Dream Daddy, a dad-themed dating sim with the Game Grumps name attached to it, has taken Steam by storm. It's always nice to see a low-key indie game catch on with a big audience, especially a game as warm and sweet as Dream Daddy. The world's political situation may be a gongshow, but hey, at least people appreciate good games about building relationships.
(Dream Daddy personally unlocked some weird memories for me, but I guess that's neither here nor there.)
Ah, but this is the Internet, and the Internet sometimes has a hard time believing we can have nice things from time to time. Dream Daddy isn't even two weeks old (it came out on July 20), and it's already garnered some hot drama. The lava-seepage wasn't even based around the game directly; it was kindled by some gender-bent fan art of the titular Daddies.
"Genderbending" is a popular spin on fan art, i.e. people like to take canon male characters and re-draw them as females (or vice-versa). The practise of genderbending and even the term itself is slightly controversial, since treating gender like a switch that can be flipped is controversial by itself.
That said, fan artists usually bend characters' established genders with innocent intent. Speaking as an older game-lover, my friends and I whipped up female versions of Mario, Mega Man, and Link in the '80s and '90s because feminine game heroes were scarce.
The picture of the gender-bent Daddies was generally well received on Twitter, but some people took umbrage to the piece. The main issue is with the swapped version of Damien, a character who's suggested to be trans in Dream Daddy. Making Damien a cis female therefore carries connotations of trans erasure, even if the artist (who goes by the amazing Twitter handle "OhNips," by the way) didn't intend to tamper with Damien's identity.
The Dream Daddy discourse quickly became a skyscraper-high tire fire, seemingly the only kind of discourse 2017 is capable of stoking. One arm of the blaze accused OhNips of being transphobic (as well as fat-phobic for slimming down some of Dream Daddy's heftier characters), whereas another arm raved about political correctness gone mad. OhNips eventually received death threats for their work, as is seemingly the natural (read: horrible) evolution of these rows. The official Dream Daddy account subsequently asked its fledgling fanbase to put away its talons.
I've been part of various online fandoms for a long time, and I'm honestly impressed with how quickly a fanbase goes from zero to nuclear these days. Dream Daddy's not even a fortnight old, and it's already received an indelible mark against it. Now a generally kind fandom surrounding a progressive game will forever be known as "that one crazy fandom that sent death-threats to an artist who drew gender-swapped Daddies."
Geez. When fan pages were tiny GeoCities shrines back in the day, we took our time getting to know each other on the pages' message boards before deciding we hated each other. Kids these days just get straight to the point with social media's instant soapboxes.
In all seriousness, it was sad to watch the Dream Daddy controversy unfold because there are good points brought up by both sides, and there are a lot of learning opportunities within.
I'm not a trans person; I have no leverage to tell a person who is trans that they have no emotional basis for being offended by a gender-swapped version of a trans character. In other words, if a trans person tells me a piece of fan art offends them, it's not my place to say "Well, I think you're over-reacting." I don't have to agree, but if that's the case, nothing is lost if I keep my big mouth shut. If another trans person disagrees with the first one? That's cool. That's fine. They can discuss the issue until the cows come home. I don't have a dog in the fight.
That said, I certainly believe there are kinder ways to convey your problems with a piece of gender-bent artwork than to come out swinging with insults and accusations. One Twitter user told OhNips that they loved the image, but added "I feel like portraying Damien as female when Damien is canonically a trans man is a No-No."
This criticism is rational and digestible. There's no snapping, no scorn, and certainly no death threats (which are not OK in any context, ever). Though I make every attempt to be sensitive towards matters of gender, I had never even considered how a gender-swapped version of a trans character might be hurtful. Now I understand, and will take special care should I ever magically gain the ability to draw coherent fan art.
I also understand the argument that marginalized people shouldn't be expected to "tone police" their discussions about racism and gender. But I don't think telling a first-time offender, "Hey, just FYI, your piece might be hurtful to trans people," counts as groveling. It's certainly going to nurture a more level-headed response than the sharper alternative.
Humanity's biggest failing is that we've barely left the tree-tops, but we're expected to adapt to a world that's changing in the geological blink of an eye. We're still fearful little shrews who bare our teeth at threats, whether those "threats" are the predators who haunted us tens of thousands of years ago, or an internet-stranger whose first salutation is "You're a horrible person with horrible intentions." If you want people to consider your feelings, you always get better results if you approach slowly, and with a level tone.
I'm well-aware that there are unfortunate people who make it their life mission to purposefully hurt and troll marginalized people. I'm not saying you have to make friends with them, or even be kind. But if someone who doesn't have a history of being a jerk-face does wrong by you, stop and remember that nobody is born an internet saint. Be direct, but be understanding.
We're human beings. We have feral origins, but we also have a responsibility to do better. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as a piece of fan art for a silly dating game offers us all a chance to grow and better ourselves. Let's love each other like Daddies.
…Don't read that last sentence out-loud if you're in polite company.
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