dkirschner's Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (PC)
| [April 1, 2019 11:00:40 AM]
| Completed Dream Daddy! What a great game, wow. I first heard of this around the time it came out when I was working on stuff related to GamerGate, and that semester had a student who wrote me a paper on its depiction of sexuality and fatherhood. She would rave to me about how it handled gender and insist that I play it. My immediate comparison is the only other visual novel/dating sim I've played, Hatoful Boyfriend, but genre is really the only similarity. Nonetheless, Hatoful Boyfriend (the pigeon dating sim) prepared me for Dream Daddy. Thanks Hatoful Boyfriend.
What is Dream Daddy? It's a dad dating sim. You create a dad and begin the story. I made mine look like Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force and named him Carl McDad. The similarity is uncanny. You and your daughter, Amanda, move to a new town, to a house in a cul-de-sac where every other resident is also a dad. Some dads live with their kids, some are married, some are single. Some are more openly gay, some are in heterosexual relationships. They welcome you to the neighborhood, and you begin the process of meeting the game's 7 dads. This is essentially the prologue.
Once you meet all the dads together at a barbecue, you sign up for Dadbook (like Facebook, but for dads). It's unclear whether Dadbook is only for dads or whether anyone can join and it's just called Dadbook because Amanda and other kids will pop up on there. It's also unclear whether it's more of a dating site or more of just a messaging app. Anyway, through Dadbook, you ask the other dads to hang out or go on dates, and they will occasionally message you too.
The game flows like this: You choose a dad to message on Dadbook and go on a date. The date usually has two or three activities, and you get to know the other dad better. The date ends, you get a score based on a dialogue options you chose (the "best" dialogue option triggering a hilarious animation of hearts and eggplant emojis emanating from the wooed dad) and mini-games you completed, and you go home. You usually chat with Amanda, go to sleep, and repeat. You can initiate three dates with each dad (that's 21 dates). On the third date with any particular dad, as we found out last night, you can end the game by choosing to start dating that dad. You probably have to make correct dialogue decisions during the date, and I assume you can be rejected or choose not to date any of the dads (We will verify this later!). We went with Hugo, an English teacher and closet wrestling fan. Our other choices, in order, were Robert (mysterious, hunts cryptids), Mat (cool coffee shop owner, post-hardcore and emo fan), Joseph (married, youth minister), Craig (athletic, cool, but seemed too busy for us), Brian (competitive), and Damien (goth dad).
"Being a dad" is the main thing the game depicts, believe it or not, and so your relationship with Amanda often takes center stage (and the other dads' relationships with their kids are important too). Amanda is a high school senior planning to go to art school. She is a great kid and is going through some of the issues of teenage life--boys, friends, college applications, etc. You and her have a wonderful relationship, and the father-daughter scenes were some of my favorite in the game. The game does not hyper-focus on sexuality, which I had sort of assumed before playing. It's a game about dating dads, yes, but the emphasis is on relationships, romantic, sexual, or otherwise. Carl never comes out and says he's gay. He's just attracted to the dads that the player guides him toward. The other dads don't identify as gay either. Hugo was married to a man, and that statement is the closest we get to a statement about sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is conveyed more through thought and behavior (e.g., Carl sees Brian shirtless and notes that he's hot or Carl flirts with Craig by making a joke about kissing). I'll keep thinking about this. At first I was disappointed that the game was avoiding talking about sexuality, but the more I think about it, I think it's really clever how it doesn't focus on identity, but instead focuses on relationships, sexual fluidity, and performance. There's a paper in there somewhere...that has probably already been written.
I really liked how dates were not all one-on-one affairs, but involve other dads, kids, and are wrapped up in other aspects of daily life. For example, for one of the Hugo dates, he invites you to help chaperone his class on a field trip to the aquarium. I had to figure out how to get some mischievous kids out of the penguin enclosure. One of the Brian dates was a fishing trip that your daughters (who get along really well) tag along for. I always found the Brian dates funny because Carl and Brian's relationship was so competitive. Brian would always one-up Carl. If Amanda got straight As, then Brian's daughter got straight A+s. If Carl caught a 20-pound fish with his father, then Brian caught a 40-pound fish. Some of the dates involved mini-games. Sitting in Robert's truck overlooking the city, he teaches you to whittle wood, and you carve increasingly silly objects. You get separated from Mat at a punk concert and try to make your way to the front of the crowd where he is by avoiding moshing teenagers. To catch fish with Brian, you play a match-three game lining up the same kinds of fish. These were always fun little diversions.
I cannot gush enough about the dialogue. The writing is outstanding. The tone turns serious or heartfelt when it needs to and is often laugh-out-loud funny. Additionally, there are a lot of dad jokes and dad puns. There is a certain type of humor that the game has, and I think we were a target demographic. People who were children of the 80s and early 90s, teens in the 90s and early-mid-2000s will find a lot of shared cultural references. Another SUPER WEIRD thing about the game is that it is like it has been listening to our conversations. We joke all the time about cryptids and starting a cryptid podcast and interviewing my dad, whose favorite story is of hearing a Bigfoot in the woods. We even recently went to a Bigfoot museum and are bummed to miss the first ever Georgia Bigfoot Conference because it falls on the same weekend as the World's Biggest Fish Fry in Paris, TN. Anyway, Robert is into hunting cryptids, and during one date he tells a story (I think he's kidding) about seeing this one, and then y'all spot something in the woods, get really scared, and drive away. My girlfriend and I also like to go see monster trucks, and that is discussed in detail in the game. There were no joke like 6 or 7 other even more specific things that we say to each other or that we had just talked about and that then were in the game. One thing my girlfriend always says is "You'll see..." like in a jokey-sinister way. Like about April Fools Day today, she says she's going to do something to me. I ask what she's going to do. "You'll see..." THE GAME ENDED WITH "YOU'LL SEE"! That was the last piece of dialogue between Carl and Hugo before the credits! What a coincidence.
Okay okay, I've gone on forever about Dream Daddy, but it's not a perfect game. There are pacing issues and issues regarding what the game "knows" about your interactions with other dads. Like I said before, you can go on three dates with each dad. Sometimes, in between dates when you log onto Dadbook, another dad will message you for some sort of outing. These totally stopped before we had gone on one date with everyone, and we were then trying to figure out how the game might have expected us to date. Did it account for the player going on three dates in a row with one dad (and will this end the game after literally three dates)? Did it anticipate the player going on one date with each dad, then a second date with each dad? We assumed, once the other Dadbook messages stopped, that the meta-narrative (like the progress through the school year as Amanda applies to art school, learns she gets in, other time-sensitive events in other dads' lives, etc.) would progress once we went on one date with every dad, and that it would progress again after two dates with every dad. But after one date with every dad, nothing happened. Still no meta-narrative advancement, still no new Dadbook messages. And nothing happened after completing a second date with each dad. Why? It's like the game front-loads you with a variety of social interactions and narrative events over time, but then completely stops before you are 1/3 through dating around. After the third Hugo date, it's like time sped up to wrap up the entire story. All of a sudden Amanda graduated from high school. I thought it would follow her off to college, but it didn't.
The other issue is what the game knows about your interactions with other dads. For example, at the end of the prologue, you are re-introduced to all the dads you've met at a barbecue. Then, as you go on dates and outings with other dads, even if you've seen dads three times since the barbecue, Carl will still think things like, "When we met last at the barbecue..." or someone will message Carl saying, "I had a great time at the barbecue! Let's go do such-and-such..." And we're like, but we just went to the art gallery with Damien, Hugo, and Craig yesterday! Why don't you remember?! This kind of thing happens enough to be noticeable. There was another glaring error last night after a Mat date. Carl was at Mat's house after shopping for records, and Mat has a lot of instruments around his house. He was in a touring band with his late ex-partner. Carl asks Mat to play the piano, and Mat doesn't want to. It dredges up memories. You have the option to push the issue and get him to play or to drop it. I dropped it. Then later that night, Carl tells Amanda about the date and says that Mat played the piano and goes on about what I assume would have happened if you push Mat on the piano issue. But Mat never played the piano! Either the game has an error in the narrative or Carl has revealed that he is a dirty liar and makes up stories to tell Amanda. I wish these issues had been ironed out.
Play this game. I want to use it for my game-based learning SOCI 1101 course somehow. It's smart, funny, deals with gender, sexuality, parenthood, and other issues in a thoughtful way. And it might be listening. Also, the theme song is a real ear worm.
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dkirschner's Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (PC)
Current Status: Finished playing
GameLog started on: Monday 31 December, 2018
GameLog closed on: Thursday 9 May, 2019
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