Lessons from Dream Daddy

A game that recently came out was Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, which is a dating game in which your character, who is a dad, dates other dads. While it would have ordinarily fallen under the radar, its publisher Game Grumps, a popular youtube channel, gave it a lot of publicity.  

Being a more recent game, Dream Daddy benefits from the knowledge brought on by queer visibility and acceptance in a way that queer games from five years ago cannot. This has lead it to be an astoundingly progressive and inclusive game, the likes that has not really graced mainstream gaming. This, obviously, makes it a prime game to analyse and examine in terms of queerness.

Indeed, we can learn three core lessons from Dream Daddy.

Spoilers Ahead!

1. Including Representation Can Be Simple

The Character Creator

Dream Daddy has a highly diverse character creator at the beginning of the game. It offers a range of skin colours for POC (Person Of Colour) representation, as well as a range of body sizes, hairstyles, and so forth.

Of note is the body size section which has three body sizes repeated twice. The first set of body sizes are labeled as “tank top” bodies, and the second set is labeled as “binder” bodies. Binders are used to flatten breast tissue as to not cause dysphoria, and as such the latter set is clearly intended for trans male characters. In addition, the “binder” bodies have a bit less body hair.

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The difference in the artwork for the tank tops and binders is very minimal. The binders are essentially shorter versions of the tank tops. It would not have taken them very long to make the alteration, but the inclusion of binders makes all the difference.

The Writing

One of the first choices you get at the start of the game is the gender of your character’s former partner. The next choice is whether your daughter, Amanda, was born or adopted.

Not only does the first choice allow agency with your character’s sexuality, but the second choice does not change depending on your answer to the first question. This further supports trans inclusion in Dream Daddy, as well as the possibility of surrogates, with only a few word changes.

One of the datable dads, Damien, being a trans man is no more than an off hand comment about wearing binders on the first date with him, rather than some big reveal. Again it only took them a couple of words to confirm trans representation.

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2. Queerness Is Not Synonymous With Sex

Dream Daddy does not have any explicit sex scenes. The few instances of sex in the game are implied, and only a couple are heavily implied. For Dream Daddy, this was a good thing.

In our society it is not uncommon for cis-heterosexual people to see queerness as innately sexual when trying to figure out what the difference between queerness and straightness is, and to see queerness as being “adult” as a result.

This is not to say that queerness needs to be desexualised. However, within the contexts of Dream Daddy, it would have been detrimental if the game had more of a focus on sex.

Society currently fetishises the sexual aspect of queerness, whether in the form of “yaoi” or so called “lesbian porn”. Because of Dream Daddy’s publicity, it would have sent a message if it included explicit sex scenes: that the game was no more than another thing for straight consumption.

For instance, it is a staple of the Visual Novel and Dating Sim genre to have CGs, which are special images depicting characters in key situations. For the more explicit games, these CGs tend to illustrate sex scenes. However, Dream Daddy lacks these CGs.

This is not only good for not fetishising the encounters, but also doesn’t make assumptions about the genitalia of characters. In a way, the lack of illustrations also respect the characters more; making private moments even out of sight of the player. The sex scenes are not for the player’s consumption.

This decision is, of course, also practical as illustrating every combination possible in the character creator is not cost effective.

3. Nothing Exists In A Bubble

Dream Daddy simply can’t be viewed on its own without the contexts of 2017. In 2017, queer people, especially young queer people, congregate on websites like Tumblr and Twitter. Because Tumblr and Twitter are social media websites, a sense of community also emerges. The aspects of these communities aren’t always positive.

Because of the visibility of queerness, combined with the feeling of solidarity that community provides, the general queer communities on Tumblr and Twitter have become ones with impossible ideals. Because there is comparatively little queer representation than straight representation, there comes a need for the existing representation to be perfect.

Because Dream Daddy’s existence is so predominant, Dream Daddy gets that scrutiny.

While this heavily critical eye is generally not healthy, it is still common practice and Dream Daddy needed to acknowledge and work around that. Unfortunately, this is where Dream Daddy still has a lot to learn; especially with the character Joseph.

Joseph, one of the datable characters, is married. His relationship with his wife Mary is strained and clearly unhealthy for either of them. To make matters worse, Joseph finds himself attracted to the player character from early on, causing his interactions with the player character to sour the marriage even further as Mary is not blind to what’s happening in front of her.

During the final date with Joseph, he and the player character get stranded on Joseph’s yacht. Joseph confesses that he and Mary and over, and soon after he and the player character sleep together. However, during the epilogue, he tells the player that he and Mary have sorted things out and that he in fact still loves his wife, rejecting the player.

Joseph is the only character to downright reject the player character.

Naturally, this route was met with uproar. What made it worse though, is that the developers explained why the route was written in such a way: they wanted to subvert expectations for the dating sim genre.

While their desire is to be respected, their execution nonetheless makes playing the route, and by extension playing the game, a punishment. How dare you choose one of the available routes? How dare you expect to win Joseph’s route by selecting all the right options?

The route certainly isn’t the worst route that has ever graced visual novels or dating sims, but the rest of the game is comparatively light hearted and good natured. No other datable dads have a story arc anywhere similar to Joseph’s. The other routes don’t have very high dramatic stakes. In short, Joseph’s route feels out of place from the rest of Dream Daddy.

You need to be able to set the right tone with your game to pull off a more experimental route without damaging the whole game as a result. You need to be aware of the current society, and how it will interpret your content, while writing a game.

This is certainly not to say that the pitfalls of Dream Daddy outweigh the positives, and it is certainly a revolutionary queer game because of all its representation. It is my hope that Dream Daddy’s failings create even better games in the future.

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator’s Steam page can be found here.

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