[Link] “Not Like Other Girls” and Other Lies: Magical Diary’s Exploration of Romance Writing

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The late 2000s saw a boom in western dating sims — now adults, developers who’d been influenced by Japanese visual novels, eroge, and dating sims began making their own forays into the genre. Given the explosive success of Dream Daddy and the romance elements of latter day Bioware games, it might be hard for younger gamers to imagine how niche the market was less than ten years ago. Barring a few translations by small companies like JAST USA (which started in 1996 and primarily focused on pornographic titles), the bulk of the VN genre was shared peer-to-peer or sold at convention booths.

Hanako Games (founded in 2003) was one of the oldest indie developers to take elements of this style, usually incorporating them with “raising game” (focusing on the development of the player character’s stats), RPG, or adventure game elements. They developed their first dating sim in 2008 with Summer Session and ventured into the otome game model with 2010’s Date Warp. The team continued to develop and experiment within their chosen genre, and 2011 saw the release of Magical Diary, one of the company’s most narratively thoughtful if visually unremarkable games.

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Doki Doki Literature Club Stumbles Between Deconstruction and Exploitation

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Doki Doki Literature Club, the latest indie game to light up the internet, attempts to combine elements of exploitation and psychological horror with surprisingly grounded depictions of teens grappling with mental illness. Despite what I suspect are the best intentions, this combination proves to be far more damning than any one factor would be on its own.

[warning: full game spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club, discussion of suicide and self-harm.]

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Hustle Cat is for Dream Daddy Fans Who Like Magic and Cats

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As Dream Daddy continues to enjoy considerable well-deserved acclaim as well as a booming fandom, I found myself thinking of other western dating sims that flew a bit more under the radar. It’s certainly no crime that DD’s young writing staff garnered the producorial support of the Game Grumps, allowing their sweet, sincere game further reach. But there are also other, earlier western dating sims who’ve tried to write more inclusively—going at least as far back as Hanako Games’ Magical Diary in 2011. Today I want to spotlight Date Nighto’s 2016 game Hustle Cat, which won my heart with its low-key but empathetic romances and fantasy elements. And also, its literal cat people.

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Angels in America and Log Cabin Republicans: How Dream Daddy’s Joseph Reflects Gay Conservatism

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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).

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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

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[Link] Why I’ve Been Playing Undertale After the Election

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I think election night was a bad time for most of us. At least that’s what I’m assuming, since you’re reading an article about coping in the aftermath. I started out checking the incoming results excitedly, then compulsively, the same way you scratch as a bug bite even when it’s already bleeding. My partner was with me over video chat, and when I needed to either distract myself or escalate from rocking quietly in my chair to a fullblown panic attack, I suggested we finish playing Undertale.

It wasn’t something I picked out for some thematic reason. She’d wanted to see it but didn’t want to deal with the Bullet Hell gameplay, and I still had it in my Steam library even if I hadn’t played for a year. Simple as that. And while it might not have seemed like it as my partner and I were quietly crying on both sides of the connection – hearing the final tallies, feeling scared and sick – it turned out to be the best decision I made that night.

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Stardew Valley – Eldritch Lore? In MY Farming Sim?

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It’s possible that a person might wake up and realize, “well shit, I just spent 12 straight hours playing Stardew Valley; guess I’d better write about it.” Possibly it is less extreme for those without obsessive disorders, but I get the feeling I’m not entirely alone in this whole unexpected time loss thing. It lures you in with the hypnotic cycle of daily tasks that’s become a staple of so many mobile games, and when you look up again you realize 50 hours have passed and you’re not sure if you’re angrier at the game or at life for taking you away from the game.

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Hatoful Boyfriend Writes its Own Fanfiction

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After finally knuckling down to get a Steam account in order to start at least trying to catch up on my lengthy to-play list, I wound up crying more tears than my previous years of gaming combined. The first offender was The Walking Dead Season 1, aka “Ugly Cry Generator 2k12;” the other was Hatoful Boyfriend. You know, the pigeon dating sim?

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