If there’s one thing I can give Dream Daddy, Game Grumps’ gay dating sim about a neighborhood of queer dads looking for love, is that it treats representation and inclusivity with great care. Across the seven dads I was able to pursue romantically, there were characters of different races, body types and backgrounds, each of which are portrayed without delving into easy stereotypes. The same attention to detail goes into its character creator, which lets the player make a dad of different builds, skin tones, hair styles and even determine whether they’re a cis or trans man. Conversations that follow help paint a picture of their history, indicating whether they’re gay or bisexual, as well as hint at how a daughter came into one’s life, whether by adoption, surrogate or a pregnancy.
All these details make Dream Daddy an incredibly diverse game, one that puts a spotlight on different types of people and families all within the confines of the cul-de-sac it takes place in. However, despite its good intentions, it slips when it comes to what brings all these disparate characters together: gay romance. Dream Daddy omits so much of what dating in queer spaces is like, making for an idealized, almost insincere portrayal of its subject matter.
After a failed attempt at wooing the rugged, emotionally-constipated Robert, my first romantic endeavor in Dream Daddy that actually made its way to the true ending was with the adversarial Brian. My relationship with him was one of rivalry at first, with us competing in sports, parental achievements and even carnival games. When I got to the second of Brian’s three dates, I found myself wondering if I was progressing through his route incorrectly, as none of the “dates” had felt explicitly romantic yet.
By the time I reached the conclusion of his route, Brian and I were officially an item, but the entire time our relationship was growing I was questioning whether or not Brian was going to be some sort of “unwinnable” route where I’d make my move at the end only to be told Brian wasn’t interested in men. After all, nothing in Dream Daddy prior to the moment Brian and I acknowledged feelings for each other hinted at him being a queer man. It didn’t come up in conversation at all, and typically a gay relationship isn’t initiated prior to confirming that both parties are, in fact, interested in the same sex. Conversations about coming out, coming to terms with your sexuality and societal pressure, happen early on. This builds a relationship, helps people of different backgrounds find common ground, and is, sadly enough, an important thing to confirm for safety reasons in the face of real-world prejudice.
Despite the oddities of Brian’s relationship, I quickly moved onto other routes and other dads only find that these aspects of gay relationships were absent from every relationship, not just Brian’s. Across all seven routes, I never once heard a character utter the words “gay,” “bi,” “queer” or any other variation that acknowledges that these relationships and people exist outside of a heteronormative spectrum. The only instance of referencing queer identity I can recall is by Damien, the goth dad, who references his status as a trans man in passing, but it’s also immediately cast aside, as if this part of his identity is unimportant.
Beyond the actual interactions with each romantic interest, Dream Daddy’s relationships are almost always referred to in a platonic context. Each date is initiated through an in-game social media app called Dadbook, which, while seemingly evocative of actual gay dating apps, is framed as something more akin to Facebook. You don’t hang out with these men under the pretense of romance, but through your shared experiences as fathers, several of which come from previous relationships with women, which begs the follow-up question of why anyone in this game assumes the other is at all interested in men without at least bothering to confirm. Using social media to try and confirm a crush’s sexuality before pursuing is yet another side of dating in a gay scene that Dream Daddy skips over, despite setting up the perfect chance to reference this smaller instance of gay dating in a heteronormative world.
My daughter Amanda always talked about whichever man I was seeing like I was just hanging out with a friend. There’s no teasing about my relationship within the otherwise snarky and playful dynamic, never any reference to the social implications of two gay dads dating within such a small community, and no admission by the game’s world that either homophobia or queer culture and challenges exist. As a result, Dream Daddy is wholesome and somehow devoid of social politics that plague the lives of all queer people. It’s a paradise where I was free to pursue hot dads without fear of persecution and hostility directed at who I am. It’s the world we should live in, but it’s not the one we live in now.
Dream Daddy clearly means well. Homophobia and much of the challenges queer men suffer from in our society just don’t fit into its idealized narrative and setting. But as such, the relationships it portrays ring false. Regardless of how sweet they are in the end, ignoring the stories of self-acceptance, overcoming social adversity and ultimately being willing to share those experiences with each other means Dream Daddy’s love stories fall short of a true gay experience.
Kenneth Shepard is a Georgia-based freelancer who cries about videogame characters in public places and on Twitter @shepardcdr. Along with Paste, you can find his work at GamesRadar+ and CGMagazine.