Spoilers for Dream Daddy.
If you explain what Dream Daddy is to someone unfamiliar with the dating sim genre, you’ll likely sound very, very weird.
This isn’t to say that the game isn’t delightful and wholesome. It is. That being said, the game has a strange, but simple, premise. You’re a single dad dating other (mostly) single dads, and you do dad stuff together. Dream Daddy strikes a delightful balance between stereotype and genuine, authentic storytelling. They navigate through nontraditional dating and always manage to laugh with–instead of at–the characters.
Each dad in the game represents a stereotype without being a stereotype. They can be easily categorized: the goth, the athlete, the intellectual. However, each character has so much more beneath the surface. Each character is fully realized, and the story rewards mutual, healthy growth rather than co-dependency (a behavior rewarded in other dating sims).
More than rewarding healthy behaviors, Dream Daddy focuses heavily on being a dad first and foremost. The game makes you instantly fall in love with your daughter, Amanda. This is essential to full immersion into dadhood. Amanda has her flaws, but she’s so great that you forgive them. Within moments of meeting her and going through her baby pictures, the player wants the best for her. This is a by-product of the internet’s want to adopt characters from media and raise them (for instance, in Mass Effect 2, I unilaterally decided that Grunt, born on my ship, was officially my son). Dream Daddy lets this weird quirk of the internet work for it.
The game does this with other story elements as well. The puns and dad jokes are terrible, but they’re something everyone loves to jokingly hate. The game is truly a product of the times. The developers and writers clearly understood what makes the internet tic and why. As the children of the internet grow into adults, they start to take on more responsibility and decide if they want to take on parenting roles. This game allows the player to try on the identity of parenthood with little responsibility. Amanda is about to move out for college. Her father’s role is mostly habit at this point in her life. The lessons she needs to learn are about emotional maturity and moving on rather than literally taking care of herself.
In Dream Daddy, the objectives are social and personal. With the exception of the cult ending, your goal is every good parent’s goal: to prepare your child for their life. Socially, you, as a parent, need to have a life after Amanda leaves for college. Every dating sim player knows how the game works, but finding out each character’s aspirations, secrets, and personality is always exciting. Moreover, it allows the player to explore queerness and gender (the game allows you play as a transgender man in addition to a gay or bisexual man) in a cul-de-sac totally free from judgement and hate.
The story of the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community is one that needs to be told. However, what is also needed is stories about LGBTQIA+ families, divorces, dating, and parenthood. The Laboratory of Dreams, a concept that games provide players a safe space to act out equality utopias and dystopias, comes into play here. The cul-de-sac is a queer utopia. Queer families make up 100% of the households. The concept is unrealistic to critics of the game, but it plays an important role in developing games about queer people for queer people.
Dream Daddy is not only a great game within the dating sim genre, it’s also a thoughtful game. It allows the player to try on different roles in a safe space, and it provides a bit of escapism from the hatred and bigotry in the world. While the game seems super niche, it’s hard to not instantly love all of the characters and want to date all of them. Good or bad ending, at the end of the game, there is always hope and the option to play again.