Video games removing the fear of rejection from dating
Simulators such as Dream Daddy, LongStory can help users explore flirtation and social cues.
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Dating can sometimes feel like a game. Between profiles stating “I’m not into games” to the “Keep Playing” button from Tinder’s earlier versions and books that instruct singles how to play The Game by The Rules, you’d think our love lives were rendered in 32-bit.
Thankfully, you can take a break from the frustrations of the dating game and play actual games about ... dating. We’ve come a long way from Dream Phone and furtive sessions of Leisure Suit Larry on Tandy demo computers at the local Radio Shack. Several popular video games right now are dating simulators — or dating sims — that aim to boost players’ confidence and social skills.
This summer’s No. 1 indie game smash hit is Dream Daddy, a funny and charming dating simulator in which you are a single father seeking love and friendship within a community of handsome — and refreshingly diverse — single daddies.
“Dating sims are a great way to explore relationships in a safe, fictional space and they can also help you feel less lonely,” says Leighton Gray, the 20-year-old co-creator of Dream Daddy, which has been downloaded 180,000 times since its launch last month.
This kind of virtual social exploration is especially beneficial for those who lack real-life dating skills and experiences.
Miriam Verburg is the CEO and founder of Bloom Digital Media, the Toronto-based boutique game company behind LongStory. It’s a mobile dating sim that helps players build healthy romantic relationships through immersive, choice-driven storytelling.
“We wanted to create a game specifically for younger players,” Verburg says. “A dating game for preteens who weren’t quite ready for dating, but that actually included some really useful scenarios for helping (them) get used to how vulnerable and awkward crushing out can be.”
In LongStory, you can choose to be — and date — the gender or genders of your choice.
“After we had developed our prototype with only ‘she’ pronouns ... we launched it ... and immediately — like, within days — started getting feedback about how players wanted the option to be a boy in the story. A few weeks after that, we started getting requests for a gender or trans option and that was when we realized we may have developed a game with even more potential than we had originally imagined.”
LongStory has clearly filled a niche. The app has been downloaded more than one million times and there are seven episodes available on iOS and Android.
“Navigating dating as a young person is hard enough, but for queer youth, it’s so much more complex and scary — especially if you’re still coming to terms with your sexuality and figuring out who you are,” says Dream Daddy’s Gray. “So many queer youths aren’t even in a place where they can safely explore themselves romantically and sexually, and that’s a terrifying and super isolating place to be.”
Games such as Dream Daddy and LongStory are on the vanguard of video games as training grounds for healthy romantic interaction. They offer opportunities to explore social cues, flirtation and romantic connection without fear of rejection, mistreatment, bullying or worse. It’s a digital safe space.
“We have had several players (tell us) the game has helped them accept and embrace their sexuality or their gender identity, which is amazing,” Verburg says. “I definitely struggled with my sexuality when I was younger and a game that had let me play at being queer without risk would have been very helpful.”
These games are not exclusively for LGBTQ youth, of course. Anyone can appreciate the solid writing, interesting characters and entertaining storylines of LongStory and Dream Daddy.
If you happen to benefit from the in-game interactions and subsequently gain enough confidence to approach romantic potentials in real life, call that a bonus level.
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