Enter the Swift extended universe
Taylor Swift is soft curling her hair, rerecording the music that made her, and singing through the AirPods of every girl you know, especially if that girl once had a Tumblr. Love or hate Swift, there’s no denying that her 10-minute “All Too Well” made November a bit colder and probably also made Jake Gyllenhaal cry, dominating headlines and playlists and summoning oily spirits of dead relationships. But if you feel like you’ve missed the Taylor Swift boat, or want permission to dip even deeper in her choppy waters, all Swift’s journal page lyrics about December mean that now is the best time to nourish your inner scarf-wearing child.
But how do you really reach the next Swift level this December? Well, you already know about Swift’s music, and her role in Cats undoubtedly appears every time you close your eyes, so there’s nothing left to do but scour the internet for Taylor Swift video games.
At least, I did on your behalf, in hopes of expanding my personal Taylor Swift universe. I have a fascination with celebrity video games, especially if they’re ridiculous, most likely because I used to play celebrity dress-up games online and read People as a kid. All that celebrity really makes a mark on one developing brain.
But there’s also something uncanny about seeing a real, 3D human stranger rendered into a digital doll you can play with, especially if it’s of Taylor Swift. Her experience as a famous woman and current rerecording project encourages questions about celebrity and ownership, so, really, there’s nothing better to do while simultaneously listening to folklore and pondering the ways we commodify people. I started to Google.
Let’s get the disappointing news out of the way: other than in those aforementioned celebrity dress-up games, Taylor Swift really doesn’t make many video game appearances online. Since I’m no longer eleven and a bit more sensitive about computer viruses, I wanted to avoid dress-up games, and instead, I headed to itch.io.
Once again, there wasn’t much. I forced myself to go on a date with Taylor Swift in the visual novel A Date With Taylor Swift, which is described as not “too different from a real date with Taylor Swift. It’s free to download, and it gave me nightmares.
You start out in an “empty diner without color” (maybe you are a dog?), until Taylor Swift suddenly appears, wearing an apple-red dress (maybe you are in The Giver?). You immediately confess your love to her, like any normal Giver would do, and eventually access the core of the game, which is a lyrics generator. Taylor Swift wrote me a chorus that went like “And I was there when you cut me run away smile / If you like a million little piece love story of me,” which hurt my head, so I stopped playing and uninstalled the game out of spite.
Although I did have to take a Tylenol, that was mostly because my boyfriend was screaming while playing League of Legends and not because of A Date With Taylor Swift, so I recommend you download it if you like avant-garde dating and hate syntax.
Then, it’s not a video game, but I enjoyed the feel of this proposed roleplaying card game, folkmoore, which is free to download on itch as a PDF. It’s described as a small-town game dealing “with belonging and rejection.” Some suggestions of who to be include a murderer or a hurricane, and in the town there is “the girl you owe an apology,” and “golden string of fate.” This game is definitely for spookier Swifties among us, who like Instagramming mugs of tea. I know I do!
I became dejected with my lack of Swifteo game success. How else will we advance our studies of the sacred text, Fearless (Taylor’s Version)? As a last-ditch effort, I decided to risk a virus and check out some Swift dress-up games. It turns out that none of them work because today’s kids are all on TikTok watching North Kardashian West go live instead.
But it’s not really surprising — we’ve changed the way we interact with celebrities. Before, celebrity video games were an avenue for intimacy when the alternative was kneeling in front of a poster on the wall. But now that celebrities have Twitter DMs and Instagram Live, playing with Keanu Reeves on our computers is less of a thrill. Of course, you can still find vestiges of video game Taylor Swift in games like Just Dance and Band Hero, but those intend to connect you to Swift’s music, not Swift herself.
The one mainstream exception to this is The Swift Life, a 2017 social app for Taylor Swift and her fans that shared a publisher with casual roleplaying games Kim Kardashian Hollywood and Britney Spears: American Dream. But in 2019, The Swift Life users reported shoddy design and lack of Swift’s participation as leading to the app’s demise that year. We only have to look at the success of Kim Kardashian Hollywood, which excels at funny, engaging gameplay (for what it is), to see that a vague celebrity affiliation isn’t enough. The game needs to be able to stand on its own, or celebrity involvement has to be even better than what social media offers.
So, I’m sorry, I failed you. You’re just going to have to listen to “Me!’ on loop. Yeah, I know that’s her worst song. It’s punishment for both of us. But know this — if Taylor Swift ever really does get a video game, I’ll be the first to tell you.