I’ve been working through Kitfox Games’ Boyfriend Dungeon, that hot new hack-and-slash/dating sim hybrid that’s been popping up in conversations – for better and for worse. See, there’s a bunch to talk about with Boyfriend Dungeon and I was hoping to address it in my big overall review on the game, but I just absolutely have to talk about it now because the inexplicable discourse surrounding the game sent me into a blood rage. So, let’s talk about the discourse surrounding Boyfriend Dungeon!
One of the major characters in Boyfriend Dungeon is Eric, a pretty boy blacksmith who quickly turns out to be a pretty awful person. He displays a prejudiced attitude toward people that can become weapons, he acts like a petty asshole toward most people and toward you if you turn him down, keeps texting you even if you make it clear that you don’t want him around and he sometimes stalks you to places he’s clearly not invited to.
Now, Boyfriend Dungeon does have a content warning regarding him, and there’s a fair criticism regarding it. The wording of the original warning makes the emotional manipulation and stalking that Eric does sound like a topic that’s discussed instead of something actively being done toward the player and that should honestly be fixed. In fact, developer Kitfox Games does plan on addressing that, which is good!
However, for a bunch of people, that’s not good enough. In fact, there’s a fair amount of people that want Eric to be removed from the game entirely.
So, to this I say: shut up.
Yeah, I hate seeing Eric too, but also: that is the point. He is supposed to be detestable, and he’s a villain that provides conflict to a game that doesn’t really have much. He’s the Dio Virtue’s Last Reward of Boyfriend Dungeon and he rules in that regard. Ignoring this part of the game means ignoring an integral part of the game, and choosing to believe that the game would be better off without him would make it different.
The thing is, Eric is important because he’s essentially a different version of the player character. He’s a guy that everyone knows and he’s tried to get with a lot of them much like you have… and all his attempts at finding love falls flat because he’s a weirdo abusive scumbag. Whereas you pursue relationships happily and at your own pace with consenting parties, Eric is a bitter guy trying to brute force connections, seeing you as the next potential route in his own personal game. Much like how you’re fighting personifications of your player character’s fears in the dungeons, you’re fighting a bad version of what you could be through him, and it works.
I saw this take earlier that tried to argue against this, saying that you can still make an excellent story without a creep. And yes, that’s true. But also: this is the fucking story that Kitfox Games wants to tell, you’re demanding that they tell a different story entirely.
Wanting to remove content that’s genuinely meaningful yet stressful to engage with is a media mindset that bugs me. If you go into a work and want an integral part of it out, then you’re not really engaging with the work. You’re not seeing someone’s intended vision, you’re trying to see something that fits your own expectations. It’s a mindset that values wish fulfillment, and that’s an approach that’s untenable – especially if it’s a work targeting more than just you.
Works made by queer creators tend to be hit with this discourse a lot. If a game about queer characters is anything but completely clean and wholesome, some people see it as bad representation. Like, there’s a genuine problem with how queer people are presented in media like the tendency of having queer characters suffer, but sometimes people take it as far as saying that anything bad happening to a queer character – regardless of context or creator – is inherently problematic.
Unless the intent of the work is to straight up spread genuinely heinous views, bad stuff is allowed to exist in fiction. Hell, it doesn’t even need to exist just for the sake of being refuted. Like, Goodnight Punpun is a thing I read that I really loved and it has a lot of shocking stuff that characters fail to address, but it doesn’t have to be because that’s just how life is sometimes and that series is about portraying life – grime and all. And the thing is, Boyfriend Dungeon is a game that makes it clear that Eric sucks and is a destructive force to himself and others, so I don’t fucking understand why some people see him as Kitfox endorsing abusive behavior.
Another point I’ve seen regarding the Discourse is that big triple-A games don’t have to meet the same moral standards. I mean, in fairness, when a big game does something fucky a lot of people do rake it through the coals. However, comparatively smaller outrage against indie games would still have a greater impact, since they’re made by small studios of people that personally have to deal with the outrage. And apparently, people at Kitfox Games as well as Eric’s voice actor have been personally receiving hate for all this. And again, Boyfriend Dungeon makes it clear that Eric sucks and at least made an attempt at putting a warning, so I don’t get why the person that committed the mere crime of voicing him is getting comparatively more shit than, say, the writers of a war game actively endorsing or downplaying real life war crimes.
And that goes back to the issue of content warnings. Big games are never obligated to put content warnings on their material. At most, you’ll get the “there’s no relation between a real-life person living or dead” message. There are way way more games that have more heinous content that Boyfriend Dungeon, some of the time actually endorsing bad views portrayed within, yet these games aren’t obligated to put content warnings, so for Boyfriend Dungeon to get shit for making an inadequate but sincere attempt at doing so is just maddening.
The Boyfriend Dungeon discourse is just maddening and is a prime example of how indie games – especially ones by queer creators dealing with queer themes – are held up to greater scrutiny. And that’s not to say that indie games shouldn’t be open to criticism. Like hey, Pedro Silva is still composing music for small games despite being outed as an abuser, like with the recently released Button City. And hey, as much as I love OMORI, their involvement in that game deserves more scrutiny and their behavior also needs to be acknowledged by more than, like, the few team members that have little public presence.
So if you’re one of the fucking nerds causing trouble, I’m begging you to focus on things that actually do cause harm instead of something that you can safely disengage from. Just simply stop playing and find something else because there’s a lot of games out there and there’s bound to be something that you’d like that you’d be comfortable with, and I mean this sincerely.