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In this special edition of “Ask Marina,” dating columnist Marina Resto highlights one Seattle couple who found an interesting way to spend their time in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Oct. 7, 2018, Jane and Michael matched on the dating app, Hinge, and had their first date that same day. They exchanged vows this January, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and have spent almost all of their married life on coronavirus lockdown. As many couples have found out, lockdowns strain relationships. Working at home in a shared space and never getting alone time is hard. Jane’s a project manager in tech; Michael’s a former math teacher and now a grad student at the University of Washington. While some of us were making sourdough bread or bingeing Netflix, Jane and Michael were brewing up their own kind of fun: inventing their own board game.
Before getting into board game details, I asked Jane and Michael Cunetta to share their dating story from each of their perspectives.
“When Michael and I first matched on Hinge, I remember liking his joke about math and his cute picture with a golden retriever. Hinge recommended his profile to me as my ‘most compatible’ match that day, and his opening line to me was: ‘Hi Jane, do you agree with Hinge that we might be compatible?’ That made me laugh. So we met up later that day at a neighborhood restaurant for a beer. (Actually, I only had half of a beer, and Michael offered to finish it because I was drinking too slowly.) We spent the evening walking around the neighborhood and bonding over the best spots in town. He called me the next day and invited me to play pickleball and have dinner with him.”
“That golden retriever wasn’t mine, but I thought the dog pic would improve my chances of getting dates. When I asked Jane if she agreed with Hinge about our compatibility, she said she’d wager her life on the Gale-Shapley algorithm (apparently, how Hinge determines ‘most compatible’). Luckily, I had written a paper about that very same algorithm in college, so I sent Jane a PDF to prove I was smart. When we met up, I found Jane to be funny, wise and easygoing. Later I discovered that Jane is beloved by her friends, and also a savvy businesswoman. Wow. All my swiping had finally paid off! After one week of knowing each other, I was trying to give Jane a ride home from Golden Gardens but my ’97 Subaru wouldn’t start. We ordered Five Guys delivery to the parking lot and ate in the car while we waited for AAA.”
Fast-forward to January, when Michael invited some close friends over for a surprise birthday party for Jane. As their friends yelled “surprise!” they flipped the surprise back on the guests. Jane and Michael proclaimed, “We’re getting married! Right now!” A close friend then immediately officiated their wedding. Their plans to celebrate with family afterward at a Mariners game fell short due to the pandemic, so they took an exotic trip to their living room for a movie-night “honeymoon” instead. Spending almost their entire marriage “sheltering in place” as they worked from home, walked around their neighborhood and tried various hobbies, they found themselves creating a board game based on shared experiences called Matches: The Online Dating Board Game, which they describe on their website as “Tinder meets Monopoly.”
The game inspiration came from their dating story, friends who’ve met their partners online and singles on apps now. People love talking and joking about online dating, and there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes on dating apps that are easy to poke fun at. The experience of swiping, matching and messaging all feels a bit like a game, with the goal of meeting up in real life with someone special.
In Matches, all players start unemployed, without a car, out of shape and living at their parents’ houses. Much of the game is spent dating less-desirable matches and accumulating “lifestyle attributes” in order to go on a string of “dates” to win the game. But players can sabotage each other with real-life dating struggles, like having 1% battery left on your phone, or getting stains on your pants. Combining humor and strategy into the game, it does a great job of simulating the ups and downs of online dating.
“During quarantine, Jane and I would play the game over and over again for hours at a time, recalibrating the rules as we went,” Michael said.
This fun quarantine project quickly evolved into a Kickstarter campaign to produce their game, which has amassed more than $2,800 in pledges.
The Cunettas intend to produce the game themselves and donate the profits to Planned Parenthood. As Jane puts it, “Our game pokes fun at the dating experience, but what we really care about is supporting an organization that provides people with access to information and services for their sexual and reproductive health. Donating the profits here was an obvious choice.”
Even though it started as a lockdown hobby, the newlyweds are sticking with their newfound game skills, and I am looking forward to the future board games they have in the works.