One of the most unique genres currently in the American gaming world is one the average gamer may never expect: the dating sim. With huge RPG titles dominating video game culture, dating sims are a dark horse exploding with creativity. From serious dramas, to horror, to comedy, every dating sim seems to have an individual flavor permeating their game. But some might think, really? Dating sims?
Those who have played them would respond with: of course dating sims.
How did such an oddly rich genre grow right under gamers’ noses? Who knows. But the games really blew up when a human decided to go to pigeon high school. Welcome to Hatoful Boyfriend.
In 2012, Hatoful Boyfriend took the United States by storm. Japan saw its release the year prior, adding a new, unique title to its already expansive dating sim genre. However, the genre was much smaller in the US. Despite that fact, Hatoful Boyfriend was a game everyone talked about. After all, who can resist a majestic, birdy-ful boyfriend?
Since then, dating sims have only become more popular in the US. Fascinatingly, though, the most widespread are consistently unique, outlandish, well-written adventures into romance. The ones with the biggest buzz have been titles like Dream Daddy, Doki Doki Literature Club, and Hunie Pop. Each had a strange, fantastical edge to it that dazzled fans into falling in love.
PAX West 2018 only showed a continuation in the dating sim craze, with games like Monster Prom and Boyfriend Dungeon. However, the genre is slowly evolving and is becoming a far more fascinating group of games than some would ever expect.
Unlike their predecessors, the new dating sims have newer elements to them. Monster Prom allows for different options when it comes to playable characters. This broadens the character variety, letting gamers choose avatars and backstories they identify with best.
Boyfriend Dungeon takes the genre to a new level by being a hybrid game, similar to Enter the Gungeon, while dating your weapons. The game also has a plethora of interesting love interests, including non-binary characters. Boyfriend Dungeon even hosted a panel to talk about dating sims and how they affect our lives. Panelists gushed about how dating sims give people a place to explore themselves like no other games do.
These games started more like romance novels. They were guilty pleasures, the kind of things you giggled about at sleepovers. However, they’ve evolved now. With fantastic writing, clever ideas, and inherently unique premises, they are a force of nature. After all, romance can be funny. It can be dramatic. It can even be horrifying (looking at you, Monica). It’s the emotional core that motivates Super Mario, Double Dragon, To The Moon, Life is Strange, and more. And other games have a hefty dose of romance, regardless of their genre. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout 4, and other RPG’s insert romantic subplots to tick that love of love that most players can understand.
Dating sims only differ in the fact they focus on the romance first. And if a romance is good, of course it has enough strength to take center stage.
This is the perfect time for dating sims to find a place in the spotlight, too. To combat being written off as too girly or stupid, most all popular dating sims are hilariously clever, well-written, have great underlying meanings, or all of the three. In a world drowning in battle royales and Monster Hunter knock-offs, the voracious variety of dating sims are a cleansing breath of fresh air.
Even better, dating sims thrive in the streaming market. As many of them are wild, ludicrous, hilarious, gripping, etc., they are ripe stream fodder. They are filled with choices, wild twists, and crazy characters. Its the perfect playground for a stream and a steamer to connect, enjoy, and share intimate parts of their personality in a safe, fun environment. Together, they can laugh and feel and explore preferences that few other games do.
A few years ago, games like Hatoful Boyfriend were a silly joke friends might play at a small, late night party. Now popular streamers are known to play dating sims often and enjoy the experience with their fans. And with this popularity, the games get to grow and become even more diverse than ever.
In a world of stagnant sameness and exaggerated online personas, romantic games are where people can explore themselves, their feelings, their likes and dislikes while wholly enjoying unique emotional adventures.
Yeah, having a pigeon boyfriend sounds ludicrous and dating your weapon sounds like a bodily hazard. But so does being a plumber in a brightly colored kingdom of shrooms where your girlfriend keeps on getting kidnapped by a turtle monster. Video games get to make the absurd a reality. Anyone watching the rise of dating sims should be proud to see the growth of ingenuity and new ideas.
And, of course, should be thrilled they can finally fulfill their dreams of dating a little mermaid.