It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
After playing Speed Dating for Ghosts, I feel a bit like Michael Bluth during the scene in Arrested Development when he opens a bag labelled “DEAD DOVE Do Not Eat!” It’s not that I didn’t expect it to be a game about speed dating ghosts — but it turns out I didn’t realize what that actually meant.
You play as an unidentified ghost that starts out by meeting Fran, a spectre with antlers, who runs the speed dating event. You’re then prompted to pick one of three rooms, each of which has three different ghosts in it who you’ll speed date with. You get to talk to each of the three ghosts once for a short time, followed by a second round of conversations with each of them. You are given dialogue options to direct the conversation, or respond to something they said. Once the two rounds are up, you choose which one you’d like to go on a date with. If they liked your responses enough, they’ll accept.
The speed dating format gives a brief glimpse into the lives (afterlives?) of these nine different ghosts, each of whom are in different places in regards to their acceptance of being dead, but also their understanding of what they want for themselves. When it comes to the actual date with each ghost, you get more than just a glimpse. For instance, during the speed dating with Spooky Pete you get a sense that he’s been around for a long time and is looking for someone to mentor in haunting. When you go on a date with him, he takes you on an actual haunt.
Despite the premise, this isn’t really a game about romance. It’s more about companionship. Because — and here’s where I felt like Michael Bluth — being a ghost isn’t like being human. Ghosts in this world can interact to an extent with humans, and with physical things, but they are also intangible, can go anywhere, don’t need to eat or sleep, and don’t get sick or old. Their needs are very different from a living person’s. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they basically don’t have physiological or safety needs, and so what drives them is more often about emotional or psychological. The speed dating, and the dates that follow, aren’t so much about romance and love: the focus is on being supportive and present for someone as they work through something. Not that this couldn’t eventually lead to a romantic relationship, but things don’t continue on that far in the game.
Given the Speed Dating’s simple aesthetic, I was expecting something perhaps a bit more silly or cute. So it was a surprise when the game addressed some interesting — and at times dark — subject matter. One ghost is haunted by the traumatic events around their death, while a different spectre is just realizing they are dead and learning to cope. Another is still dealing with their anxiety issues even post-life.
In a way Speed Dating for Ghosts is good metaphor for romance in video games. Much like the ghosts, video game characters can’t fulfill any of your physical or safety needs. Instead, the appeal of romance in games leans on the emotional or psychological end of the spectrum. As it turns out, those are things you’ll need even after you die.