I have always been fascinated by Dating Sims. I don’t play them, myself; but I will admit to watching with a sense of twisted fascination when Markiplier played Hunie Pop a few years back (It’s NSFW; but he cleans it up). For those that may not know, a Dating Sim is usually a point & click style game in which the goal is to woo at least one person. There is usually a pantheon of pretty people with particular personalities for you to pursue. One character might be a Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl, another might threaten you with bodily harm every time you talk to them, and still another might be a busty alien with amnesia that needs to have sex in order to remember their mission to this planet.
They can be strange games is what I’m saying.
But all quirkiness aside, there is a simplicity to them that can be very attractive. If you say the right thing at the right time, your relationship level increases; do it enough, and you win! If only life were that simple.
There is No “Right Thing”
In even the most complex and detailed dating sim, there is an element of strategy to play. What works for the busty alien won’t work on the pigeon down the hall (again…strange games). And while this is generally true, it’s impossible to fully simulate the complexity of human interaction and relationship development. The reason that there are so many variations of dating advice is because there is no such thing as “the right thing.”
There are wrong things, for sure; but relationships are too nuanced for there to be a one size fits all strategy of “talk until she gives me her phone number, remember everything she tells me, and try to give her everything until she accepts it.” There is a variable at play that doesn’t make for an exciting game: you.
The Stakes are Different
One thing that dating sims approach well is that relationships build slowly. Often there is a time limit of somewhere around 100 days to “get the girl” in order to win. Relationships require vulnerability, which builds slowly over time. Dating sims tend to play with this by forcing you to encounter a girl in somewhat random encounters until your relationship levels up.
The problem with this mechanic is that it is really difficult to construct the stakes appropriately. In a dating sim, so long as you are able to regurgitate the appropriate trivia then your relationship will grow. If you get a question wrong, then your level may go down or not move at all. In the real world, relationship trivia is only the beginning of your relationship. Not to say that it isn’t important to know the inner working’s of your partners mind; it’s just that the real relationship generally starts after the credits start rolling.
The Credits Don’t Roll
I would say that this is the main difference between dating sims and real life. This and the aforementioned sexy alien/pigeon/also sometimes supernatural creatures thing. This is a struggle that media has had since we started telling stories: The chase is more exciting than the life that comes after. I’ve yet to see a dating sim that challenges you to keep the flame of your relationship going through every day life.
What We Can Learn From Dating Sims
Like I said, I’m not here to trash on dating sims. At their core, they’re puzzle games; and I pass no judgement on the people that play them. There is a lot that can be learned from them if we pay attention. But the game doesn’t end when you hear “I love you.” If anything, that’s when the real puzzle begins.
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