I knew I was in trouble when I realized that I actually was upset that Amanda, my virtual daughter, had failed to get into her college of choice, about half an hour into the game.
This wasn’t what I had been expecting; Dream Daddy: A Dad-Dating Simulator — yes, the acronym is “DDADDS,” and yes, that’s very intentional — had been promoted as a game that was all about the prospect of cruising around a neighborhood to find different cartoon fathers to date, romance and, well, maybe just fuck. (For all the coyness of the game’s gloriously bright aesthetic, Robert — one of the seven dads in the game the player can pursue — just happily invites you back to his place as soon as you meet him.) Having feelings about the fictional teenager the game had invented to justify the “Daddy” of it all? That wasn’t supposed to be on the agenda at all.
At its heart, that might be the true hook of Dream Daddy: It’s a game that surprises by continually offering up the unexpected, and is all the better for it. For one thing, there’s far more to the game than just romancing the different dads on offer; each of them come with their own in-jokes, subplots and surprise alternate games-within-the-game, for one thing, with some genuinely amazing weirdness contained therein. (Creepy cults are on offer, if you know where to look.)
The overall result is something that transcends the joke of the game’s name and concept — a gag they committed to, initially announcing the game on Father’s Day — and becomes something so rare in mass media as to be almost unseen: a sincere, heart-warming (and occasionally goofy) focus on queer relationships and queer families that proves to be entirely inclusive and non-judgmental, even to the overly gothic amongst us.
Even that undersells the experience, in a way, because it sounds sincere and preachy in a way that Dream Daddy isn’t; there’s no self-serious moment where the game stops and acknowledges its importance in the grand scheme of things, thankfully. Instead, it’s a game that quietly practices what it (doesn’t) preach, while distracting everyone with bad jokes about early morning exercise or forcing them to choose between jolly bears or jock ex-best friends when it comes to who to hang out with that evening.
It’s a game that’s fun to play, first and foremost; one that goes beyond the initial tease of hot dad-on-dad action surprisingly quickly to repeatedly stir feelings of protectiveness towards Amanda just to emphasize the “dad”-ness of it all, and introduce a wild card into proceedings, when you start to consider which dad would be best for her, as well as you — but also one that’s not above letting you laugh at the cheating wife of the too-good-to-be-true neighbor dad who keeps making uncertain passes at you. (Their children, though, would drive anyone to disaster and distraction. Just wait.)
Dream Daddy, in the end, goes far beyond its Dad-Dating Simulator description. Further, it goes beyond the “game” description — it ends up, not to sound like too much of a hippy, being a full-on experience that’ll bring out the dad in you, no matter who you are, by showing you that dads come in different shapes and sizes and different forms, and that everyone has a dad within, deep down. Who would’ve expected that to be the case?
My recommendation for most datable dad, in case you were wondering, is coffee shop owner Mat, who names drinks things like “Godspeed You! Black Coffee” and “Iced Teagan and Sara.” Anyone armed with that kind of punnage already had a leap on his opposition.
Dream Daddy is available for PC and Mac right now, via Steam.