GAME REVIEW: DOES DREAM DADDY REALLY LIVE UP TO ITS HYPE?

It feels like the whole internet has become obsessed with this overnight- spawning dozens of pieces of fanart, as well as lets plays, conspiracy theories and an inevitable toxic fandom– and why wouldn’t it? With the developer Game Grumps’ huge female following and its rare inclusion of gay men (including MOC and transmen) as datable romantic leads, it was bound to become a hit. Add to boot a mysterious secret ending hidden in the data files, its got everything needed to gain a huge cult following.

But is this game actually live up to its hype?

Well, after watching the strong opening on youtube (courtesy of Rantasmo) and seeing the positive response from gay and trans people, my curiosity was peaked in spite of my general disinterest in dating sims. So without further ado, lets have a look at the game.

 

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DISCLAIMER: Closest I’ve ever played to a dating game sim 

BUILDING YOUR DREAM DADDY: THE GREAT REPRESENTATION BEGINS HERE!

Probably its biggest claim to fame is the amount of diversity this game has, including well rounded characters who are gay, POC, and trans (plus it even has interesting female characters in the forms of Amanda and Mary).

Though there are great games  like Portal, Borderlands, Child of Light, Undertale and the Persona 3 and 4 with well written queer/ female/ POC etc characters, it’s no secret that the video game industry is lagging behind every other creative medium in terms of treating anyone not the presumed ‘default’  straight white/ Japanese etc as a human, in spite of an increased amount of female players and players  who are gay or of color.

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Love you Sazh, but Japan, what were you thinking with the chocofro?

Anyone not part of that demographic is barely considered appealing to as a periphery demographic, let alone the main demographic. So the fact that Dream Daddy exists is huge.

First off, it lets you have a wider range of body types than normal. You can choose to be a gym bunny, skinny guy, a bear or even freaking Goku.  (It lets you have Goku hair and eyes. I loved the concept). I just went for the eye candy, but judging by the delighted twiiter response, a lot of gay players were delighted to be able to play as someone like themselves.

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I created this handsome fella to be my protagonist

As for POC options, this one allows you to choose a range of skin tones, as well as hairstyles and features more typical of African Americans, including dreads ,cornrows, fuller lips and rounder noses.

And most notably of all, you can make your character cannonically trans. I  wouldn’t have noticed it if it wasn’t pointed out, but it does give you the option of wearing a binder, This is small, but such a wonderful acknowledgement which has really resignated well with trans players, who are typically relegated to being punchlines in games if included at all, although this improving at least in Western games.

NOT YOUR BLANK SLATE DATING SIM LEAD

Although you may be able to fully customise your sim, your dad’s personality is clearly defined. He’s a loveable goofy sitcom dad. Kind, laid back and socially awkward, he loves nothing more than spending time with his daughter, avoiding the gym and making bad dad jokes. No matter what dialogue option you chose, it could never make your character completely left field of his basic personality, and all the ‘bad’ dialogue choices came across as more of a case of MC putting his foot in his mouth than being cruel.

I think this was the right choice, because it made his relationships with the other characters (which I’ll move onto in a second)  more engaging and give or take. The only problem was the occasional disconnect between character and character model. There’s no way a character with 0% body fat and abs to die for would be that horrified by the thought of going to the gym and spend all day eating nachos.

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Damnit Link. I don’t care what your ingame excuse is,HOW CAN YOU NOT EMOTE!?

Plus, if I chose to play as a trans dad and chose to date the trans character, wouldn’t MC have shown more of a reaction after the binder revelation? Just one extra line of dialogue just would have made it that much more immersive.

THE DADDY DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP

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A great advantage of having a clear personality as your lead is the banter. What sold me on this game is the relationship between Amanda (your daughter) and MC. I LOVED Amanda. A world away from the bratty valley girl, she is a vivid, funny, quirky teenage girl who’s supportive of your relationships, but also brings her own teenaged troubles to the table which was really engaging and heart wrenching.

In effect, you’re working towards two endings for your dad. You’re working towards getting the good Amanda ending, as well as the good ending with whichever dad you’re hoping will be your one true love. When i first played this, I went for hunky married youth pastor Joseph because I knew he’d be a train wreck and I wanted to see what happens. I ended up getting up getting the Bad Ending with him (apparently the youth of today don’t appreciate my dance moves), but even though I ended up alone, it wasn’t a sad ending because I still had Amanda and it felt really real and bittersweet.

Of course, just don’t get both the Joseph and Amanda bad ending because it’s just that depressing.

INTRODUCING… THE DADS

Now, we’re onto what everyone’s really interested in: the smexy mancandy. Basically, the first part of the game sets the scene and deals with Amanda. After you’ve met all the dads, it allows you to go on ‘Dadbook’, where you make a profile, and choose which dad to date. You can date any dad up until you choose to go on the third date, which is when you will commit to a dad and get his ending for better or worse.

Here’s a quick intro to the dads, but if you’re not interested, skip to the paragraph below Joseph.

BRIAN

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Helloooo, Murse!

Brian is the bearish rival dad. You spend your whole time competing with him while he shows you nothing but magnamity and kindness- so essentially his story involves our protagonist creating conflict where none is to be seen.

ROBERT

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He’s essentially the ‘damaged bad boy with a heart of gold.’ He’s an interesting story because his story intersects Joseph’s, making for a more interesting story. The only downside is that half of his ‘rebellions’ and ‘bad boy actions’ feel excessively juvenile rather than a badass. To me he felt like that rebellious cousin you look up to when you’re 15, but doesn’t look so cool when they’re 39 and still exactly the same.

CRAIG

BONUS-DAD-TENT

A very popular dad and your college best friend, he’s the typical sporty ‘jockish’ dad. You can tell he’s very manly because he uses bro every other sentence. He’s pretty cool because he’s a gay asian whose conventionally very macho, which is something very rare in the media.

DAMIAN

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The bizarre goth dad. Although they don’t have a clear handle on what goth is (referring to My Chemical Romance goth, even though its one of the defining bands of the Emo movement and generally despised by Goths), they use his OTT nature for some pretty entertaining scenerios. His is possibly the most entertaining route.

MAT

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He’s the cute nerd who gets flustered and babbles on an awkard tangent. Although not as instantly sexy as Craig or some of the others, his and MC’s shared doofiness do make for some heartwarming moments and he’s a grower.

MR VEGA

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The sophisticated teacher who ironically has the gobby hellraiser of a son. I’d feel sorry for him, but he named his own son Ernest Hmingway. That just screams ‘Man Who Goes To Tate And Mistakes Dropped Crisp packet As Revolutionary Piece Of Art.”

JOSEPH

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If you ever fantasised about gaining a virtual dick and sticking it in crazy, then Joseph is the route for you. He’s married to what seems to be an awful alcoholic and is very invested in being a role model to his church, so already we have more conflict than the other dads. He is the one dad who completely diverges from the traditional dating conventions, as his story possibly touches on the closet and also unhappy marriages and infidelity. Both his good and bad ending are bittersweet, and both are actually worth playing. PRO TIP: Complete the first two dates for Damian and Robert before going down Joseph’s route. It makes for a better story.

As you can see from the descriptions, it plays out like a typical dating game sim, and your success with your chosen dad depends on your  responses to certain questions and situations.

For the most part, I found Most of the dads are really, really likeable and the dialogue is on the sweet and uplifting side. There’s not much conflict (except when pertaining to the Joseph and Robert  routes), but the dialogue is engaging and funny enough to keep you hooked. I suppose the overall feel can be described as sort of Steven Universe without the aliens, where everyone is basically warm and engaging,

Because of the three dates rule, it’s significantly shorter than your average dating sim/ graphic novel (especially when compared to goliaths such as Fate Stay Night). Because aside from which dad you choose to interact with, the storytelling is mostly linear and so if you want to restart it can get a bit repetitive.

The best thing to do is create a character and go on two dates with each dad, and then complete the final date.

ATTITUDE TO GAY PEOPLE

 

This was my biggest worry, considering the way male/male romance and yaoi tends to belittle and fetishize gay men.

As I played this I did not believe for one second that this game had a gay man as a lead writer for a variety of reasons I will go into in a different post. I guessed bisexual female based on the Teagan and Sara reference and the way Amanda was written, and judging by my research I was right. This is very much a gay relationship put into a  heteronormative dating framework.

However, it does not treat its male leads as yaoi bate and made them engaging well rounded characters and contains none of the belittling of gay men that I’ve come to expect from this type of genre.

DID DREAM DADDY LIVE UP TO ITS EXPECTATIONS?

Overall, yes. In terms of inclusion, it lives up for its reputation. As for the writing, although it is pretty short and linear, the writing is suprisingly good, with plenty of references to geek culture, humour, genuine character interactions and even moments tha can be heartbreaking and touching.

HOWEVER, due to its very linear path and short length, it somewhat lacks in replayability. Even though it’s popular at the moment, unless it spawns some sequels, it lacks the replayability to be an enduring classic like Fate Stay Night.

RATING

3 bad dad jokes out of 5

 

THOUGHTS FROM ACTUAL GAY PEOPLE

It has to be noted, as a bisexual woman, I am not the group that is represented in this.

For some thoughts on it from gay/ trans men who are represented in the game, I have a few links here:

http://kotaku.com/what-we-liked-and-didnt-like-about-dream-daddy-1797270467

https://mic.com/articles/182664/dream-daddy-trans-inclusion-damien#.yTcqvGSos

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Experience Machine- Jason Werbeloff

The skullcap sits to one side of the chair. Its snaking wires and sensors throw a Medusa shadow against the basement wall. I touch its plastic. Stroke its wiry hair.

The Machine gives me everything I want. Or the one thing I want. Life in a woman’s body, under the tangerine glow of the Spiral Arm Nebula. But nothing remains the same for long, not even in the timeless worlds of the Experience Machine.

Fantasy; obsession; impossible desire. The Experience Machine is a brilliant dark horror/ science fiction story about living in a world that’s so cold and stifling, that building a machine that allows you to live out any desire is the only way you can be yourself. The happiness found in the Experience Machine comes at a price, however, as our protagonist finds their life in the real world slowly unravelling and each jaunt in the machine taking a dangerous toll on his health.

I think we can all relate to (the unfortunately named) Manfred, as there’s been a time in everyone’s life where things have been so dreadful that you feel like the only escape is to the world of fiction. Manifred’s desire is even more desperate because s/he’s going through the worst struggle of all- feeling like s/he’s in the wrong body and attracted to men in a dysphoria where it seems like transgender/ genderfluid and gay community don’t exist.

I’m currently using male pronouns to describe Manifred/ Mascara because male pronouns that are used throughout the story (and in his cameo in Hedon). Manifred doesn’t use the words ‘trans’, and it is not pinned down whether our protagonist is trans or suffering from gender dysphoria. This makes sense, because the world of Manifred/ Mascara is populated by strawman bigots and Manifred/ Mascara is still young and living with their bigoted religious parents, so they probably lack the freedom and language to fully explore their identity.

Our protagonist’s voice is very well done. The writing and language is very simple, flowing and engaging. We find ourselves gripped by Manifred’s struggles, and by watching him try to straddle between his two worlds- the real world of coldness and bigotry, and the fantasy world of romance and acceptance. Like with a lot of Werbeloff’s other works, the religious people our protagonist has to contend with are presented as crude, strawman bigots who vomit  homophobic bile every time they open their mouths. I might object to this portrayal of homophobia as oversimplified, but sadly, as Werbeloff lives in America- the land of Donald Trump and televangelists- I can’t criticize the portrayal because there’s sadly too much truth in it.

The best part of this story  was its  twisted, brutal and glorious ending. When I started reading this, I was certain I knew how it was going to end, but I was glad to be proven wrong. The ending went full slasher as it devolved into a delicious bloodpath that was sick, graphic and yet refreshing and extremely funny. In his other short stories, Werbeloff often stumbles to make the dismount with his finales, but here he made his landing with Olympic-level form. I have no hesitation to recommend this to anyone who wants to read grizzly sci fi horror dripping with black humour.

RATING: 5 mad scientists/ 5