Gamemoir’s Nick Verboon falls into the trap of dating sims. Despair and painful life lessons ensure.
While Gamemoir was in a digital coma, this gamer was suffering through the late summer gaming doldrums. Between the Steam and PSN summer sales, I’d thought I had this thing licked, but eventually it always comes to this at that time of year: broke, tired, and out of new games to play. Early accounts of No Man’s Sky indicated that it wasn’t the savior we’d have hoped and Ark: Survival of the Fittest got canceled a few days after it was supposed to be out for the PlayStation 4. Tired of Overwatch and Battleborn, too broke for Deus Ex, and not finding any definite winners in my backlog of free PSN titles; what was I to do to pass the time? Write a silly article maybe?
I found myself idly scanning Steam’s free to play titles list and happened across an interesting find, Sad Panda Studios’ Crush Crush, still in early access at the time. It looked cute and unique and had very high rating. Plus: free. What did I have to lose? The same thing you always have to lose, you fool. EVERYTHING! Perhaps even your very soul. The following chronicles my experiences with the early build of the game.
Crush Crush is unlike anything I’ve ever played before and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a terrible, terrible thing. It’s self-described as an “Idle Dating Sim”, which is to say that after a few hours your active participation will be minimal. It’s not so much a game that you play as it is an insane grindfest where you alternate between managing your time to build levels, adoring the girls and their humorous commentary, and wondering what the fuck is wrong with this game and why you are still playing it as you wait hours and then days and weeks on end for it to progress. So basically, it’s like life itself.
Essentially, what you do is you meet girls at work and then proceed to stop them from hating your guts en route to maybe them even liking you some day. And to do this, you’re going to need an amount of determination that would send the protagonist of Undertale running for a butcher knife. I think this makes the perfect soundtrack:
“It’s gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It’s gonna take patience and time
To do it right, child”
To gain relationship levels with each potential waifu you’ve got your mind set on, you must meet all of her needs and standards in addition to raising her affection. Early in the game, this is mostly accomplished by clicking the ever-loving shit out of her portrait in a process I could not help but mentally refer to as “fingerblasting” (I know, I know; I’m sorry). One affection point per click and only a few thousand points to go for each girl. Your doctor will thank you when the checks from your carpal tunnel treatments clear.
To get new jobs to get money and meet new girls and please the ones you already have you need to build up your skills and attributes. As one girl states: “I like big stats, I cannot lie!” Is there a word for when you chuckle and groan at the same time? There should be. Gruckle. There, now there is. You have a certain number of “time blocks”, based on your in-game achievements with which to assign to jobs and hobbies to increase your skills, income, and appeal. Once your necessary affection levels with the ladies reach the hundreds of thousands to millions, fingerblasting is not going to work anymore and that’s when the game stops eating your time and starts eating your brain.
My first day playing Crush Crush, I obsessively micromanaged and deftly switched professions and hobbies like it weren’t no thang. Each of the girls had their own charm and each relationship level brought more amusing witticisms that kept me coming back to see what else they’d say. I was particularly taken with Mio, the resident gamer girl, who I was embarrassed to admit had me googling 53xy as if it were some mathematical reference I wasn’t getting, to no avail. Then I remembered l33tspeak was still a thing. [angrily mutters] Stupid, 53xy Nick…
But eventually, the new wears off and stuff just takes too long for you to devote all of that time, energy, and constant attention to it. I mean, you could sit and wait six hours for your next job promotion where you make a few dozen dollars every few seconds while you save up to buy a girl who is blatantly a humanized Rainbow Dash a puppy for only $149,011,612. And that time-traveling scientist lady who keeps referencing Terminator and warning me about the imminent weaponization of 4chan wants twenty five drinks. Those will only set you back $610,352 apiece. One Steam review in its entirety simply reads “WHO PAYS ONE MILLION DOLLARS TO GO TO THE MOVIE THEATER!! WHO DOES THAT?” Inflation is a bitch, ain’t it?
And that’s why most of your time in Crush Crush will be spent with your window minimized in your system tray (or closed as the game will bank up to a week’s worth of progress for you) while you watch Netflix, browse the web, or (blech) spend time with your 3DPD loved ones. After your hot and heavy first eight hours or so and a few prestige resets to increase the game’s pace, you settle into a nice routine. You just check in every few days or so to see if there’s anything you can do for your ladies and then you allocate all of your money and time for their capricious whims while they continue to take up an unacceptable amount of your headspace throughout the day and in return, they maybe act kind of nice towards you…. I think a few men in this situation would have just given up and sought the services of a london escort for some company. Yet I soldiered on… and now I think I’m beginning to understand why.
Wait a minute. Am I married to a video game now?
I’m a veteran of almost seventeen years of IRL marriage and this feeling is familiar to me. The hopeless devotion to somebody else’s satisfaction, that same person’s growing indifference and increasing demands towards you, the way they just keep saying the same things after a while, the time spent thinking about how awesome they are, wondering what they are thinking about, and sitting around just watching and waiting for them to do something sweet and surprising to make it all worth it. Damn it. How did I not see this coming?
I’m not an ambitious man. Give me a roof, some food that’s bad for me, and a decent PC and I’m pretty much set. But throw human affection into the mix and it’s all sixty hour work weeks to pay for crap like housing decorations that will spend most of their lifetime in a box in my garage because that lovely creature who captured my heart wants it to be so. Now I’ve got a dozen more of them. And one of them is a fucking bear wearing a pink dress and bonnet with lipstick named Bearverly who thinks that I stink. And I don’t mean like a cute anthropomorphized bear girl. I mean a literal bear. And I’m STILL trying to get her to love me for some reason. What has my life come to?
I’ve now spent most of my life endeavoring to please the object of my affection with only fleeting results. There’s always something else, you know? The returns diminish and the cost keeps rising, but the truth about any relationship is that you have got to keep at it. Get in that groove. Improve yourself. Play the long game. Nothing is ever complete or perfect, but if you can find joy in simply progressing one bit at a time without obsessing about what you are immediately getting in return, then you’ve got half the problem beat. Sometimes you’ve just got to minimize your relationship to your mental system tray and let it do what it does while you go do your own thing for awhile. It’s true in real life and it’s true in Crush Crush.
Am I desperately twisting my brain trying to find some philosophical moral to this story to justify the amount of time I’ve wasted on this stupid kawaii grindfest clicking simulator? Probably. I mean, my rewards for giving each girl every single thing they want until they want no more is a mildly sexy picture and a checked box on her screen proclaiming “You did it!”. But knowing that Mio-chan doesn’t want to mod my face into an Elder Scrolls game so she can smash it with a cudgel anymore fills me with a strange sort of pride. She even calls me her “Player 2” and looks at me with hearts for eyes now! My real wife doesn’t do those things, if anything she’s an obstacle in the way of returning Mio’s favour and modding her onto a custom Dakimakura Pillow.
So in conclusion: totally worth it. After all, there’s no checkbox for keeping your self respect in real life and you can’t put a price on a good old-fashioned gruckle .