Dreamy (Daddy) Beginnings
The life cycle of Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is so fascinating to me. Created by Vernon Shaw (Hot Pepper Gaming) and Leighton Gray (Gone By, Tacoma), produced by the Game Grumps and launched in July 2017, the humorous and exaggerated rom-com overtones drew in a lot of players, but I’m sure many, myself included, were surprised to find just how much heart and soul the game had. Dream Daddy came out when I didn’t even know I needed it; I was fresh out of college in New York, working a job I hated, and coming home to a tiny and sweltering room in a sublet railroad apartment. But it was okay, because no matter what kind of day I had, I could log into my Steam account and get sucked into the neighborhood of Maple Bay, where I could play mini golf, go on a run, or crush it at trivia to my heart’s content. That game was my little digital escape, my north star, the thing that kept me going during that endlessly miserable summer, and even more so after I moved back home . The story of my relationship with the game is one of thousands, and if the reviews and YouTube videos that came out in droves after its release were anything to go by, it resonated with a lot of people.
For a game created and produced by white and predominantly straight folks, the game is fairly diverse in its characters. Out of the seven dads, four of them are men of color. One is a trans man and voiced by a trans actor. As a queer black woman, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the cast of date-able dads, and how the game (for the most part) didn’t play into harmful stereotypes that are so prevalent and easy to fall into in LGBTQ content. The ways in which the dads became single were varied, too — half of them are widows, two are divorcees, one has a good relationship with their ex and one doesn’t, and two are up to interpretation. I wasn’t expecting some of the themes this game explores; losing a loved one and the grief and anxiety that comes with it are front in center, and the death talk continues through thoughtful and sensitive dialogue options that Damien provides. These took me aback at first, and I couldn’t help but be a bit uncomfortable; I just wanted to play my silly game, I didn’t want to have to confront my traumas!
Like most media, the hype for the dating sim stopped as quickly as it started. At the time of its launch, there were only so many things you could do in the game, so I can see why people would stop after all was said and done and after all the dads have been dated. After that, all that was left were pockets of the small but dedicated fanbase (myself included) cosplay, writing fanfiction, and swapping headcanons for their favorite characters. And that was fine; phenomenons come and go all the time, as is the Content Circle of Life.
A Game Transformed
About a year later, much like our Dadsona protagonist, Dream Daddy got a new home. Published by Oni Press, the five–issue comic book series tells slice-of-life, standalone stories where our dear old dads have adventures and interactions not seen in the game. The tales show “Bad Dad” Robert and “Goth Dad” Damien met over a vampiric misunderstanding, a Dadsona and “Sports Dad” Craig go to their college reunion, and everyone helping “Cool Dad” Mat film a commercial for his coffee shop. There’s even an issue where all the dads play Dungeons & Dragons! Who doesn’t love that! Each issue is written and illustrated by a different set of independent artists, many of them LGBTQ folks of color. The art and writing styles from the likes of D.J. Kirkland (The Black Mage, Aggretsuko), Wendy Xu (Mooncakes), Kristafer Anka (The Runaways, White Trees), Jarrett Williams (Hyperforce Neo, Super Pro K.O.), and Josh Trujillo (Dodge City, Love Machines) are the stars of the comics; everyone’s art style and writing style only highlighting and uplifting the charm, wit, and heart already existent in the game. Whip-smart daughter Amanda is even more precocious, and her creativity shines through when helping Mat out with his commercial in issue #3, Dream Ad-y; “Cool Youth Minister” and controversial dad Joseph gets more pathos, going above and beyond to help his kids kill it at the school’s science fair in issue #4, Fair Deal; and the long running friendship between all the dads mixed with the relatable confusion of people playing Dungeons & Dragons together gets brought to light in the (as it currently stands) comics finale, issue #5, Dungeons and Daddies.
For myself and other fans, the comics were a breath of fresh air. At the time, there were no announcements regarding possible updates to the game anytime soon, and the comics provided some additional content related to this silly and heartfelt game. I devoured them as they were published, smiling ear to ear as I took in the speech bubbles and gorgeous art. More Dream Daddy just meant more warm colors and pretty people for me, so I was already happy. But the comics also did something that I really wanted: it expanded the world and gave me a little more insight into the lives of the characters. Don’t ask me why, but when we went into Robert’s cryptid hunting shed (don’t ask) in comic issue #2, Let The Right Dad In, and we saw his Loch Ness Monster plushie and photo of him and his daughter, I got so excited and smiled wider than I already was. If the simple existence of some pictures in the background made me smile, then you can imagine what happened when we saw Casual, At Home Damien about to enjoy a health drink — my cheeks almost fell off I was smiling so much at just how charming and pleasant this all was. At the time, with the existence of the game as it stood and the comics, that was more than enough for me. Clearly it can’t get any better.
The Face Lift
It got better. In the fall of 2018, the game developers announced a slew of new updates added to the game. Dubbed Dream Daddy: Dad-rector’s Cut, this version added more features to the Dadbook, the fictional social media app that all the dads use in the game, including a group chat. There are also super delightful and adorable side stories that aren’t terribly important to the plot, but are fun nonetheless. Did you ever want to watch Craig, Mat, and Brian have a tea party with their daughters in which they all say what kind of princess they’d be? You can now. Did you want to go to an art gallery with Hugo, Damien, and Joseph and watch Hugo and Damien artistically flirt with each other? You can now. Want to help Craig out during a somewhat awkward dinner with Robert? You get where I’m going with this. These are just some of the nuggets that have been added to the world that expand on it and make the characters all the more real, like life continues beyond Maple Bay even after you press save and close the program. I wonder what’s going on in there right now…
This silly little game has had an interesting life so far; what began in the hands of predominantly straight folks was tossed around a fairly diverse fandom, but then was expanded on by LGBTQ folks of color who reflect the neighborhood of Maple Bay more than the folks who created it. With each iteration and each new addition, the game’s world has only gotten funnier, more loving, and more interesting. I’m two and a half years removed from that sweltering, tiny apartment and the job I hated, and I’m in a happier place overall. While I don’t really use the game or the comics as a crutch or a beacon anymore, I would be remiss if I acted like they didn’t have an impact on me, if this article is any indication of that.
Don’t Be a Stranger
At time of writing this, there aren’t any announcements or updates regarding the game or the comics, and I’m okay with that. With the Dad-rector’s Cut edition of the game and the comics, Dream Daddy has given me a lot to explore, and I can’t thank it enough. However, maybe, some day down the line, this title will add something new, whether it be more comics or even more game mechanics, and I will no doubt check them out. I do miss Maple Bay, maybe I’ll have a chance to visit it again.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is available on PC, Linux, macOS, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch. Comics are available on Oni Press.