There's a part of me----deep, deep down----that's just a little bit ashamed of my life and my choices. After months of hearing about its popularity I finally caved and purchased Dream Daddy, the dating simulator that lets you meet and romance other dads.
Yep. This is a thing that exists and is currently a part of my life. I've played a grand total of 45 minutes and I am in love.
Others have already documented why Dream Daddy is perfect for those who (like myself) gravitated towards the tumblr community, a space that caters to a mix of social justice concerns and absurdist humor. Design a game that forces you to take on the persona of an LGBTQIA father and fill it up with awful dad jokes... and you'll be forgiven for thinking that Dream Daddy was designed solely to cater to those with a tumblr account. Like Homestuck and Undertale, Dream Daddy is a an interactive piece of media that thoroughly embraces fan identity. Dave loves his shitty MS paint comics (hello, self-referentiality), Alphys spends a whole lot of time explaining why you should give her favorite trash anime a chance, and Dream Daddy (bless) lets you design your dad with "space warrior hair," AKA Goku hair, and who doesn't want to be Goku?
The original hot dad
There are many aspects to the game that make it thoroughly enjoyable, things I've already encountered in a very short amount of play time. The whole world is light and fluffy: the sun is shining, there are dogs to pet, and your hot next-door neighbor delivers cookies that your adorable daughter plows through in true teenage fashion. What separates Dream Daddy from other 'feel-good' stories is that it's explicitly about queer men. Honestly, in a bury your gays world when was the last time we got such a happy-go-lucky narrative? With fat, trans, and POC characters no less? Thus far no one has challenged my role as a single white father to a POC teenager, or batted an eye when I politely say that there was once a Mr. of the house, not a Mrs. Yes, you begin the game with a dead spouse, but for once that's actually a queer death that's intrinsic to the storyline----you wouldn't have a dating simulation if your character was already taken. (Unless we're talking polyamory and wouldn't that be something. Sequel, anyone?) The most drama thus far is a deliberate parody in which I 'fight' another dad by seeing who can best brag about their kid. Your natural dad instincts kick in, you must brag about your child's accomplishments! It is, overall, hilarious and disgustingly wholesome.
This baby shares a name with my dog. Can we talk about destiny?
It's still weird though, right? There are plenty of simulation games out there, but for the most part they're games that, you know, simulate things we supposedly want to be. Like a fighter jet pilot, or the best at competitive sports, or even designing a whole city where you get to be their God. Who in the world woke up one day and said, especially as a woman, "Yes, I'd really like to try my hand at being a queer single father now." Historically dating simulations are galge (gal games) or otome (maiden games) in which you romance attractive women and men respectively----though notably you're playing as your own gender, a sharp contrast to Dream Daddy's largely female fanbase.
On the one hand gender hardly matters because the dad you create, at his core, is a dork. He's the embodiment of the stereotypical, millennial fan: very tired, needs caffeine, gets weak in the presence of a very cute dog, would rather hide indoors than socialize, tends to put his foot in it... when I made a comment about how having more than two kids is crazy and my next-door neighbor admitted that he has four, well----
(In my defense, these are the kids)
There's also a delightful moment wherein I reminisce about an old friend, one who once "opened up a new jar of marinara sauce and then he drank it like it was a thing that normal people do. It was unholy. And then I asked him what the hell he was doing, and he said, and I quote, 'It's basically a smoothie, bro.'" We all know this friend. We have this friend. Gender is in no way an issue because the language construction and the stories are just so relatable.
There's another aspect to Dream Daddy's popularity though, one so obvious I yelled out in the shower when I realized it (true story). Taking on the role and perspective of a hot guy isn't anything new. Shippers have been doing it for decades. Back in 1991 Camille Bacon-Smith wrote Enterprising Women and noted that those who ship men together in fanfiction often do so as as way of taking back power. It might seem strange-----how is allowing men to continue dominating narratives empowering to women?----but it allows the author to take control of the romantic/sexual relationship, to craft fantasies that reflect what they're looking for in a partner. When Kirk and Spock are at death's door and tenderly admit their love for one another, it's not necessarily a reflection of what the author thinks masculinity should look like, but rather an experiment in what it would be like if one (or both) of these characters acted like women. Because at the time that was the only option. Particularly in male-centric genres like Science Fiction, back in the 60's "women [couldn't] imagine themselves as heroic characters unless they imagine themselves as male… female heroes don’t have satisfying sexual relationships," so authors gave the relationships they wanted to the heroes already available (240-1). Or, as Constance Penley put it,
“Even though women have been largely written out of slash fiction, women’s interests have not…writing the women out of this traditional scenario [getting the men together] is the surest way for those interests to get expressed... to make slash fiction do the ‘cultural work’ the fans want it to do, the slashers have ingeniously rewritten and recast the American mythos of interethnic male bonding by making the relationship homoerotic rather than homosocial” (118-190, x)
In short, slash gives women a certain amount of freedom by subverting a large number of heteronormative assumptions. And though we've made excellent headway in terms of providing viewers with a diverse cast of women in a wide variety of media (and femslash is certainly thriving), slash remains king. It is a safe way for women to explore their identities without worrying about their supposed shortcomings as women. As one fan puts it, "By writing my body out of my stories I had, somehow, written myself back into my body." (x)
All of this is not to say that there aren't slash writers and readers who are men or non-binary (there certainly are), nor that there isn't an element of just wanting to see two hot guys together-----though there tends to be more complexity in that desire than the men who 'just' want to see two girls together. Slash has a long and rich history of subversion, something Dream Daddy is drawing on. In many ways the game is closer to interactive fiction (the only real choice thus far is what order I want to do things in and I assume the largest choice will be in who I date), thus aligning itself with traditionally tex-based fanfiction. Though not using any pre-established characters, Dream Daddy reflects the core characteristics of most slash fic: put yourself into the perspective of a hot guy, romance another hot guy, do so in a way that is thoroughly reminiscent of every Coffee Shop AU and meet-cute scenario.
And if you're not a slash fan, Dream Daddy is still an enjoyable experience. Stick around for the bad puns and the dads who literally say, "Wink!" when they wink at you. If you can withstand the scathing judgement that your friends will no doubt heap on you, Dream Daddy is a game worth your time.
I'll keep you updated on who I date.
(Spoiler: it won't be the creepy kids guy.)