Earnest games are IN.
All images courtesy Game Grumps
The way I feel about Black Mirror is the way I feel about the world. I'm tired of its smug cynicism, its edgy humor, the way it beats you over the head with a placard saying "everything you enjoy is terrible and technology is bad, actually".I know the world is bad, and finding escapism in more bad things just seems pretty futile. But in amongst the nihilism of Black Mirror's latest season came San Junipero, a pearl of goodness in the oyster-grit of self-indulgent technophobic wallowing.
A renaissance is happening, and it is wholesome as fuck.
Dream Daddy is the San Junipero of my Steam game list right now. Nestled amongst games like Danganronpa (the world is dead and so are all your friends) and Killing Time at Lightspeed (you're flying to another planet and all your friends are slowly forgetting about you), Dream Daddy promises that everything's going to be ok, stroking your head gently while introducing you to dads who just want the best for their kids. It's pure, wholesome fun—a fact that might surprise people coming to the game expecting a dad-themed fuckfest.
"Dream Daddy does a good job of luring you in with the promise of thirsty hot dads, and then rewarding you with wholesome relationships and a genuinely heartwarming father-daughter relationship," says Greg Batha, UI designer and developer on the game. "In a lot of the streams I see people be like 'alright I'm ready to fuck some dads!' and then immediately, you get the family photos scenes, and they're like 'oh no, I wasn't ready to cry today.'"
It's actually not a huge surprise that Dream Daddy has proved so popular with its genuine warmth and sweetness. "These are rough times," says Rachel Sala, game artist on Dream Daddy. "People crave positive sincere content. Remember the Bob Ross stream? People lost their shit." But more than that, wholesome content is also just how some of us prefer to respond to stress.
Brie Code, programmer, writer and all-round inspirational human, recently wrote about "tend-and-befriend" as an emotional response to stress. Unlike fight-or-flight, this response limits the release of adrenalin. "Your body releases oxytocin or vasopressin when you're stressed, followed by opioids. This calms your sympathetic nervous system," Code describes.
Like her and her friends, I dislike adrenalin. It sets off my anxiety, and I'm probably not alone in that. I don't watch action or horror films, and I can't deal with roller-coasters (they make me cry). But when games are so geared towards getting that sweet adrenalin rush, what are those of us who prefer tend-and-befriend supposed to do?
Become game developers, it seems. The barrier to entry into the indie games industry has never been lower, with resources like Unity tutorials and game-publishing website itch.io free for all to use. There are Self-Care Game Jams, Merritt Kopas' curation of "Soft Chambers", and people making games like Morning Post, in which brightly colored characters smile at you as you throw post at their faces. There are even Twitter bots like Aloe that are a soothing, reassuring presence on a stress-filled Twitter timeline.
"Genuine good-hearted content is popping up," says Batha, and points out that there's a ready and waiting market: "people looking for that sweet wholesome content." Sala agrees. "Edgy, insincere stuff is losing its edge," she says, and she's not wrong. We're saturated with satire. It's okay to like things, it's okay to have feelings, and it's okay to not want to read the news every day.
The wholesome revolution is here, and long may it live.