Super Patriotic Dating Simulator, which began its Kickstarter campaign on Saturday, is your typical romantic story of an elite spy infiltrating, seducing and then killing members of ISIS.
Karlee Esmailli, who wrote and is developing the game, is a first generation Iranian-American who works at Cards Against Humanity and is involved with the Chicago area comedy scene. She sees Super Patriotic Dating Simulator as a game that coalesces her heritage, her politics and her background in comedy.
The idea for this game came out of Esmailli’s reaction to Trump’s travel ban in February, which has impacted her family in Iran. “That really, that really brought a lot of anger out of me as a writer,” Esmailli said over the phone. “Like I mentioned, I have a background in comedy and when I feel that kind of anger, what it makes me want to do is satirise it, is make fun of it, to find the humour in the ridiculousness of the situation.”
“I don’t think I’m the most well-versed person to quote statistics, but it’s just a matter of public record that the countries that were listed in the travel ban are not countries that are historically associated with terrorist attacks on American soil,” Esmailli went on. “It is a ban that reflects so much of the prejudice of a lot of Americans attitudes towards Middle Eastern people.”
Esmailli said that she feels like ISIS has become a common political talking point for talking about the Middle East, but that much of the discussion about ISIS does not accurately reflect the attitudes of Middle Eastern people.
“ISIS is just so often used in political debate as a boogeyman for all Middle Eastern people,” she said. “It really bothered me that this group that is not representative of Middle Eastern people or my family or Muslim people in general is so often held up as a political example for why all Middle Eastern people are dangerous.”
Combining her anger about the travel ban with a sexy dating sim was a natural choice for her. Esmailli said that without the sexual aspect, the game wouldn’t feel satirical anymore, and would become just a reproduction of ISIS propaganda.
“I didn’t want to reproduce their imagery and continue to give them credibility or space in the conversation that they’d previously taken up,” she said. “So that is where the objectification of the male characters really came into play for me.”
Screenshot: Super Patriotic Dating Simulator (Immigrant Father Studios)
The game includes seven love interests, several of whom are shirtless men with glistening washboard abs. “My intention as an artist is: these guys are so sexy that you know this is a joke,” she said. “It’s a big fuck you to ISIS, that a group that is so strategically focused on intimidation and fear and legitimacy would have their legitimacy taken from them using the same tactics of objectification and dehumanisation.”
That objectification also gave Esmailli a chance to write sex scenes that centre women and women’s experiences during sex, which she said she finds lacking in other dating sims.
“From both my upbringing in Iranian and American cultures, I really was dissatisfied with the sexual education I received about my own body and the portrayal of women’s pleasure in general,” she said. “One of the bones I’ve always had to pick with the dating sims that I’ve personally played is that they never really seemed to represent a depiction of female pleasure.” She said that Super Patriotic Dating Simulator, which will show nudity and does get explicit, strives to show the experience of having sex from a female perspective.
Super Patriotic Dating Simulator is spinning a lot of plates. It’s a satire of ISIS, a parody of dating sim tropes, and also a game that aims to open people’s eyes about the Middle East and be a genuine exploration of women’s sexuality. Esmailli theorises that she’ll be able to get players to engage with the deeper themes after first luring them in with fluff. When asked what her favourite love interest was in the game, she had an answer ready.
“So unlike most dating sims, you can’t really just commit to one character, you have to make enough dents in this organisation that they eventually collapse,” she said. “The kingpin is the Caliph himself. You know, leader of the caliphate, the imam of imams. I wrote him with a lot of love. I tried to make him as good in bed as possible and horrible in every other way that he could possibly be.”