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Later Daters let me date a queer polyamorous old person
Most of the stories I get to see about myself as a lesbian trans woman in media are about facing adversity for my identity or dying tragically young because the world can't get over its prejudice. Sure, you might find the odd TV show with a trans character who gets to come out and be happy or a gay couple whose love isn't the setup for doom, but even when we get to see those, it's usually stories centered on young adults. If I'm lucky, I might get to see a queer adult in love, but most stories center on queer romance and life as something enjoyed in youth.
On paper, I know most stories about queer love focus on youth and monogamy. Still, it didn't hit me quite how much I was lacking media about queer people getting to grow old while in love until I played Later Daters.
Later Daters is a dating sim available now on Nintendo Switch and PC about dating in a retirement home. You play a character in their mid-70s who, after a nasty fall, is encouraged by their doctor to move into an assisted living facility. Gone is your independence, the home you've lived in for decades, and the privacy you used to enjoy. Instead, over five days, you get to know the other residents, decide how much to share about yourself, and maybe even find romance.
Right from the game's opening minutes, I realized Later Daters was making an effort to be inclusive with its character creator and backstory setup. When creating your character, you can select your character's pronouns and title from a selection including the gender-neutral pronoun Mx. You can also pick from a number of character portraits to represent your character, which are not tied to any specific pronouns. If you want a more traditionally feminine presenting character with he/him pronouns, that's totally in the cards. When selecting your backstory, discussing your dating life prior to finding yourself alone in this community, you don't have to define your sexuality — you simply talk about if your long-term partner was male, female, or nonbinary.
Considering Later Daters is set in an old person's home, I did have some concerns initially that the game might use the setting as a justification for non-player characters to be confused by choices such as nonbinary pronoun selections, but I was pleased with how simply the game addressed the topic. There is a very brief conversation early in the game about those pronouns and making sure they show up appropriately on their system, then nothing more is said about it. The game acknowledges that Mx isn't the only gender-neutral pronoun, but it's the one your character uses, and the game continues on.
Later Daters also features several canonically non-cisgender, non-straight characters and they're all handled tastefully, allowed to exist as more than just their sexuality or gender identity. From the oldie getting drunk and running an illicit poker club in the recreation room, to a rock star in his retirement who loves any opportunity to spend some time at the piano and struggles to be open about his feelings, the cast of characters is all interesting in their own right as well as respectfully written minority characters.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is that, unlike a lot of dating sims, Later Daters doesn't punish you for pursuing multiple romance storylines in a single playthrough. In my first playthrough of the game, I was interested in three different characters and ended up giving all three the impression I was taking them on a date to the center's weekly movie night. Instead of the typical sitcom scenario where I have to sneak around trying to do three dates at once in secret, I was simply able to tell all three I liked them. We went on a group date, all four of us together, and we had a lovely time. Some of us even kissed. Everyone liked everyone, so we all just put aside any jealousy and had a lovely romantic evening.
Later Daters has an incredibly open attitude to queer existence, romance, and love in old age, but it also touches on a lot of very emotionally complex topics that affect us all as we grow older. From helping one of the residents deal with the knowledge her husband has dementia and is starting to forget who she is, to a gay man worried his husband might get shut out of his will due to the state he lives in, the game tackles a lot of emotional ground in beautiful ways. I cried more than once while playing through, thinking about survivor guilt and discussing different philosophies on how to process the fact that we all die someday.
While I have not yet finished playing through Later Daters, as some of the content is being added later via a free download, everything I have played so far is a delight. The game manages to be funny, charming, heartbreaking, and sincere, with a cast of characters I desperately want to know more about. I didn't realize until playing quite how much it would mean to me to get to see a lesbian trans woman, happy and in love in her seventies, as a playable character in a video game.
If anything, it makes me realize we need more queer old people in media. With all the statistics about my life expectancy out there, I could do with being able to imagine growing old and in love. I need more media that helps me picture myself being able to sit on my front step with a woman who loves me for decades to come.