I have a real fondness for playing weird dating sims, where I can date pigeons or cats or a goldfish or even actual military tanks. All of them personified and given human attributes, all very clearly not human.

Why is this though. It’s a weird genre I’ve never actually stopped to question the appeal of. What is it about this genre that keeps me coming back?

Well, as best I can tell, the answer lies in abstraction, and how it allows a safe environment to explore relationship dynamics.

So, here’s an example. In Coming out on Top I had the option to date a goldfish. This goldfish was a terrible influence on my chracters mental health, and it was a messed up relationship.

If this had centred on a human character, that would have probably been a pretty emotionally taxing narrative to play through, devoid of any real levity in its narrative structure. Replace that with a fish, there’s this amusing aspect running through the narrative that allows exploration of those themes, with a safe amount of self created situational levity.

Same for Hatoful Boyfriend. By replacing all its human characters with pigeons and creating that level of abstraction from real relationships, it allows more interesting stories to be made more approachable and digestable.

So yeah, that’s my 2 minutes on that. Thoughts?

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. The safe environment you mentioned is interesting. I am currently dealing with a friend who has been obsessed with playing games with romance/dating in them. He really hasn’t had much of a relationship in the past and feels insecure/unsafe given where he is living right now. His family seems to dictate his life and tells him what he can and cannot like.

    Really interesting post!

  2. I found that Slurpy in Coming Out On Top was less “dating” and more a bizarrely detailed easter egg. I still greatly enjoyed it, and I agree that it wouldn’t have worked comfortably if it were, say, Jed’s storyline… it mostly worked because of all the other excellent routes, I think. I wouldn’t have given a fuck about Slurpy if I wasn’t already enamoured by Phil and Ian.

    I think the levity is pretty important, more important than the characters being non-human. You have some good points about safe exploration, but I think any light-hearted game can get away with some serious stuff because it has the more pleasant bit to fall back to when shit gets rough. Back to Coming Out on Top, Ian’s route is pretty heavy… it wouldn’t have worked with good writing that took it from silly to uncomfortable to the ultimately awkward-yet-sexy resolution.

    Basically, good writing makes that awkwardness tolerable and able to work, because a deft author can use the levity to make the deeper bits more resonant. Using birds makes the lighter bits sillier, that’s all. (Maybe. I haven’t played as many non-human dating sims as you have.)

    I recommend April Was A Fool if you want to try a free “dating” sim that experiments with humans and lightness/depravity. http://rpgmaker.net/games/7504/ (Gunn’s bad ending is the best.)

    Random question for Podquisition: if you could make a dating game with non-humans, what would you use? Bonus points if any of you can come up with some of the characters for it.

  3. I’m a bit curious about this. As a gay individual, I know that there are some jobs that I’m probably less likely to be hired for BUT there are other jobs that actively promote diversity and basically have affirmative action for gays. For example, if I were the manager of a perfume counter, I would definitely want to hire a gay man over a straight one (all other characteristics being equal of course).

    I’m curious if trans people have any similar sort of scenarios where they actually receive favoritism and if so, does that fully reset the scales or would that sort of thing just be a drop in the bucket?

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