Happy Valentine’s Day! Are you single? Interested in not being single? If so, you should consider signing up for Tender. It’s an AI-driven dating site designed to help you find your soul mate, and it almost certainly hasn’t been co-opted by vampires looking to hunt down suitably compliant blood bags at the click of a button. Just answer a few completely innocuous questions about your emotional state, loneliness levels, interests, and blood type, and Tender will procedurally generate a profile guaranteed to find you that special someone who, again, is probably not a vampire. Even if it is part of what looks to be an official Vampire: the Masquerade alternate reality game.
Let’s take a step back. In early January, a handful of established YouTubers and Twitch streamers started tweeting about their good buddy Knox coming out of the woodwork and asking them to check out this new closed beta dating site, Tender. In between jet-setting around the world, Knox released a series of puzzles on his Twitter account that led to a website, Trust No More. Posts on that site from a writer going by the pseudonym “Manchuria” In parallel, he started receiving messages from the user “BetrayedMind1”, warning that something was amiss with Tender. Players helped Knox solve a series of puzzles left by the person, leading to a meetup at Griffith Observatory where players laid claim to a conspicuously guarded briefcase. The contents alluded to Tender’s experiments with gamification and operant conditioning to get users hooked on the website. Even more foreboding, documents allude to a secret “Regent Dashboard” known only to select employees at the company. An unidentified Tender engineer’s notes indicate the Regent Dashboard is actively manipulating its users:
Weird. The conditioning reminds me of the effects of the Toxoplasma parasite on rodents. Doesn’t completely change them. Doesn’t make them suicidal exactly. Just a subtle shift. Less afraid of open spaces. Inhibited risk judgement. Willingness to step into danger. Behavior that makes them easier to catch for predators.
Soon after, players unlocked access to the Tender Beta app, allowing them to interact with the perfectly innocuous dating site that’s probably not conditioning its users to be more trustworthy and docile. Under the guise of finding a soulmate, users are rewarded for completing “quests” with experience points, to level up. Some tasks ask players to complete basic research tasks, while others ask users to share simple fill-in-the-blanks status updates about their plans.
The Tender Beta website is chillingly brilliant in its design, with suggested users featured based on their age, blood type, and location – set to “very close”. Biographies and interests are auto-generated based on a few simple choices up front. Like board games? Congratulations – you’re now a “Settlers of Catan fan”. Your profile picture is a blank face, with soothing swirls of colors rolling across it. Gender isn’t even a part of the equation on Tender, which would be quite progressive for a dating site if it wasn’t for the sneaking suspicion that the end goal is finding a convenient late night snack.
Even interactions are suitably vapid – at least for now, all you can do is “heart” their profile or choose one of two different ways of agreeing with their recent status update. Which may or may not do anything other than react to the click. On its own, Tender feels as much a satire of online dating as it does a fictional hub of an alternate reality gaming conspiracy.
The Tender / Trust No More alternate reality game is still in early stages so it’s difficult to tell where the story will go, but initial signs are pointing towards a tie-in with Paradox Interactive’s Vampire: the Masquerade franchise. The address associated with emails from Tender list the Paradox corporate headquarters in Stockholm, the narrative seems to be pushing towards vampires, and players even tracked down references to the fictional dating site in the Vampire: the Masquerade Camarilla sourcebook. Alice & Smith, the creators of The Black Watchmen and the No Man’s Sky ARGs also appear to be attached to the project, indicating the Los Angeles briefcase drop is only the tip of the iceberg for this experience.
Trust No More isn’t the first time ARGs have flirted with vampires living among us: as far back as 2008, Campfire helped launch HBO’s True Blood through an alternate reality game that followed the moment when vampires stepped out into the light of day with Blood Copy, where the initial challenge was for players to find a way to convince “the Gatekeeper” they were a vampire, on video chat. What’s interesting with Alice & Smith’s take on the concept is how long they’re waiting to make the big reveal – the game has been going on for almost a month, and any connection to vampires is guesswork. Something is definitely going on at Tender, but who can really say what? Maybe we’re just reading into Tender’s blood drop logo, the platform’s obsession with blood type, and the corporate machinations to make humans more pliable. Maybe Tender will help regular humans find regular non-bloodsucking love, and they’re willing to go the extra mile to make that happen.
While the Tender app is currently the primary way to get engaged with the story, a post on Trust No More hints of a live event in Manhattan on February 23rd with some peculiar requirements: in addition to asking if prospective attendees can livestream the event, familiarity with American Sign Language and lockpicking is considered a positive. To join in the action, sign up on TenderBeta.com, follow @KnoxJ2019 on Twitter, and read up on the full timeline with the Game Detectives wiki. Players are following along at the Game Detectives Discord server, Alice & Smith’s ARG Discord server, the Grim Reaper Discord server, and a handful of other places scattered across the internet.
Just sign up…it’ll be fine. Trust us.