, second base, third base, and home f*cking run,” she explains. “The higher the base, the hotter the question.”
Bumble’s Question Game is even more customizable: Once you select it, the app auto-fills a question for you, but you aren’t stuck with their algorithm’s choice. Though you can send the first question Bumble picks for you, you can also shuffle for another option, or even write your own.
So what exactly can you expect from these games — either in-app or in-hand? Some spicy (and mild) questions include: What are your date’s red flags? Do you like me more now than you did at the beginning of this date? What do you want to do to me right now? What is your love language? What is the best compliment you’ve ever received? What are you thinking about after two glasses of wine? Which emoji describes your current mood?
Of course, you can keep the spice to a minimum if you’d rather. According to Bumble’s rep, in 2021, the most popular questions for their Question Game (which is designed to be played over the app before meeting IRL) were: What's the first thing you find attractive in someone? What would you do on a rainy Sunday? What's your go-to comfort food?
It’s not you asking, it’s the deck!
OK, so pressing play on these games (aka shaking your phone to access Date Mode, shuffling the LFD deck, or starting up the Question Game on Bumble) might sound a little intimidating — after all, these deep questions go both ways — but it may be worth dealing with some initial nerves. Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist, says, “I actually recommend dating decks or activities like these very often.”
Why does Prescott like these games so much? “The activity feels like a more playful way to address things that would feel maybe too awkward to ask upfront. It’s not you asking, it’s the deck!” Love some plausible deniability. Kerrigan agrees, adding, “It removes a form of accountability, which makes players feel more comfortable to share beliefs, experiences, sexual preferences, and feelings creating intimacy. It's no surprise that the best sex I’ve had was after we played my game.”
Still not 100% convinced (or still scarred from a bad game of “Truth or Dare” once upon a sixth-grade hangout)? Ahead, all the details on how these games work — and why it might be time to play.
Do Dating Games Work?
The short answer? Yep. These games — whether you keep things PG or not — can open up communication in a really effective way. “Meeting and dating strangers off the internet is tough. Icebreakers like LFD cards give a sense of structure, which I think most people are open to receiving for better dating experiences,” Maria Avgitidis, matchmaker at Agape Match and host of the Ask a Matchmaker podcast, says.
Prescott adds, “I often compare this to when people go on an activity date. Sometimes people need that type of interaction to feel safe to open up. Not everyone is down to share their vulnerabilities over dinner.” In that sense, these are not games you can really win or lose. They’re more like tools for sparking conversation and romance. “We spend so much time on the internet that it's almost as if we forgot how to open up. Maybe it's less that we forgot and more that it feels unfamiliar or uncomfortable,” Kerrigan explains. “My card games are marketed as a game, but it's ultimately a communication tool disguised as this sexy tongue-in-cheek game.”
The goal of these games is just that: To open up conversation in a way that is equal parts sexy, deep, and fun. According to Kerrigan, “The point of the game isn't to have the best sex of your life (although I would argue that the new generation will be call genSFK). It's to have a dialogue. Storytelling is what makes us human. It's what connects us to each other. That's what this game is.”
Playing these games may lead to great sex, a strong connection, or even a long-lasting relationship — but it also may not. The only real guarantee? These games will give you some clarity... even if that clarity means you’re done playing with that particular partner.
What To Know Before You Play
Breaking out these games may seem like a surefire way to make every date count, but are there any caveats to playing? Avgitidis says that these games can involve some iffy questions — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should hit pause on playing. She explains, “I think questions that highlight our values, lifestyles, communication patterns, or established friendships are really great! The questions that worry me are ones that overshare our past relationships and/or trauma.”
It’s not just that those kinds of conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, but sharing them can also “create a false sense of closeness” between people, which is not exactly what you want on date one (or two or three). Though a deep heart-to-heart has its time and place, you’re probably better off reserving those conversations for further down the line. Once you know you can trust them and that you’ll actually see them again, feel free to open up.
Keep in mind, there is a choose your own adventure aspect to playing. Kevitch says, “The game is for all stages of relationships, hence the different categories.” If you’re feeling uncertain about jumping into TMI-category, you can steer clear of them without ditching the game altogether.
Of course, going out of your comfort zone can be helpful when dating, but you shouldn’t ever feel pressured to do anything you’re not sure about. Feel free to pass on questions that go too far too fast. Maybe give each player three passes when playing? Or try a flirty rebuff like, “I’ll give you that answer on our next date,” when TMI becomes a little too real.
When To Play
Kevitch recommends playing Date Mode while you’re on a first date, explaining, “First dates can be slow and annoying, and you often leave without really knowing the person. This game helps skip the awkward small talk and get to the good stuff.”
But not everyone agrees 100%. Prescott warns against breaking out these types of questions too early. “The questions vary, and some aren’t so appropriate for someone newly dating,” she says. Then again, “they can just skip them and say pass,” she adds.
If these games don’t appeal to you, Avgitidis says you shouldn’t sweat. “The point of a first date is to go on a second date,” she explains, and she wonders, “At what point do you get emotionally exhausted from telling people you may never see again who your dream dinner guests would be?" (Of course, you could argue that endless rounds of talking phases are just as emotionally exhausting — and maybe if they told you their dream dinner guest would be Ted Bundy, you would have skipped the trouble.)
Prescott says that she typically suggests these types of games “to people who are already in a relationship or decently committed but wanting to improve connection.” She adds, “Sometimes it can be hard for couples to organically get deeper and this serves as a more fun way to get to know each other or ask things that you might not think of off the top of your head.”
Does It Matter What You’re Looking For?
If you’re just looking for a hookup, playing these games can be a great way to get to the steamy stuff quickly. Diving head first into a TMI-filled conversation can help quash any initial awkwardness that might come up as you’re getting to know someone new. That way, when it comes to actually getting physical, you’ve ditched most of those residual nerves. It can also speed things up (in a hot way). Apparently, physical touch questions even have a habit of “leading to actual hookups, like, literally on the spot,” Kevitch says of Date Mode.
Of course, if you’re looking for something more serious, you may not feel quite as willing to jump into playing. In that case, sticking to more PG-rated questions could be a good plan — at least for your first round.
Just remember no matter what question you ask (or are asked), you should keep things as honest as possible. Kerrigan says, “Ultimately, the foundation for any relationship is strong and honest communication. If you're looking to deepen your relationship with someone, it's going to be a result of vulnerability.” That said, these games might ease your way into that sometimes difficult part of dating and help you build a strong, serious relationship as a result.
Should You Plan A Play Date?
Again, when it comes to dating, you should only do what (and who) you want to do. As Kerrigan often touts, “If it’s not a f*ck yes, it’s a no.” Still, playing games (ahem, the non-toxic kind) might help you find something real. “I think the games can be helpful to get deeper more quickly. However, trust is what is needed to sustain that,” Prescott says. Then again, playing these games might just help you build that trust.
And even if you aren’t on the lookout for the love of your life (at least, not right now), these games can open the door for better dates. “It rips the Band-Aid off and helps you get overly comfortable with each other very quickly,” Kevitch says. “I think raunchy questions are super underrated because they really do help people relax and open up.” And lest we forget, they might also lead to some steamy hookups, too.
If you’re down to play but unsure exactly how to bring up games with a partner (or potential partner), keep things simple: “Hey, I have this game I’ve been wanting to try. Want to play?” Most people are looking for someone to come up with a plan on a date, so chances are they’ll be happy to play. If they aren’t into it or shoot the idea down, it might be a little awkward — but I have a feeling that date might have been a dud anyway. (I mean, would you really want to date someone who refuses to play a round of cards?)
All in all, it’s looking like more games are in the cards for this next season of dating — you might as well start playing now.
Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist