(Image Source: Dream Daddy [edited])
This article contains spoilers for Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. If you haven’t played it yet, go play it right now. No seriously, minimize your browser and give it a go. I’ll wait. … … … All set?
In Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, players take on the role of a suburban dad looking for love. The game features seven eligible Dream Daddy neighbors for you to romance. You can do a lot of very gay things in this game. You can…
- Have gay sex on a boat!
- Do gay kissing in a coffee shop!
- Get sweaty with sexy gay wrestling moves!
Now that you’ve played it — congratulations on doing some wonderfully gay stuff. You got those hot dads to rub up on each other, and you for sure enjoyed every minute of it. Does this mean you’re permanently gay for life now? From playing with daddies in a video game simulation??
Every day, thousands of people are turned gay by the magic of video games. It’s a beautiful and majestic process, like thousands of fabulous, impressionable butterflies emerging from a chrysalis of transgressive media. Once you fire up that secret gay recruiting material and unlock those shiny gay achievements, they’re a part of you and your public profile forever, flamboyantly showcasing how proudly you explored the steamy passion of two thick, rippling lovermans and their hot, throbbing embrace. Bask in the afterglow. You made it happen.
You did it. Hard.
Later when the initial thrill of your radiant, newfound gaiety subsides, you might feel a pang of sadness for all the straight games you haven’t finished or never played. Maybe you were so wrapped up in the thrill of doing gay sexy times in a video game, you hadn’t fully thought through the consequences. What will your first-person shooters and bloody beat-em-ups think of you now, now that you’re gay as a firework made of glitter in the shape of a unicorn?
Well here’s some excellent news for you: you can still play straight games even if you’ve played a gay game.
Yes, you can still play straight games even if you went all the way with a gay game. Even if you enjoyed every minute of it. And if you do choose to play straight games again, you can even play more gay games after that! This might all sound too good to be true, but recent surveys found as many as 70% of young “players” who enjoy gay “games” also enjoy straight “games”.
This is a lot to process, of course. You may be feeling overwhelmed by this influx of knowledge. For reference, here’s a handy chart depicting all the things you can and cannot do while gay or while straight.
|If you do gay things…||You can do anything you want in life. The world is your oyster, you beautiful sweet baby dreamchild. You are a god, goddess, or gender-nonconforming deity of your own wondrous inner world. You can witness all the treasures this wild universe has to offer. Cruise blissfully down the winding path of your own special journey. Live in peace. Believe forever in the boundless potential of your perfect, pure heart. You star. You peach. You precious, precious gem.||You cannot…
[this space intentionally left blank]
|If you do straight things…|
(Image Source: Dream Daddy [edited])
Shifting gears a bit: up to this point, this article has used an extended analogy of “gaming preference as sexual preference” to illustrate the shortcomings of broadly compartmentalising human sexuality into a gay/straight binary. Similarly the idea of “gay games” versus “straight games” is overly simplistic — games are for everyone, and the games you play are not necessarily a reflection of your personal life.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (DDADDS) actually does *not* contain much queer content by volume. To play through one storyline, let’s say it takes you three hours to complete. In those three hours, you’ll spend maybe
- Three *minutes* doing overtly queer things, like kissing or touching,
- Five minutes doing quasi-flirty, “bromantic” things like affectionately palling around or making suggestive jokes.
- One hour getting to know your dad date as a person and as a friend.
- One hour being a dad to your daughter
The rest of the time is spent running miscellaneous errands and mini-games.
In the often-niche genre of dating sim games, DDADDS has achieved a level of mainstream success that’s truly outstanding. Part of what makes DDADDS succeed in a broader market is it’s focus first and foremost on the main characters as fully realised human beings. Yes they’re queer, yes they’re dads. But you don’t have to care about queer fatherhood to enjoy the characters or to follow the plot. At its core, DDADDS is like hanging out with a bunch of quirky goofball friends, cracking jokes, and maybe getting into a little trouble along the way.
Robert is a rugged aficionado of A) the paranormal and B) whiskey, who will commit to a joke so hard it’s scary. Damien is the most down-to-earth, he just really likes recreating victorian era fashion and also gardening, ok? Craig is your old friend from college who totally got his life together, and wants to share it with you. Joseph doesn’t know how to be happy, but he dedicates his life to helping the community. Mat doesn’t realize how incredibly cool he is, making him the most “aw shucks” rock star you’ve ever met. Hugo is all dignified, classy and composed, except when he’s excitedly telling out about his personal hobbies. Brian’s not afraid of a little competition, but he brought granola bars in case you’re hungry.
These are “real” men, who all just happen to be queer. No big deal.
(Image Source: Steam)
When you first saw the DDADDS promotional materials, if you found it all a bit laughable, that’s a normal reaction. DDADDS is a comedy. The writing and visual presentation is witty, unexpected, and crammed so full of puns it’s almost not healthy. Expect “dad jokes”, the absurd, awkward and groan-worthy hallmarks of light-hearted, fatherly dialogue, a broad staple of wholesome, good-natured humor. This game doesn’t miss a one.
The humor in DDADDS shines because of the strong comedic chops of its developers. The writers and artists have deftly chosen where and how to inject humor and levity. The gags range from ludicrous pop culture references, and clever turns of phrase, to sharp commentary, and sly innuendo. Here’s what makes DDADDS truly extraordinary: the developers made a 20+ hour long game about fathers finding queer love later in life, and they *never once* resort to cheap, exploitive shaming at the expense of middle-aged men (or men of any age) engaging in homoromantic or homosexual activities.
The premise of DDADDS is completely ridiculous, but only by design. The main character and his daughter move to a quiet cul de sac in a small town, and soon discover the seven other fathers on the street are “available” and/or interested in dating you. Let’s estimate 8% of men aged 35 to 51 are attracted to men, that roughly half of men become fathers, and that ~30% of households have no adult male occupants. Without exact statistics for availability and interest, let’s generously estimate 50% of dads are up for romance. The odds of a cul de sac like this existing is roughly 1 in 677 trillion. Furthermore these calculations do not account for the fact that all these Dream Daddies are so unbelievably, outrageously, drop-dead sexy. Like oh my goodness, these daddies all one-of-a-kind, stone cold foxes. Mmm.
That is the *only* unrealistic aspect of the DDADDS premise — it’s statistically improbable. Everything else about the setup is completely believable and normal and reasonable. In real life, all around the world, hot dads are getting together and finding more than just friendship. It’s good and natural, and it makes them happy. Let’s be as positive and encouraging of all the real-life queer dads as we are for our beloved Dream Daddies.
(Image Source: Dream Daddy)
Another remarkable aspect of DDADDS is its subtlety. For a game with unabashed plot points and in-your-face minigames, you might not expect some of its headline elements to be so “discreet”. This article frequently uses the term “queer”, as a catch-all for homosexual or homoromantic characteristics or behaviors, mostly because the game does not clarify specific sexual orientations. In dialogue, many of the characters refer to current or former lovers, male or female. But they are entirely secretive — or at best, impossibly coy — about their sexual interests in general. Maybe they’ve always been bi, pan, queer, gay or asexual. Maybe they’re undecided, or they identified as straight earlier in life and then that changed. Who knows. Maybe all of these full-grown men never once in their life stopped to ponder the nature of their sexual inclinations. … Unlikely. This isn’t some strange, repressed culture; the game takes place in Massachusetts, arguably the gayest state in America. Identity Politics, am I right?
This personal ambiguity detracts from the depth and believability of the game’s seven Dream Daddy characters. However the developers used a similar approach for the main character, the player’s character, and it has the exact opposite effect. As a player, you make two choices at the start of the game:
- whether your former partner (now deceased) was a mother or a father to your daughter, and…
- whether a photo of your infant daughter depicts the day of her birth, or the day of her adoption.
These two simple questions brilliantly accommodate an extensive swath of possible backgrounds for everyone who plays. The game’s text and dialogue adapt to fit the player’s chosen background elements for their character’s personal history. Players are then free to mentally fill in the gaps of who they want their character to be.
The narrative structure of DDADDS allows players to choose which Dream Daddies to date, each with their own unique story line. Early in the game, players can date around, to get to know each daddy better, and to find that spark of romance. Ultimately players will reach a point where they must make an exclusive commitment to one daddy of their choosing. This aspect of DDADDS strongly reinforces real-world cultural assumptions of monogamy as a normative default for adult romantic or sexual relationships. The message here is clear, DDADDS is not for broad polyamory; the mechanics of the game do not support it.
Depending how players travel through the branching narratives, the game will unfold with varying degrees of hot dad-on-dad action. You can “win” the game with only so much as a kiss. The most explicit paths go no further than describing light physical contact (cuddling, etc.). Some scenes end with the dad characters together at night, then together in bed the next morning. DDADDS leaves the rest to players’ imaginations. All physical intimacy in the game is rendered in text only, no visuals. You *might* see a few shirtless hunks. The game does not consistently indicate ahead of time which paths yield which sexual encounters. If you are not comfortable with all sexual outcomes, you may need to reload your save files a few times. Good Luck.
(Image Source: Dream Daddy [edited])
In one sequence early in the game, players get the opportunity to “hook-up” with a man they’d only just met for implied risqué queer sex. Choosing this option results in a minor but unavoidable consequence at the end of the game. Regardless what else happens in the course of the game, if you hook-up with that rando early on, you will engage in an extremely awkward conversation. Here’s a badly paraphrased account of the awkwardness:
You: (Blurts out) “Rando, I thought we had something special.”
Rando: “Look kid, we did one sex. That’s all. That’s what I do.”
You: “But I have feelings”
Rando: “No… no feelings”
Rando: ***turns and walks away***
You: ***a single tear rolls down your cheek***
To put this in context, first you have a one night stand with a semi-attractive stranger, like so many consenting adults do every day. Second, you go on to meet someone else, someone truly special to you, with whom you share dozens of meaningful and romantic dates, eventually falling in love and living happily ever after together. Third, you bump into that rando from forever ago, and you immediately get all clingy like a lost puppy?? No DDADDS! That’s not how mature adult relationships work.
Sexual encounters can result in emotional fallout from unrequited expectations. That’s totally valid. However in this case, the hook-up is clearly labelled with virtually all the hallmarks of a “no strings attached” encounter. DDADDS could have offered players a much more reasonable and less awkward encounter at the end of the game, i.e. by allowing the player multiple dialog options, or simply adjusting these lines of dialog. Whether or not the developers intended this consequence as a moral condemnation of casual sexual encounters, they very deliberately created a game wherein sexual liberty unavoidably results in strife and dejection.
Frequently in media, queer men are depicted as stereotypically promiscuous and untrustworthy. Instead DDADDS confines queer men to monogamous and sexually restrained roles for a change. While it’s almost refreshing to see, really it’s just the other side of the same coin. Queer men will be accurately represented in media when queer characters can commit to a monogamous relationship with a person of any gender, or they can engage in gratuitous amounts of anonymous and freaky sex, or they can make whatever other decisions they want with their sex lives, and they still enjoy the same freedom from empty and baseless moralistic judgements — the same freedoms our society already affords to heteronormative and often even gay men.
Not every piece of media can demonstrate the full spectrum of men’s sexual experiences. However Dream Daddy had the opportunity to tell seven different stories. Instead they chose seven stories from the same narrow swath, all following roughly comparable arcs, with slight variation. The characters are very different as people; the individual storylines are totally distinctive, and each merits a playthrough. But If you experience them all, you’ll likely recognize a familiar pattern regarding the pacing and progression of the relationship, and the game’s assumptions about what constitutes a healthy approach to sexuality.
(Image Source: Dream Daddy)
The criticisms addressed in this article are not meant to dissuade you from playing DDADDS. DDADDS is an excellent game, and a shining beacon of queer hope in the otherwise not-very-queer world of mainstream video games. DDADDS is more than worth the price tag, and 100% worth the time to play it. But like all art, it has flaws. Representation issues are most noticeable for individual games when they reflect endemic issues in the industry at large.
The points addressed in this article serve to remind players and developers: when we see successes like DDADDS, let’s not aim to replicate the current status quo. Let’s continue to improve the state of the industry by supporting developers who make games with more-and-more accurate representation. (And by making games ourselves.) If future queer dating simulators merely copy the DDADDS formula, we can only expect new limitations and new stereotypes. Each future queer dating simulator has the potential to push further and further towards the truth of queer experiences, opening doors to bigger-and-bigger audiences along the way.
A small piece of advice to developers who appreciate DDADDS and want to make games like it:
Make games that humanize the groups that society marginalizes.
If we’re being perfectly honest, DDADDS is less mechanically impressive. It has a few bugs. The structure of the game is serviceable, and the minigames are mostly competent. But that’s not what DDADDS will be remembered for. Decades from now DDADDS will be remembered for its audacity to say “queer dads are cool”, and for delivering on that premise in an exceptionally sincere and hilarious way.
Briefly here are a few other high and low of DDADDS:
- You can play as a trans dad.
- One of the Dream Daddies is trans.
- The character creator has options for dads of many different races.
- Most or all of the storylines involve alcohol or heavy drinking.
- Basically none of the storylines involve marijuana.
- The cast of Dream Daddies represents many different races.
- The cast of Dream Daddies have nearly all the same body type.
- DDADDS meets the minimum requirements of the Bechdel test.
- The topic of race is not addressed in the game.
- Disability is mentioned only as far as a character needing eyeglasses.
- The game conveys a very narrow set of experiences with law enforcement.
I, the author of this article, am not especially qualified to speak on these topics. I would love to hear other people’s perspective though. Hopefully many DDADDS players will share their critiques.
One additional note: although queer men are underrepresented and marginalized in society and media, the opposite is true of men in general. This article has focused on the intersection of queerness and maleness, and is written from a male perspective. I would be remiss not to mention the importance of games featuring women. Furthermore, our culture celebrates fatherhood, but holds a double standard for mothers. While these topics deserve volumes and volumes, here I will simply say: buy games made by women and mothers and also non-binary developers.
As for Robert, Damien, Craig, Joseph, Mat, Hugo and Brian — the DDADDS Dream Daddies — let’s welcome these beautiful, spicy queer dads into the great canon of mainstream games culture. May they be remembered always among the forefathers of all the numerous excellent queer men in mainstream games to come.
(Image Source: Twitter)
Benjamin is a white cisgender queer dude, and these are his very white cisgender queer dude opinions. He makes games, and believes strongly in authentic representation in the industry. You can check out some assorted works at his website http://benjamin.red. He’s on Twitter as @benj_red.