Relationships are a tricky thing. The dynamics that can make or break a close connection with those around us are often zero-sum games. Feelings such as companionship, desire, and ultimately love are often cemented in how we behave with a partner. It can also fracture our connection entirely if our own personal needs are not met. We see relationships in games all the time, from full-blown sexual conquests to attempts at more meaningful romances, but do they ever go deeper into the complex language of our feelings?
Dating Sims often corner the market in that regard, but every so often a smaller game attempts to do something different with such a premise. Indie developer Maggese is one such company, creating a pure, text-based simulation game about the complexities of love through the eyes of two praying mantises. Don’t Make Love is an apt title for such a premise, as the cost of love can be the very death of the male mantis, leaving players with an engaging premise wrapped around a simple package.
It is hard to approach a game like Don’t Make Love in the critical sense because there is little to it in terms of concrete mechanics. You select your mantis, either a male or female and start up immediately conversing with your partner. Your options are technically limitless in terms of what you can type, along with extra gestures such as hugs, kisses, smiling and frowning to throw into the mix. It is ultimately a standard text-based styled adventure, harking back to the days of typing keywords on an Apple II to progress an involved narrative.
In terms of “objectivity” in such a game like this, Don’t Make Love pretty much ends there; it is a game that works, has simple mechanics and by design can be played through rather quickly in comparison to other indie titles on the market. While you can type whatever you like, certain subjects and words are pretty much designed to steer the conversation in the direction of the loose narrative Maggese devised. The developers even warn players on their Steam page about this, so the illusion of total “freedom” to say what you like is not there. If that is appealing as a scenario, that is all you need to really know about Don’t Make Love as a game.
Yet, to really understand a game like this, one needs to discuss the feelings one has in the scenario presented. Much of Don’t Make Love is about the emotional impact of your words and the mindset you had going into the conversation. It is hard to recreate this completely with each playthrough; the game is driven by the “in the moment” feelings you have, so the best examples are the actual scenarios I played through, both of which had different tones and presumptions based upon the relationship I had with my mantis partner.
The first scenario saw me, as the male mantis, consoling my partner over her fears of hurting me, and my attempts to reassure her that my death, if it were to come, would just be a part of our life. The memories of our love and admiration for each other would survive long after my death; her children and her children’s children would know of me and the connection we shared. She eventually agreed that for us to truly love each other, we should be willing to take that risk.
Likewise, my female mantis was much more cautious, endearing to her partner who was concerned about his death by her hands. She reminisced about the times in the fields where we faced off predators, arguing that our memories together are a stronger connection; making us closer to one another. Yet, our lives would be unfulfilled without showcasing that love beyond our memories. Much flirting occurred, and the male decided that the risks would be worth that deep connection, agreeing to make love so long as we had each other.
Stories like this are just a microcosm of the gamut of emotions seen in Don’t Make Love. Conversations, while on rails at times, are lamentations of love and loss, on the nature of mortality and the fleetingness of our feelings. The themes work due to the characters being praying mantises - the threat of death after sex is a very real and very savage part of their life cycle - so the conversations also carry a hint of impending doom to them.
Perhaps that is the point, that death is ultimately inevitable, and that fighting our instincts is a foolish endeavor. Yet, the choice to fight those instincts is where we are struck with a question of morals; what, ultimately, is love to us? Is it the physical desires? What about the sensual bond between two people, willing to give up parts of themselves to be close to one another? Is it an idea to strive for, but one that leads to selfish feelings and maintaining a status quo? Every conversation runs the gamut of these questions, puts you through these emotions as you or your partner vent their take on the relationship thus far. Every action you take, from simple facial gestures to kissing your partner, can cement those feelings as the emotional exclamation point to your conversations, or cause confused and self-reflective moments of fleeting desire. Don’t Make Love is not afraid to offer a relationship dynamic that treats relationships with complexity; it is more than just the decision of having sex, it is the discussion of how you view your partner, and the future you both have together.
There is a major arthouse twinge to much of the game's writing and presentation this way. The visual style is cinematic, with widescreen still shots of gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, the music is simple yet serene, and changes moods as the conversation unfolds in good or bad directions. The writing takes its subject matter seriously - sometimes overly so – and hopes that those playing the game stay on script as much as possible to discover the multitude of endings and choices that are baked into the title.
That artsy sensibility can be a double-edged sword, but Maggese delivers ultimately a short yet cathartic indie game that emphasizes personal dynamics and communication over high fidelity visuals and gaming mechanics. Thought-provoking and emotionally charged, Don’t Make Love is a title worth trying for yourself, especially if the mood for something less gamey and more emotional is right up your alley.
Thought provoking and emotionally charged, Don’t Make Love is a title worth trying for yourself, especially if you're in the mood for something less gamey and more poignant.
- Great Emotional Weight and Conversations...
- Strong, Arthouse Feel...
- Excellent Graphics, Music and Presentation.
- Completely Replayable.
- ...Need to Play Into the Narrative to See It.
- ...Text-Based Adventure That May Be Lacking For Some.