Two weeks ago, references to an iOS game called Boyfriend Maker began flooding my Twitter feed. I keep my Following list stocked with smart lady games developers and critics, all of whom had their tongues firmly set in their cheeks while playing this particular title. The game, made by Japanese developer 36 You Games, allows you to chat with a virtual "boyfriend" character. The game features pink sparkles, cookie-making mini-games, a synthesized violin soundtrack, and a selection of anime-inspired boyfriend avatars to choose from, each of whom has a porcelain face and rows of outfits that would make Justin Bieber jealous.
Oh, and, this game got banished forever from the iOS app store last week.
Why? Because the star of Boyfriend Maker is a terrible boyfriend. He often calls you by the wrong name, and he will keep spitting out more incorrect names if you press him. If you send him sexy messages, he might respond in kind . . . or he might text back rape jokes, say that he's gay, or that he's celibate. He's unpredictable, he's ignorant, and he's not a good listener.
As Boyfriend Maker gained notoriety, its users wondered to each other over Twitter and on the nascent Boyfriend Maker fan Tumblr (boyfriendmaker.tumblr.com) whether the game's programmers had written all of this dialogue. Had they intended for their virtual guy to be a jerk? Is this what the game's developers thought women wanted?
Video-game music composer and audio designer Jaelyn Nisperos (@chibitech) posited on Twitter that Boyfriend Maker bore striking similarity to an interactive AI chat program called SimSimi (simsimi.com), which "learns" based on responses from users. I asked the Boyfriend Maker Twitter account whether he and "SimSimi" were related; he quipped back that SimSimi "is my cousin, twice removed." (Boyfriend Maker may not be too bright in-game, but whoever manages his Twitter seems to understand human comedy.)
That's the closest we have to confirmation that Boyfriend Maker is, in fact, a learning AI, not just a dating sim that comes with a limited set of predetermined dialogue options. This explains a lot.
Boyfriend Maker knows the names of famous fan-fiction pairings. He can link me to "his" DeviantArt page of sexy furry art (it's not actually his, of course — but someone gave him this link). And, of course, he can go toe-to-toe with the darkest pedophilic threads of 4Chan.
Boyfriend Maker is not so much a fantasy lover as he is the Internet, through a glass darkly. It's unclear why anyone thought this game would function as a romance rather than as a terrifying, ever-changing art installation.