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Dinner Date PC is a brave experiment in mature gaming -- the sort of mature that doesn't involve any violence or nudity whatsoever. It is not exactly fun in the way games are traditionally fun, but it is exciting to see genuinely adult themes explored so honestly.
Many games are power fantasies at their core that enable you to become not only physically powerful but also desirable. From listening to my friends talk about their relationship choices in Mass Effect or Dragon Age, clearly these liaisons stay with people and become an important part of their heroic journeys. After all, who doesn't want to feel loved?
Dinner Date involves a more realistic look at relationships, and sends us crashing back to Earth with a painful thud. You play as the subconscious of Julian Luxemburg, a lonely man waiting for his date to arrive. It is made immediately clear that Julian is a fully developed character and we have no power to change him. We are just along for the ride, as the minutes continue to tick by and she still hasn't turned up.
The story is linear, and takes about twenty minutes to play through. In that time we can motivate Julian to stretch, tap his fingers on the table, glance at the clock and so on. But as Julian's subconscious player control is kept very limited. Mostly, we are just there to glance around his cramped kitchen and observe his thoughts from our unusually intimate vantage point.
The website for Dinner Date recommends a specific Argentinean Merlot as a suitable accompaniment to the game. I opted for a local alternative, poured myself a generous glass, and settled myself comfortably at my keyboard.
Being within someone's mind and observing their deepest thoughts can be quite confronting.
I did not stay comfortable for very long. Being within someone's mind and observing their deepest thoughts can be quite confronting. In their head are all the little desires, insecurities and inappropriate thoughts they would never say out loud. Witnessing Julian's moments of self-loathing and internal prejudices felt incredibly voyeuristic.
The premise draws you into the character, and makes you squirm at his inadequacies. I wavered between wanting to slap him and give him a hug. Julian is 27 - two years younger than me - and he talks as though he's at risk of dying alone at any moment.
It's a good demonstration of how desperate people can be so horribly unattractive. After spending some time inside Julian's brain I wouldn't exactly be lining up to sleep with him. Mind you, I doubt many of us look very attractive once we are stripped down to our insecurities. It's a good thing we usually have the chance to keep our most dark and offensive thoughts to ourselves.
Not being able to get a shag is far less important than the fundamental issues he has with himself.
Having a different perspective let me see some of where Julian goes wrong, although of course I was powerless to do anything about it. Not being able to get a shag is far less important than the fundamental issues he has with himself and other elements of his life. He gets his priorities mixed up, but his subconscious knows better if he would only listen to it.
Dinner Date is a very frank look at sex, relationships and life in general, from an insecure perspective. It's not a feel-good game, but it is an important step towards more diverse and realistic exploration of mature themes.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: