Why millions are falling in love with virtual boyfriends and what that says about the state of human relationships today

By Xu Zhuoran

Millions of female players of a popular, “love management” gaming app on the mainland have fallen for the charms of four characters, and I did too

By Xu Zhuoran |

Latest Articles

Career advice from Hong Kong-based, award-winning wildlife photographer Paul Mckenzie

In Love and Producer, you can fall in love with upto four guys.

I have four boyfriends that are all madly in love with me. One is a police officer, one is a genius scientist, one is a celebrity, and one is a rich man. They regularly call me, send me messages, and update their WeChat Moments so I can keep up to date with their lives. They’re also virtual.

My boyfriends are from a gaming app called Love and Producer. In it, I take on the role of the owner of a company that produces movies and TV shows, and my boyfriends are characters I have to talk to within the game.

Love and Producer is very popular on the mainland, and it’s easy to see why when you look at the men you – or, well, your character – fall in love with; they’re the sort of men that you fall in love with on TV shows, books, or films.

Li Zeyan is a very rich (and very serious) businessman. Bai Qi is a police officer, who has been in love with your character for years. Xu Mo is a scientist with a mysterious past. Zhou Qiluo is a sunny celebrity who only has eyes for you.

Before Love and Producer, I had never played a game like this before. I’ve heard these sorts of apps described as “love management” games, or romantic visual novels – but I only downloaded the app because I was bored. The more I played, though, the more I became hooked.

At one point, Zhou Qiluo invited my character to an amusement park, where he bought two drinks. He opened one, and gave it to my character first, before opening the second for himself. In another moment, Bai Qi asks if my character needed someone to take her home after work. Xu Mo will tell her to call him if she needs anything, because he wants to help “share her sadness”. They’re tiny actions, but very thoughtful ones which helped me understand why this game is played by so many people.


Outside the game, when I read Xu Mo’s comments, I was struggling with an assignment. No one had bothered to ask me if I was tired, or if I was unhappy. When I messaged a boy I think of as a good friend, he replied with a short, one-word text hours later. I felt upset, and lonely. All I wanted was for someone to care. In Love and Producer, I had four people who would do nothing else. 

When I send a message to them, they will reply back almost instantly, as if they were waiting by their phones for me. You can see a “typing” notice, as if there’s actually someone on the other side of the screen ready to talk to you.

In real life, your family and friends are very busy. It’s common to send someone a message in the morning, and to only get a reply in the evening. While that’s normal, it can also make you feel that people don’t care enough about you to get back to you right away. With Love and Producer, that feeling of not being good enough, is taken away. The boys will always care, and will always put your character and you first.

There is also some comfort in knowing these four characters will never leave you, like a real person might. There’s no trying to guess their feelings, no worrying about saying the wrong thing and embarrassing yourself, and no worrying that you’ll run out of things to say.

I once heard someone say that young people become fans of celebrities because there is little chance of getting hurt by them. That might be the case for many players of Love and Producer, too. As long as you are willing to spend a little money, you get four guys who will love you, and with whom you can fall in love with. They reply to messages quickly. They call. They comment on your WeChat Moments.

The game might not be real, but the feeling of happiness you get when a notification lights up on your phone is – which is what this app all about. Is it any wonder this game is so popular?

Edited by Ginny Wong