When I first heard the rumor about a secret ending where blond, yacht-owning, sweater-and-polo-wearing Dream Daddy Joseph is revealed to be a cult leader, my first thought was “yeah, that sounds about right.” Dream Daddy is a visual novel, after all, and that’s a genre known for including strange hidden elements—look no further than the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding of Hatoful Boyfriend or the infamously bloody Bad Endings of Dramatical Murder, Togainu no Chi, or School Days.
The initial discovery of the “cult ending” script in the game files was followed by a wave of complicating factors that turned it (fittingly, given one of the routes) into something of a cryptid. First of all, it isn’t actually possible to unlock the ending in the build of the game that was released on Steam. Chapter 18 has no start command, meaning there’s no way to launch it. Additionally, several of the included assets are reported to be broken, and the dialogue refers to an older draft of the game wherein the player character had a wife named Cora rather than a spouse named Alex.
At the same time, there is also a Steam achievement suspected to be related to the ending (“Escape from Margarita Zone” and possibly “World’s Okayest Dad,” though 0% of users have been able to unlock them), and a few remaining lines in the finished game that refer to the cult ending (such as receiving a warning about Joseph and a knife from Robert). All in all, particularly with the context of DD’s hectic and delayed launch window, I would estimate it to be content tested and then cut late into development, at which point the developers were too busy fixing other issues to remove the remnants of the route (this is not uncommon even in big budget games: see Grand Theft Auto’s “Hot Coffee” minigame or the first Mass Effect’s nearly intact m!Shepard/Kaidan romance, both still salvageable from the code of the finished product).
While the debatable accessibility and purpose of the scrapped content are ultimately a curiosity, the ripple effect was a debate on whether or not the existence of this ending casts a pall of homophobia over the game as a whole. Much of this clamoring has come from an echo chamber of false information, well-meaning people who heard a thing through the grape vine and didn’t bother to confirm, and a likely handful of deliberate shit-stirrers.
There are, however, two issues that I do want to tackle in regards to Joseph: how he reflects a very specific and harmful mindset among the queer community, most strongly associated with the “gay conservative” (a connection I believe the game’s writing deliberately evokes); and how offering a breadth of representation means being able to portray bad people who happen to be part of an oppressed group without making a statement about that group as a whole.
I. A Brief History of Gay Conservatism
II. Joseph v. Joe: A Comparison of Closeted Religious Men
III. How Joseph Operates and What He Wants
IV. Representation Means Variety
A Brief History of Gay Conservatism
Before I get into the idea of Joseph as an image of the gay conservative, I should give you some context on what that term means. While there have likely always been conservative queer people, the concept as a movement took off following the Stonewall Riots, with the still-existent Log Cabin Republicans forming in 1978. The appeal for those who are drawn to it seems to be the idea of being a man on the inside, going along with the general party line in hopes of successfully lobbying for incremental reform. I say “man” deliberately, because the makeup of gay conservatives as a group tends to be overwhelmingly comprised of white, cis, and often affluent men. And their goals tend to involve protecting that very specific part of the queer community.
Take Gregory T. Angelo, current President of the Log Cabin Republicans and (at the time this transcript is taken from) Trump supporter. To his mind, sacrificing protections for trans people was an acceptable political bargaining chip.
TOBIN [INTERVIEWER]: So what I hear you talking about a lot is essentially, like, patience, and playing the long game, and sort of getting something on the board now. So, we as gay men, patience doesn’t sort of touch our general rights, whereas for transgender people … patience possibly has much worse consequences for them. What — what do you say to that?
GREGORY: Oh, I don’t know about that. I’d respectfully disagree in that, like, there were … uh … there were same-sex couples during the marriage equality fight who had been together for 50 years, 60 years. We in the gay community were telling them to be patient as we were pushing for marriage equality. But — but I think just pushing urgency for urgency’s sake is not something that ultimately will achieve those — and in fact it could actually postpone any sort of reasonable legislation from passing in the short term.
The problem that mindset either doesn’t grasp or willfully ignores is that ceding such ground means very real, harmful effects in the present and into the future. That becomes an acceptable loss of sorts, because it doesn’t affect those who are part of the gay conservative movement. Or, as the podcast’s hosts go on to put it:
KATHY: I gotta say, it doesn’t surprise me that much that Gregory isn’t that great at talking about trans issues because he’s a white gay dude … kind of like everyone in this story.
TOBIN: Fair. And not a coincidence. I mean, most of the leaders of this gay conservative movement — they’re white gay males.
DOMINIC: Right, and so they reflect the same homogenous block of white guys who are fundamental to Trump’s base. And I think the ones who are not pushing for Trans rights, you have to ask this question, which is: are they here for full LGBT equality, or are they basically saying, “Hey, don’t leave me out of your Republican club”?
That seems to be exactly what they’re saying. Whether reported secondhand from speeches or written firsthand by the conservative in question, there is a recurring pattern of distancing oneself from those “other” minorities, a definition that encompasses women, trans people, Muslims, and whoever else needs thrown under the bus for the sake of gaining favor with straight Republicans and other members of the far right. Milo Yiannopoulos is the most famous modern case of this, but while his brand of bigotry is particularly extreme and flashy, it’s far from an exception.
It should be noted that the issue isn’t that being born a certain orientation shouldn’t carry with it demands of political affiliation; but, as Nathaniel Frank puts it, it’s not a matter of politics but empathy. The rhetoric universally carries at least some element of attempting to discredit or outright dehumanize other marginalized identities; meanwhile, the fact that these gay conservative men are gay is couched in as non-threatening terms as possible to their straight, conservative audiences.
Perhaps the most famous example of this is Roy Cohn, a lawyer and advisor to both Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump over the course of his life. Cohn did untold harm to marginalized communities during his career. He also died of AIDS as a result of having sex with men, though to the end of his life he insisted it was liver cancer (some of you may recall this being dramatized in Angels in America). The reasoning behind this rejection of the gay label was brutally summed up by current Trump advisor Jeffrey Toobin after Cohn’s death
“Roy was not gay. He was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access.”
That mindset of queer identity as a sign of weakness—a social class one is too stupid or incapable to rise above rather than a designation attached to identity, all the while failing to acknowledge the role those in power have in enforcing that supposed “weakness” and lack of rights—is an undercurrent throughout the history of gay conservatism, all the way up to modern day.
When I talk about Joseph as a gay conservative, I feel confident in doing so without the game needing to spend a single scene on political debate. Not only is Joseph–muscular, trim, blond, blue-eyed, cis, white, affluent, “pillar of the community” Joseph–the ideal image of the gay person who most profits from the exclusionary mindset of gay conservatism, his actions belie his priorities. During his route, Joseph takes the player character out to the isolation of the ocean, plies him with alcohol, and seduces him.
But even if the player has achieved top scores in all of Joseph’s dates, there is no ending in which Joseph leaves his wife. The very best option is one in which Joseph breaks things off cleanly with the player, claiming that he “still loves his wife” and intends to work on their relationship. Anything less than S-rank, and Joseph instead offers to keep up the affair in secret while still retaining his public facade. With the knowledge that Joseph likely never intended to leave his wife, as well as the knowledge that he has been unfaithful at least once in the past (he’s confirmed to have slept with Robert, which he blames on Robert and insists was a one night stand when confronted about it; an excuse that does not gel with photos on the yacht of Robert wearing Joseph’s sweater), the “coincidental” parts of his date began to look less so. How many other times has the radio conveniently broken far out to sea? Why is alcohol such a key component of the seduction? With all the pieces in place, Joseph starts to read a lot more like a predatory cheater who uses others for his own gain. And like the repeated ethos of those associated with gay conservatism, his own gain and status is far more important to him than the safety and wellness of those in his community.
Joseph v. Joe: A Comparison of Closeted Religious Men
The trope of the closeted man trapped in an unhappy marriage is a well-worn one that draws a great deal from history, as heteronormative assumptions forced queer individuals into unions they were expected to pursue but didn’t want (that, in turn, helping to contribute to the popularity of cruising and other forms of anonymous sex in the pre-AIDS gay community). It’s worth looking at Joseph in that light too; while it’s easy to cast him in that role initially, as a man who feels trapped by expectation, it’s not a role that ultimately fits him.
To illustrate, I want to make a comparison. While the surface reasoning behind Joseph’s name is pretty obvious, given the name of his wife and his apparent fondness for carpentry, he also bears a striking number of similarities to another fictional character: Joe Pitt, from the seminal 1991 play Angels in America (yes, the same one that discussed Roy Cohn). Joe is a religious, closeted man who feels trapped in an unhappy marriage with a woman who (at least partly because of said marriage) struggles with substance abuse. Eventually, Joe leaves his wife to have an affair with another character, Louis, only to be dumped when Louis finds out about the anti-gay legislation Joe went along with during his time in the closet. He is the platonic ideal of the closeted gay man archetype. And despite the many surface similarities, his story is quite different from Joseph’s.
To start with, there is the matter of a clean break. Before falling into a relationship with Louis, Joe basically runs away from home. He runs from the marriage he feels trapped by and tries to find a new life, crashing with Louis during their relationship. Joe is lost, a grown adult discovering something that would necessitate a total change in both life and career.During an exceptionally poignant scene, Joe responds to Louis’ criticisms of him as a “gay Republican” by stripping away all of his clothes (including his temple garments, the visual symbol of his faith), asking what Louis wants him to do; there is a clear sense (particularly as portrayed by Patrick Wilson) that Joe wishes to change, but nothing in his previous life has given him the tools to do so.
Over the course of the play, Joe is essentially forced back into the closet. Louis, as I mentioned, dumps Joe after finding out that Joe had previously written decisions on behalf of a homophobic judge. Soon after, Joe tries to come out to his mentor, Roy Cohn. Roy, dying of AIDS, screams at Joe to go back to his wife. Rejected by his first male lover and his father-figure, Joe does as he’s told–and is rejected there too, as his wife Harper also leaves to find a happier life for herself rather than keep up the miserable pretense. It’s a truly tragic character arc, depicting someone who has done past harm but, on seeking to change and better himself, finds himself repudiated from all sides.
By comparison, let’s look at Joseph Christiansen. During the course of his route, Joseph retains power at all times. The dates are essentially always on his turf (Joe, by contrast, enters Louis’ social and physical spaces during their affair; it is a part of what marks him as both sincere and vulnerable), from the kitchen to the dance to the yacht that only he knows how to work and which conveniently runs out of gas so that he and the player character will be isolated overnight far from rescue.
Joseph makes no comments about leaving his wife except in the service of seducing the player character (and even then, he says he’s staying on the yacht until it’s “all sorted out,” which also technically falls under reconciliation), and immediately reneges on that implication the next time they meet. Even the language he uses during said seduction is expertly nonspecific, allowing the player character to draw assumptions and taking the lead on post-alcohol flirtation despite the player character’s repeated balking at the idea of sleeping with a married man. His remark that the player character is “someone he could get used to having around” comes off as a roundabout offer at the time, but it’s also phrased in such a way that he could later claim he was “honest” about wanting an affair while keeping up his marriage. It’s an expertly done dance that he’s clearly familiar with.
Joseph has played this game before, playing on the sympathy of a target and then dumping them to maintain his facade; he talks about wanting to focus on himself and “things that bring him happiness,” but that too is vaguery that the player character is invited to map their sympathy onto. Anything, so long as it works. But it’s not about his sexuality in the end so much as his social status (while there are certainly still considerable consequences to coming out later in life, the risks in 2017 comparative to what Joe would have faced in 1985 are worlds apart in terms of physical and legal safety), and his dates include frequent musings about wanting to run away from his responsibilities.
To wit, while Joseph bears the surface similarities of a closeted queer man in a loveless marriage, his actual actions are all couched in a place where he controls every situation, manipulates his prospective lover, and then willingly returns to the marriage in order to reap the benefits it grants him. His dialogue doesn’t portray someone who feels forced by his faith or family to ignore a truth about himself, but rather a manchild who’s mad he had to stop drinking and hanging on boats in favor of actual responsibilities. Joseph is not a man living a life of quiet desperation the only way he knows how. He is a serial adulterer who happens to pursue male partners.
How Joseph Operates and What He Wants
Joseph’s status as someone who uses others solely for his own gain, with minimal apparent empathy compared to getting what he wants, is a break from an old narrative in a conscientious and responsible way. That Joseph is always the empowered individual in all the scenes along his route feels deliberate in order to prevent characterizing him as an unfortunate victim. It is significant too, I think, that we never hear Mary’s reasoning for staying in her marriage with a man whom she knows (from the bar conversation with the player character) is unfaithful to her. The Christiansens clearly live in a nice house in an upscale neighborhood and own nice things, all while supporting a family of six.
Given that “youth minister” traditionally doesn’t pay that well (unless he is operating in the same manner as Peter Popoff) and Joseph inherited his yacht, I would wager he benefits from trust fund money. Mary, meanwhile, has a severe drinking problem and makes little or no money (depending on whether she is employed or volunteers at the animal shelter); there is no indication of how she would survive or support her children outside of this marriage. In contrast to the expectation, it’s she who is trapped. Which is…honestly a nice change, given that as time went on stories of closeted men were increasingly prone to making easy, one-dimensional villains out of the woman in the relationship or reducing them to plot blockades mostly devoid of inner life (i.e. Brokeback Mountain).
Representation Means Variety
Which brings us back around to the question of when it’s “okay” to write a character who is both part of marginalized identity and also a terrible person. Joseph’s story isn’t just part of a long storytelling tradition examining the ways in which heteronormativity is imposed on queer men; he’s also one character in a cast full of diverse portrayals of queerness. It’s a simple idea that bears repeating: if you have a character who is the only member of a group in your whole story, they are inevitably made to stand for the author’s thoughts on the whole of that group–because it’s the only example we have to go on; tell a story with many members of a group, and their individual traits are tied to who they are as people, rather than their identity.
Joseph isn’t Dream Daddy’s statement on how all queer men are secretly cheaters and manipulators (or, if you want to consider the cult ending, serial killers). He is one character who happens to be queer, among a cast that contains seven other queer men. The unique element of his character is not his sexuality but the unique amount of privilege he wields above and beyond every other character in the story; if anything, his lack of empathy and relative cruelty are tied to the effects of that unique privilege (and the desire to hold onto it above all else) rather than who he has sex with. It is a testament to the strength of the game’s writing that I took on Joseph’s route having already guessed how it would end, and still found myself hurt and angry by way of my avatar. Joseph is a well-written character, and the game invites you to be seduced before forcing you to face the reality of who you fell for.
And as to the cult ending…I kind of like it, as its own little oddity. Maybe it’s the horror fan in me; maybe it’s the collector of videogame esoterica, since the content is probably always going to remain an urban legend of sorts; but mainly it’s because there are plenty of reasons to find Joseph repugnant that have nothing to do with a secret reveal that he kills people. The number of real-world people he reflects scares me a lot more.