PPHSJam Wrap-Up: Emotional and Imaginative DIY Dating Sims Worth Playing This Weekend
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Last weekend I participated in the Pulse-Pounding Heart-Stopping Dating Sim Jam, an informal online DIY game-making marathon for fans of the increasingly broad dating sim genre. Participants have produced over 80 individual games of various length and complexity for a variety of platforms, and although every game has something unique to offer there are a few that really stand out. If you find yourself with a little free time on your hands this weekend, here are just a few of my favorites that are absolutely worth checking out. Just make sure you're at home, because a few of these titles are a bit NSFW:
(Browser-based) This twine game breaks dating sims down to their most basic components. Lots of clicking, lots of pictures, lots of choices, and lots of text that sometimes just doesn't matter. It's a really quick play and if you're familiar with the genre it should give you a good chuckle. If you appreciate the abstractness of this one, you might also enjoy the highly poetic Your Lover Has Turned Into a Flock of Birds by Mira Simon, the even more abstract Tennis Date by Triplefox, or Elizabeth Sampat and Loren Hernandez's How to Be Happy. If it's the absurdity you love try Zack Cohen's Cum High, which is... not a phrase I ever expected to write on this blog. I almost dismissed it based on its name alone, but man that would have been a huge mistake. Believe me. It's a treasure.
(Browser-based) This game has a lot of really appealing art, but I had to play it a couple times before I understood what exactly was happening. Protip: If you're not familiar with Kinesio Taping, Google it before you dive in and you'll be in a better position to understand the intimacy and the awkwardness of Tapes.
(Browser-based) This is another read that you may need some time to wrap your head around. Are you a doll, a captive, something in between? The charm of this game is unravelling the mystery of who or what you are, alongside who or what you love.
(Browser-based) You're a bird trying to attract a mate by spreading your bird wings and wiggling your bird torso. Seems simple enough, but your potential mate is Player 2 and it's their job to judge all of your fancy Riflebird dance moves. Harshly. Another very quick game to play, but it's a cute concept and an interesting approach to the genre. If this approach in particular appeals to you, you might also like Ms. Tea's Cuddlefish or Mike Joffe's Benthic Love, both games about sea life searching for a mate in deep and unforgiving water, and both written with a pretty good sense of humor. Or try Until Our Alien Hearts Beat as One by Porpentine for another unique two-player experience.
(Browser-based) This is a slightly more sobering game about a man's first few post-separation dating and romance experiences, facilitated by okCupid and raw anxiety. There were quite a few twine games with highly personal stories and/or stories driven by empathy and internal tension. They're not all exactly "fun," but they're interesting and valuable experiences. If you want more like this try Mattie Brice's Blink, the more visual and abstract Power to Believe by Fabulam Games or, for a slightly more sci-fi angle, Star & Moon's Detergent.
(Browser-based/OS X & PC Download) With the Jurassic Park re-realease, Jurassic Heart has been pretty well-timed. It's also very visually polished, so it's no surprise that this very short game has stolen the hearts and imaginations of PPHS Jam spectators to some degree. In the space of a week it's become a tumblr phenomenon and... Well, what else can I really say about it? You're helping a ukelele-playing t-rex overcome his confidence issues on a date. Take it for a spin yourself, and maybe chase it with a round of K.H.'s Repopulation Date Night (or alt dating sim classic Hatoful Boyfriend) when you're done.
Devil Dater by regnsloja
(OS X & PC Download) This game is one of the most polished and most enjoyable games of the PPHS jam, period. Choose your character, gather items, upgrade your gear, and take it one (monstrous) date at a time. I'm definitely going to be coming back to this game. If you like the rpg-vibe, you should also check out spanglypants and Rika's Assimilagent, Monty Loftus' Dungeons & Dates.
Kindness Coins by Arden and pissfreak
(OS X & PC Download) "Women aren’t vending machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out" has become something of a mantra of the anti-"nice guys" movement online. It's the perfect phrase to draw on for this game, which is played from the perspective of a character being pursued by a dating sim protagonist. The art is distinct and the writing is interesting, but the best part of this game (much like Meow: Meow Mao MMeow) is how it remixes those tried and true dating sim conventions, and what we expect from them.
I've only had the chance to play half thegames on the list so far, but there are tons more to choose from. Check out the complete (and regularly updated) list here to see for yourself. Oh and, if you get the chance, I've heard that entry #76 is pretty damn good too. I'm not sure who made it but I bet she is a pretty cool young lady, wink wink.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.