by Joseph Wiltzer
Game Grump’s 2017 surprise indie darling Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator was not only an unexpected hit, but also a major step for diversity and inclusion within an established genre. I vividly remember the overwhelming influx of memes and discourse Dream Daddy spawned in the LGBTQ+ gaming spaces I frequent. Screencaps of irresistibly cute, dateable dads having meaningful discussions with each other were certainly enticing, but dating sims were never really my genre, so I only first played the game for the class. I am glad I finally did.
On the surface, Dream Daddy looks and plays a lot like many other dating simulators. You begin by designing your self-insert daddy and are then immediately informed of your backstory. A single father who recently lost their partner, you and your daughter Amanda are moving across town and starting new. Once you arrive at the Cul-de-Sac where you now live, you begin to meet the cast. Attractive, archetypical dads welcome you to the neighborhood where you can get to know them better by going on dates.
After a meet-and-greet BBQ where you are introduced to the neighbourhood, your daughter helps you sign up for “Dadbook”, a social media platform for dads and the game’s primary structural system. Every day begins the same; either by messaging one of the seven dateable dads yourself or answering a message you received. Answering messages is a minor mechanic which leads you to scenes involving multiple dads purely for your entertainment as they do not directly affect your relationships.
The crux of the game lies in who you reach out to yourself. Your character has the option to go on up to two dates with each dad before you are prompted to commit to an important, third date with one of them. There are no requirements regarding how many you can date, but once you embark on a third date with one of the men, the game will end.
Focusing in on the dates themselves, each one ends with you receiving a letter-grade from C up to S. Your grade is a result of how many points you accrue over the course of the date based on your answers. The dad you are with or others in the scenes will prompt you to select an option from a list possible things to say, and each selection has the option of providing no points, some points or a lot of points. The point system is quite opaque, and is instead represented with emojis; good answers elicit heart emojis from the dad, while great answers elicit eggplant and star emojis.
This system does a great job of maintain immersion and cultivating romance, while still providing players with benchmarks of how they are doing. If numerical points were displayed and highlighted, players might focus too much on the points, obscuring their attention on the date itself. The use of visual symbols in this case still let players know when they make the right choices without distracting them from the date itself. Once the date ends and the grade is displayed, players have enough concrete evidence in combination with the emojis to know what they did well. In my opinion, this is an elegant system which prioritizes the dates themselves, while still gamifying them in a way which only adds to our enjoyment.
One last mechanic within the romance of the game I want to address are “bad dates”. This isn’t the case will all the dads, but there are certain options on particularly dates which, if selected, ruin your chance at pursuing a meaningful romance with the given dad. For example, on my first date with Robert, I agreed when he invited back to his place. After hooking up, Robert was never able to see my dad avatar as anything, but a sexual object and we couldn’t date further. Personally, I like this mechanic because it adds a weight to all decisions moving forward in the game once you know this is a possibility. Good relationships felt more rewarding knowing how badly they could have gone.
Those Quirky Kids
Despite all this discussion of dating, don’t think that romantic relationships are the only ones which require cultivation in Dream Daddy. Your daughter, Amanda, also has her own storyline throughout the game, and you as a father are responsible for helping her navigate the issues of a high-school senior. Between every date, the player-character returns home and interacts with Amanda using the same text option system for the dates, however, you never receive a letter grade for your parenting.
Instead, the results of your interactions with Amanda are only displayed during the epilogue, where you receive either her “good” or “bad” ending based on how well you interacted with her though the game. In both endings she is going off to college, but in the “bad” ending she looks like she was crying recently and seems quite worries, while in the “good” ending she seems much more excited and happier about her future prospects. Even if you do a wonderful job on all your dates, this ending system is a reminder that being neglectful or unsupportive of your child is incredibly important, regardless of how well your love life is going.
Apart from Amanda, all the game’s dateable dads have a child (or children) of their own. Some of them are quite close with their dads while others have strained relationships but meeting and getting to know these children is another important aspect of building relationships with the men in this game. For example, Hugo and his son Earnest have an incredibly tense relationship at first and it seems like his child is a total brat, but as you get to know Hugo better you also learn how his recent divorce significantly effected his son. If you end up with Hugo at the end and scored well on these dates, earnest stops being as hostile towards you, and actually says something quite nice in the epilogue as well.
Daddy’s Favourite Archetypes
The last area of this game I want to focus on are the dateable dads themselves. Each of the 7 dads adheres closely to a classic archetype – jock, bad boy, the hipster, etc.. As you get to know these men better you do have the chance to learn more about them, and while they aren’t completely one-dimensional characters, it often feels like you are dating a type rather than an individual. That being said, I don’t think this takes too much away from the game because these archetypes are executed incredibly well. Even if Craig and Robert – the jock and bad boy respectively – are incredibly predictable characters, I still really liked getting to know them better. The game leans on its incredible writing in this area by keeping the characters likeable and interesting even if they are familiar
Another interesting aspect of how these men are characterized is, even though they are quite different in most ways, being a dad is a major part of all of them in two ways. First, their children are all incredibly important to them, even to the a “bad” dad who clearly cares for his daughter a lot. Second, they all love telling dad jokes, which in this game are basically just puns. There’s a scene early on at the BBQ where the dads start riffing off of each other and making back-to-back puns about classic cookout foods, and it’s interesting to see these otherwise incredibly different men joining together in this way. At the end of the day, no matter how they come off or dress, the game is sending the message that they are dads before they are archetypes. Dream Daddies for life ❤