Getting Down

Go from friends to friends with benefits with the stroke of a finger.

Bang bang, you're dead

As you may already know, Bang With Friends was forced to change its name this past summer, following a trademark infringement suit won by gaming giant and "With Friends" franchise developers Zynga, best known for titles such as Words With Friends (iOS, Android) and Scramble With Friends (iOS, Android).

Up for the Down stroke

But trust, in the end, it was to Bang With Friends' benefit. In early November, the popular Facebook game relaunched as the Down (iOS, Android) app. After testing the iOS beta version, I am already convinced that it's a major improvement on its predecessor in every way.

Who is the fairest friend of all?

But before I could even test the app, I had to come to terms with two personal hang-ups: (1) Hooking up with friends is weird. It just is. I mean, you've seen "When Harry Met Sally" and "Reality Bites." Hooking up with friends can end friendships, but in the two aforementioned movies, the characters who risk their friendships for a chance at love actually end up living happily ever after. I actually believe that some of the best relationships I've seen have grown out of friendships. (2) If I use Down, then all of my friends will know. Just between us, I probably know 20 percent of my Facebook friends, so this doesn't really apply to me. Additionally, Down takes all the privacy precautions that Bang With Friends does, so your secret crushes are safe -- unless your crushes feel the same way, that is.

Down-load

After a quick download, you're greeted by a sleeker, more modern interface than you might expect from the Bang With Friends crew. Gone are the sexually explicit mudflap symbols and the old teaser language: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Skip the chatting, and get to smacking those cheeks! Which of your friends do you want to bang?" The new product is far less overtly sexual, and you won't feel the need to shower after signing on.

Just sign up with Facebook, and you'll be asked permission for Down to discover your friends' relationship interests, so the app can presumably offer more relevant suggestions. Once you're set up, you can browse Daily Picks, which supposedly offers three of your hottest friends that day. You can also browse through friends' photos by swiping from right to left. What's nice is that the app doesn't bury your friends in details, which creates a very visceral experience: You're either attracted to them on sight or you're not. If it's someone you don't know well or not at all and you want to learn more, you can scroll down for a better picture and discover which friends you have in common. If there is someone you're interested in dating, swipe up and Get Date appears (a great inclusion for those who aren't looking for casual sex!). If you would rather head straight for the sack, just swipe down and you'll get the Get Down message. If you make a mistake or chicken out last minute, not to worry -- you can always swipe back to the picture and click Undo. If you're not seeing the prospective partners that you're looking for, you can adjust settings to include Male, Female, Friends, and/or Friends of Friends (a great setting for those who find the idea of getting too friendly with friends a little incestuous). If your friend feels similarly, then Down will inform you both with a direct e-mail.

I found just two downsides during testing. One was that some of my friends appeared as Friends of Friends rather than Friends. The other was that occasionally users who didn't match my gender and/or sexual orientation preference appeared in results (but this result was rare). I also wish there was a way to narrow searches by relationship status, so that I wouldn't have to swipe past friends whom I know to be attached. I also found it difficult to search for specific friends using the Search function.

Get Down on it

In closing, Down is very addictive in a Hot or Not sort of way, because it's fun to rate people as shaggable or datable or neither. It also makes you see your friends differently. We're so conditioned to separate friends and relationships that we might be missing out on that love of our life -- or that love of our night. Either way, if there is something you want to communicate to a friend that you're feeling shy about, this is a low-risk way to do it. If they're not attracted to you, neither of you are the wiser; but if they are into you, you've just opened up new communication channels.

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