Out of all the dating sims I’ve tried—and that include both human and animal dates—Hot Date is probably the only one that manages to capture how frightening and unpredictable dating can be. Other titles are keen to depict romance as a series of right decisions you can make, but Hot Date makes it damn near impossible to find your one true soulmate, even if all your potential dates are cuddly pugs.
Imagine this scenario: you take a seat at a table in restaurant, with candles in an iron candelabrum illuminating an otherwise dark room. Across you is an adorable pink pug, its dark, emotive eyes staring back at you with…curiosity? Utter boredom? You can’t tell. Introducing itself awkwardly to you as Thelma, it mutters something about how that is probably a dumb name, and asks for yours. After hearing your response, it reacts with, “Louise? Serious? That doesn’t even sound like a name. Whatever.”
That is a rude shock.
While it was undeniably a terrible start to a date, the fact that I was facing a pug did soften the blow a little; I mean, look at its little pink paws, and that delightful tongue! Undeterred, I cycled through an exhaustive list of dialogue options, ranging from questions on whether Thelma is a jazz aficionado to wondering if it would be interested in perusing your collection of R&B merchandise. Yet, the pug reacted to all my attempts at conversation with barely disguised contempt. Before Thelma could demean me further by denouncing my love for endangered butterflies, the bell rang, signalling the end of the speed dating round.
I heaved a sigh of relief. The next one can’t be as bad, right? Well, that ended up with me telling my date that I never want to see it again. And then I was convinced love was a lie orchestrated by mega corporations so that they could make a neat profit out of our misery.
As someone who can get really uncomfortable when speaking to a new acquaintance, the feelings of awkwardness and despair I experienced from Hot Date are all too familiar to me. The game is social anxiety exemplified; finding an emotional connection in Hot Date is just as elusive in real life. Unlike pre-programmed, digitally rendered characters on computer screens, the psyche of actual human beings is much more difficult to fathom. Talking about your Star Wars beliefs, for instance, can potentially start a date off on a wrong foot, but all you can do is try and keep the conversation going in hopes of finding some common ground.
Or adopt a real pug for yourself. It’ll love you for sure.
Give the game a shot at itch.io.