Love, like love, is a game based on social interaction. In fact, the metaphor isn’t well-disguised, and that’s intentional. Love is a very literal game with a simple premise: gain happiness by getting close to others. Love is intentionally constructed to mirror real world social relationships and designed in such a specific way that it’s hard to make a distinction when talking about Love the game and love the concept.
An exemplar of abstract art design, the game’s characters are you, represented by a white square, and six others, represented by black squares. You use the mouse to move your square around the grey screen, while the six others move around and bounce off the continually shifting walls. When you get close enough to another, a connection is formed, your square starts spinning, and you gain “happiness” – points. When you’re close to multiple squares, they all connect to you and the rate you gain happiness is factored by the number of connected others. Connected others also slow their movement, making it easier to stay connected. However, if you touch another, you lose.
Tips appear on the game over screens that are even more literal than the game’s tutorial. One tells you that if you aren’t getting enough happiness from your current situation, look around you for better opportunities. This suggestion can of course be interpreted in two ways: game strategy and life strategy. The others tend to group together quite often, so the best strategy is centering your square between the maximum possible number of others to maximize your happiness multiplier. You should constantly scan the screen for better opportunities for maximum happiness. In terms of reality, if you feel like you aren’t happy enough in your current relationship, don’t be afraid to move on to more obvious opportunities for happiness.
Society dictates that sex is the peak of love. It’s known as “consummation,” which can also be defined as the point at which something is finalized. Love treats physical touch as failure. This is an aspect where Love‘s literality falters. “If you get too close, you’ll get hurt,” says the game’s tutorial. That defeatist advice, applied to real world social relationships, is not always true. Opening yourself to someone else makes you vulnerable, but not all relationships end in pain. It’s not clear if Love is denouncing actual physical touch, or cautioning the player against becoming “too close” to someone, meaning too dependent. In the latter sense, Love is sound. When one partner in a relationship is too dependent on another, the relationship usually breaks down.
There’s another mode in Love called “Infidelity,” and it’s about exactly what the title implies. In this mode, the play area is bisected vertically, and you control two squares, one on each side, and your movements on one square are mirrored on the other. Now, you must think twice about every action you take. One of the tips in this mode spells it out perfectly: “Infidelity shows how hard a game love is when you try to play it twice at the same time. I bet you thought it was easier.” Just like in real life, managing two separate relationships is extraordinarily hard. You may think it would be easier with a lack of commitment, but it isn’t.
Love as a game is simple, since the game’s message takes up the bulk of the content. It’s constructed well enough that a player could have easily ascertained the message even if the game had been called something else and didn’t include the literal tips. Love is a simple but highly effective model of one of the most important parts of humanity.