Review: A Couple Finds Their Dream Daddy
If there was ever an appropriate time for light, consequence-free, escapist fiction, now would be it. With all of us keeping appropriate distance from one another, staying at home, worrying about the futures of our families, our communities, and the world, turning to an easy movie, game, book, or record can be a real comfort. On an immediate level fluffier pieces of art and pop culture can take one's mind off the present crisis for a short time. They can also serve as a wonderful activity for those with a flair for the vicarious, transporting us from these same walls to happier places.
That's why we, my girlfriend Hanny and I, made the decision to start seeing other people as a couple. Fake people. Fake dads, specifically, in the wonderfully made and gigantic-hearted Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. Developed by Game Grumps, Dream Daddy is a sweet, funny, and thoughtfully crafted open-ended visual novel that sees the player character, a middle-aged man with a daughter about to graduate high school, move to a new cul-de-sac populated entirely by sexually adventurous other dads. Hijinks and smooches ensue.
For this to be a proper review, we would need to recount in detail matters about gameplay, writing, story, and cultural value in systemic fashion, but we're eschewing a stricter format for something more conversational. It should be noted that we did not go with comparisons of separate playthroughs, but rather we created a single daddy (the stylish and boyishly charming Wessny Zunedeker) and played him together, so we're offering up different reactions to the same collaborative story. Check out our thoughts on particular, dad-related subjects below, and then go play the game because we need to talk to someone about how hot Mat is.
Important questions first: Who's the hottest daddy?
Wesley: Hands down it's Mat. Mat has dreamy eyes and a mysterious demeanor. Mat is musically gifted and emotionally complex. Mat owns a coffee shop with dad-punny drinks named after indie artists. The picture the player gets of Mat when they finish his storyline--gazing at you from onstage, bare-chested--sent me into fits of triumphant arousal. Also Carmensita (Mat's daughter) seems super chill and looks up to Amanda.
Hanny: It's Damien. Everybody knows it's Damien. There is never any mistake that Damien's into you. He's sweet, romantic, and actively courting you in a traditional (Victorian) sense. He's very straightforward and uncomplicated. He's resourceful and can find anything in his cloak. He's nerdy, which is fun! His flowing locks and vampiric good looks certainly help, too...
Who's the daddy you would most like to actually date?
H: I think it's either Hugo or Brian, but maybe Mat, too. Maybe Craig if I wanted to commit to the swol life. I mean, Mat and Hugo kind of remind me of the guy I'm already dating, like some sort of cross between them.
W: Honestly, Hugo. Mat and Craig are reeeeaal close behind. As in the Craig storyline, I tend to be attracted to people I'm already emotionally invested in. And I'm desperately into both coffee and music, which is Mat's whole thing (he knows PUP!). That said, Hugo is sweet, intelligent, down-to-earth, likes cheese and trivia, and is profoundly nerdy about something inconsequential (WWE), which is endearing and relatable.
Who's the lamest daddy?
W: Joseph. Easy. He sucks. He's emotionally manipulative and noncommittal. He's locked himself in a failing marriage that's driving his wife to alcoholism. He's using his role as a youth minister to regulate his own behavior which, professionally and ethically, is the last thing you want your youth minister to be doing. He clearly hurt Robert, and Robert's great. So yeah, Joseph's the worst.
H: Joseph. He's a poopoo.
[It should be noted that there is an easter egg ending in the game in which Joseph is a Satanic cult leader]
What was something frustrating or disappointing about the game?
H: Not enough daddies. I need nine daddies minimum for any real dad-based dating simulator. But honestly, the lack of resources here is probably a good thing. I was left wanting more story. I enjoyed the game. I liked getting to know all the characters, seeing your relationship with Amanda evolve, and exploring Maple Bay. The game is cleverly and poignantly written, and following the organic relationships between the other characters (between daddies, side-characters, and the various kids running around the community) is just as rewarding as dating the dads. What happens when Carmensita enters high school? Does Ernest get his act together? What about Spinmaster/Quizmaster/Tourmaster Quinn?
W: As a pastor, the role of religion in the game was a bit troubling. There were positives about how the church operated in the community, but these were mostly social (dances, bake sales, etc.). It was nice to see the dads supporting the church. That said, the use of religion as an excuse to keep Joseph and Mary together so they can pretend to be a "model" couple is nonsense. While I'll admit that plenty of folks see religion as something that dictates inauthentic but cultically-approved behavior, proper religion is about providing the tools for meaning making and community building. Consequently, a healthy church community would help Joseph and Mary navigate and amicably dissolve their clearly destructive marriage, not just paper over it. The game missed an opportunity here.
What about something heartwarming?
W: The care with which the game approaches emotional matters within families like grief, anger, and love was quite nice. The creators were forthright about privileging individual and communal relationships over sociopolitical critique (to some critics' dismay). They were successful. Maple Bay is not a realistic place, but it's an appealing one. Sexuality and sexual labels are not tossed around and used to simplify or expedite sexual and romantic relationships. Instead, the characters are much more critically thoughtful about how they are in relationship with one another and allow romance to bloom where it may. Further, the characters in the game are very open and healthy with their emotional communication (with the significant exception of Joseph's family). I'm reminded here of a couple highlights in the game: a scene in which Damien compassionately invites his son Lucien to seek therapy to better grapple with certain difficult feelings, and another in which Brian sets aside his abrasive and competitive exterior and admits his desire just to be liked.
H: The significance that this game places on parenting. Much of what your character does is be a dad rather than just chase them. At the end of the day, even if your character ended up alone (as he does in a couple of the storylines), your character still has the most important relationship in his life intact: his relationship with his daughter Amanda. Dream Daddy doesn't avoid the challenge of parenting, but thinking carefully about your character's guidance of Amanda yields the most touching and important moments of the game.
To offer some parting thoughts, Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is a joy to play and something fun to do with your partner while you're cooped up inside. It's also a heartfelt love-letter to a more compassionate romantic landscape than could exist right now, but may exist in the future if we all become a little kinder and more understanding. And if all of us became hot dads.