Article by Philippa Warr
The Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam dating sims are varied, and that's putting it mildly. With over eighty projects submitted thus far, the brief "Make some dating sims!!!" has yielded heartfelt autobiographical adventures, social commentary and a lot of things which are best described as bonkers. In both senses. There is also a veritable platoon of sims built around the concept "you are an x trying to hit on a y - good luck with that!" Realising this, the only logical thing to do was play them through one after the other as the world's strangest fictional online speed dating service.
I put on my robe and wizard hat and headed off to investigate...
"I can't," I type. "I am busy seducing a hexagon. Also I have renamed it a 'sexagon'."
I re-read those sentences. Somehow this does not seem like an appropriate response to an invitation to the pub from a real life friend on a Friday night. I hit delete and start again.
"I am playing something adjacent to interactive romantica or possibly erotica for work."
Still not right.
"Maybe you could come over to mine instead and help me hit on the contents of the internet's imagination from the safety of a slightly odd article premise?"
"I'm broke. Maybe next week."
Call Me Maybe is blaring from the speakers of my laptop and I am doing the best dancing of my adult life. I am doing it by pressing A, D and the arrow keys which makes the male Victoria's Riflebird onscreen flap its wings, hop left and right and generally carry on like Justin Timberlake before he became a big cheese at MySpace. This is exhilarating. FLAP FLAP SHIMMY!
In my excitement I accidentally attract a lady Riflebird and the game asks her to rate my performance. Given I, the unreliable narrator of the piece, am playing alone I must judge my own dance routine. "NICE!" I select, impartially.
This may have been a tactical error. The female Riflebird is now hanging around, cramping my style. I get rid of her as quickly as possible (we have a perfunctory disco branch liaison and she flees the scene). I decide the world is not ready to be deprived of my dance skills just yet and stay in the MS Paint forest, flapping and shimmying to some of the greatest pop music of our age. I am not willing to admit how long this went on for. Just know that it was glorious.
The Empire's Crystal Gardens are a beautiful location for a date. As I think this I immediately feel a twinge of guilt at having abandoned my own date - a mutated bat, since you ask - at the entrance to the rainbow-hued area. She is squeaking, trying to scope out the joint using sonar as I, somewhat insensitively, comment on the beauty she cannot possibly discern. It is fairly safe to say this is not going well, but then again what do you really expect from a date explained by the game as arising from an Imperial eugenics program?
A guard, perhaps hoping to intervene and save the courtship, escorts the two of us to a private grotto with a natural hot tub. I assume this is what it's like being at the Playboy Mansion.
Suddenly the mutated bat grabs me and pulls me underwater. From the flavour text I get that she's trying to be all playful and adorable but, y'know what? This is exactly how the Brides in the Bath killer used to operate - grabbing women's feet and jerking them underwater so they would lose consciousness instantly and then drown.
Somewhere between the sonar, the abandonment, the eugenics and the fact I went through a phase of reading Wikipedia articles on serial killers, I fear this date is beyond saving.
A male cuttlefish is stroking me with his [SEXY TENTACLE].
This is slightly awkward because I too am a male cuttlefish and we are both seeking the attentions of a lady cuttlefish. The confusion has arisen because I was scared of the other male cuttlefish on account of his size and promptly disguised myself as a lady cuttlefish, changing my skin colour to something a little more feminine and hiding my two most manly tentacles from view. But what began as a fishtank farce swiftly enters darker waters. The stroking turns to probing and it occurs to me that the costume change may have been an error of judgement.
I am proven right when another click of the mouse leads to a situation the cuttlefish legal system might not be up to the challenge of unpicking.
I swim away, feeling disoriented and trying to work out whether his [SEXY TENTACLE] constituted the date. Was this satire? Immediately a bashful lady cuttlefish shows up. In my confused state I hit on her and the situation escalates almost as rapidly as with the male.
"You reach out with your [SEXY TENTACLE]..."
I can't help but think cuttlefish would have a far healthier dating scene if they kept their [SEXY TENTACLES] to themselves for five minutes.
"I am more human than cake now," explains a tiramisu. I think he is trying to reassure me.
I am in the guise of a baker at this point and my skills are such that the dessert I created and stored in the fridge has now come to life and is harbouring romantic intentions towards me.
Initially the arrangement seemed a bit 'Doctor Frankenstein goes to cookery school' but as time passes I realise that, as both progenitor and love interest, the sim has cast me as Jocasta of Thebes in a chef's hat while the cake plays the part of Oedipus.
But, despite the high drama of Sophocles' plays on exactly the same subject, nothing tragic actually happens to my characters. Disappointed, I take matters into my own hands and imagine a future wherein we had a couple of choux bun baby boys who ripped the bakery business apart in their fight over who would inherit it and a raisin-encrusted daughter called Antiscone (which, by the way, sets the bar for pun references to Greek tragedy and baked goods on PC Gamer pretty low) who ends up expiring, trapped in her own presentation box.
It's getting late but I adjust my meat hairclip (not a euphemism) and smile up at the Tyrannosaurus rex. The dinosaur blushes and asks whether we can hang out a little while longer. Sure! This is actually the most normal date I have been on all evening. We also seem to have a lot in common - namely a fondness for talking about meat.
But the early promise of the grilled chicken part of the evening is over all too quickly and the T-rex starts telling a terribly sad story about some kind of ukulele-based trauma he suffered as a child. Whither the barbequed foodstuff chitchat, T-rex? Alas the game provides no opportunity for storming off to the nearest rib shack alone so I am forced to stay, empathising and generally being a Good Person.
At the point when the T-rex begins serenading me with his new ukulele I decide to draw the digital dating session to a close. The meat chat has made me pretty hungry and I consider cooking something but the fridge which contains tonight's dinner is now off limits in case any foodstuffs decide to come to life and try their luck. Down on my options I do the only sensible thing and make my way back to the MS Paint rainforest.
This is going to be a spectacular one woman dance-a-thon.