Don’t Allow Fear to Influence Your Story

Don’t Allow Fear to Influence Your Story

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among video game plots lately. Writers start down a path, digging their fingers into the dirt and grime of untouched territory, only to pull back at the last moment. What starts as a journey toward an unconventional ending always ends the same; safely, with the outcome everyone expects. It’s frustrating.

I try to keep my blog largely spoiler free, but this post will contain spoilers for the dating sims Dream Daddy and Doki Doki Literature Club, so proceed at your own risk.

A few years ago, my husband and I watched a movie where two secret agents wooed the same woman. They knew she was dating both of them; she was open about it. The movie became a competition to see who would win her heart. It was a comedy and we liked the actors, so we gave it a try. It ended the way you expect; she picked the worse of the two guys for some arbitrary reason. My husband and I were both disappointed; we agreed the ending would have felt more satisfying if she had stayed with them both. It was the dynamic that seemed to suit the story best.

But would it have been popular? Would it have made money? Probably not. And because this ending was likely deemed too risky, it was either never considered or cut.

I don’t play dating sims seriously. But the moment I heard about Dream Daddy, I wanted to give it a try. Plus I got to use Domerin as my dadsona (it’s canon)! I read a lot of reviews warning the game was shallow. And I held out against that notion as long as I could – the game is more about finding someone you want to start over with than about happily ever after forever. But now that I’m almost finished with the game, I have to agree.

The writers opened a lot of doors with this game. One of the dads you can ‘date’ is married. One of the characters is trans (though the indicator is easy to miss). At least two of the dads have strained or troubled relationships with their children. And one is totally estranged from his daughter. So the game has all the required elements for a few meaty plots, even if you only spend three ‘dates’ with each character.

The trouble is, while each dad has a cute little story, none of them touch on the really interesting details of the characters. For instance, there’s some indication that Lucien, Damian’s son, has seen a therapist about certain issues. But the topic only comes up once. There’s no bonding moment between your character and your boyfriend’s son. The issues are simply dropped in favor of a cuter, more comical storyline. Hugo likewise struggles with his son’s shenanigans but, aside from a throw-away line, it doesn’t come up in his route.

Probably the most egregious mistake was the writer’s choice of ending for Jospeh’s plot. I read an interview where the writers discussed not wanting people to feel like they destroyed a marriage. And I can understand not wanting to write that kind of story. Except they didn’t. The story is presented in a reasonable fashion. Your dadsona doesn’t do anything that could be remotely considered cheating when they hang out with Joseph. They get the urge to kiss once but resist. Not only that, your dadsona constantly tries to talk to Joseph about his wife, but the game prevents you from doing so. Yet when you meet Mary in a local bar one night, your character wonders if they’re a homewrecker. What?! That’s a pretty strong reaction for helping a guy out with a couple of church functions.

Eventually, Joseph tells you he’s leaving his wife. He also tells you he’s in love with you and you sleep together. The game does not give you a choice as to whether or not you want to, you just do. At the end of this scene I felt really good about the plot. Because if Joseph and his wife decided to leave each other independently of me, then how could I be responsible for breaking up their marriage? (I mean I probably should have waited until they were actually divorced to sleep with him, but the game didn’t let me pick).

So it’s a huge slap in the face when Joseph decides to stay with his wife. If the writers thought this would be a satisfying ending for their players, I have to wonder what they were drinking at the time. It doesn’t feel icky wanting affection from someone who comes to you first. It didn’t feel like breaking up a marriage when I didn’t do anything but support a friend. Instead I felt used; and no one feels good about being treated that way. It seems to me, the writers had a perfect opportunity to explore the breakup of an intimate relationship and the forging of a new one, but they got scared. They didn’t want to be attacked for writing a story about people breaking up a marriage (even though that was clearly not the story they had written), so they changed the ending and made it safe.

Likewise, I can’t help feeling Doki Doki Literature Club missed an opportunity to be about depression. Obviously, I’m thrilled the game includes characters dealing with depression and other mental health issues. Not only that, it portrays them well. It’s refreshing. But halfway through, the game decides to be about a character who realizes they’re trapped in the game.

Which is not bad. I should stress that I don’t think either of these games are bad. I actually think both are quite good. Dream Daddy is creative and clever. It made me laugh a lot. I got at least 20 hours of enjoyment out of it. Doki Doki Literature Club is likewise creative and does a good job of exploring its subject matter. I just can’t help wishing that its subject matter had been more focused on giving its characters satisfying endings rather than fourth-wall-breaking.

I would like to see writers be braver. I would like to see them delve into their subject matter, take the risks and see how things turn out. The best stories make us ask questions, and sometimes those questions take us out of our comfort zones. I experienced this when I wrote Crossroads of Frozen Eternity. I lost sleep biting my nails over the choices I made for my main characters. But in the end, I was glad I wrote that story instead of playing it safe. It made me a better writing, it stretched my horizons as a person, and it made me less afraid of tackling difficult, potentially unpopular plots in the future.

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