It’s December now, and I’ve already burned through a barrage of Netflix-original Christmas romantic comedies. To be fair, it’s not just the holiday season that puts me into the romcom spirit but it is a good catalyst. Whether it’s You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Groundhog Day or The Holiday and The Christmas Prince, hook me up to an IV and put the popcorn on. I am here for these questionable displays of romantic affection from men with chiseled jaws, dark hair, and other indistinguishable features.
If you, unlike me, don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to consume romcoms en masse and ad nauseum (even I have my off days), perhaps some short dating sims are more your speed. They can pack the same punch — and if you don’t have the time to boot up a BioWare game, sometimes you can get there in 1/10th the time. Here are a few quick ones to get you into the lovey-dovey holiday spirit.
George Batchelor’s Hot Date is a dating simulator where you date several dogs. Through a series of first dates with different pugs, it is up to you to find the pug of your dreams. It’s an evening of romance, piecing together questions, and only moderately awkward conversation. This dating sim — like the rest of the dating sims on this list — has nothing to do with playing for points to win a kiss or someone’s undying love. It’s just pugs.
Batchelor has made a number of clever, and introspective games — you can find them on his itch page linked above — which lends Hot Date its sweet, but not overly saccharine quality. It’s irreverent, but with heart. It’s funny. And I mean genuinely funny.
Who says you can’t date yourself? Sophie Mallinson’s Self-Love Hotel is an “autoromantic dating simulator,” made as a part of the #SelfCareJam following the 2016 U.S. general election. At the time there was a drive to create games which could help stave off the fear and anxiety a number of people found themselves facing. There have been a number of valid criticisms about some of the more hollow corners of the global — the neoliberal, corporate self-care which gives calm and wellness to those who can afford it (I’m looking at you, Gwenyth Paltrow). Thankfully, in Mallinson’s game, you don’t have to buy a rose-infused jade face-roller to cleanse your sinuses and clear lymphatic drainage to take care of yourself. You just get the space and the time to… you know. Take care of yourself.
Ah, here we go. A proper dating sim. Wait. No — maybe not quite. Arden, of Date-or-Die fame, made Kindness Coins back 2013 for the Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Jam, “which instructed players to make a dating sim in a weekend.” And so here we have a twist on the classic format: rather than playing the part of the lovelorn hero, you are instead the object of his affection. Unfortunately for him, you’re more interested in the cyclops plant person who you’ve had a crush on for the past year.
Arden has a particular knack for making games about romance and sex both laugh-out-loud funny and poignant. With enviable insight and enough jokes about pissing your pants to really make your time spent playing worth it, give this one a play before New Year’s Eve.
Your Merman Boyfriend is a Twine game by Wally Ntagonistic “about merfolk, boyfriends, and the fantasy of making enough money to support your partner financially.” In this Twitch game, you move slowly through all the different characteristics of your beautiful merman boyfriend. It’s so cool that you have a merman boyfriend, you know? Your boyfriend, who is a merman, really cares about you. You play with his hair and give him beautiful diamonds, and he lures sailors to their deaths smashed upon the rocks with his beautiful dulcet tones and razor-sharp teeth.