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Dating Sim Asks What You Are Doing With Your Life

Illustration for article titled Dating Sim Asks What You Are Doing With Your Life

At first glance, Date (Almost) Anything Simulator is your average dating sim. But where most dating sims are fluffy and comforting, this one is confrontational.

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There’s nothing about Date (Almost) Anything Simulator that makes it immediately obvious what kind of ride you’re on. It is aggressively normal at the outset, and pretty cliche. You play as a characters who works at a coffee shop, where you meet some potential suitors. The initial setup feels like comfort food. It’s mac n cheese.

The game gets weird when you don’t play it as intended, though. If you don’t wash your hands after going to the bathroom, for example, your ending forces you to watch a half hour video about algebraic matrices. If you tell the character at the end you just want to be friends, they’ll remind you that you didn’t play this game to make friends.

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But what’s really special is what happens when you play the game completely straight. Spoilers: As you get to the scene where you confess your love for your chosen character, the game stops. And then it starts asking you why you’re playing it. During this monologue, the developer provides a link to their Tumblr ask box and tells you, instead, to just tell them about your day. While some players who responded are angry at being duped, most responses are open and heartfelt.

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When Date (Almost) Anything Simulator plays with your expectations for humor, it’s hilarious. But when it plays with your expectations in order to make a point, it’s surprisingly moving. It’s available by donation on itch.io, and you can grab DLC that will give you the path to all the endings for $2.

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DISCUSSION

It’s refreshing to see developers take chances like this. I’ve not played many dating sims (a friend of mine gave me a copy of one back in college—this would’ve been around ‘04 or so--and it was an odd experience, to say the least), so I can’t speak to the genre too directly, but my limited experience tells me they’re largely wish-fulfillment simulators.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; games in general are all about wish-fulfillment, whether that’s power (as in pretty much any game that employs violence as a primary problem solving mechanism), love (see the primary draw in most BioWare RPGs), adventure, or what have you.

Dating sims, however, seem to reduce the complexities of human interaction down to relatively simple algorithms; do this thing, get laid. Do this other thing, no sex for you. It’s sort of a dehumanizing process, despite the fact that the romanceable characters are fictional, and I’m really, really glad to see a dev take a whack at subverting the model for communication and expanded understanding purposes.

To be clear: I genuinely do not judge folks who play dating sims; they’re just not for me. I also admit to the fact that many forms of entertainment—including some that I consume—contain dehumanizing elements (see just about any shooter ever that features a real-world group other than “American soldier”). All entertainment has problematic elements somewhere; I was just acknowledging the particular concerns that go along with dating sims.