by Dan McAlister
Octodad: Dadliest Catch evokes humor and heart by taking an absurd scenario seriously.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is an octopus simulator that is also a dad simulator. You play as Octodad, an octopus who has somehow concealed his cephalopod identity from his human wife and inexplicably human children. Most of the game plays over the course of a single day spent with your family, where you must work to pass yourself off as human while you perform mundane tasks.
Octodad finds play in everyday scenarios that most take for granted. Repeating our rituals day to day, they become second nature and rote, like how when you’ve driven to work so often, you no longer remember the trip. But as an octopus, gangly and clumsy, these simple motions become harrowing. You have to fulfill your role as a dad while concealing your octopus identity from strangers and loved ones; make too many mistakes, knock over too many cereal boxes in the grocery store, and you’ll be exposed for the fraud you are.
What makes Octodad so special is in how it overcomplicates the basic actions we take for granted to evoke feelings of otherness and paranoia. The early scenarios are common family experiences, like making coffee and mowing the lawn. But because moving even one arm requires two thumb sticks and a button, you have to approach your interactions delicately. It’s easy to swing a tentacle wildly out of place, and difficult to swerve it back in before anyone notices.
By making its controls so complex and sensitive sensitive, it draws your attention to the simplest actions we take for granted and creates inevitable self-consciousness in those actions. And since your awareness of your own clumsy body is so heightened, it follows that others must be so focused on you too, right? Right?
It’s a silly mechanic, but the game embraces its weird side without flinching. Rather than make constant jokes about the absurdity of the scenario, Octodad is all-in on its own fiction. This gives the game a real sincerity, and its play evokes a near-physical feeling of self-consciousness.
Octodad is pretty forgiving at the outset. The first few rooms of the tutorial are bereft of witnesses, so take the opportunity to practice your movement, which includes walking with your definitely-human legs and manipulating objects with your of-course-they’re-human arms. That said, don’t feel you need to spend forever perfecting your locomotion. The game is short enough to be completed in a sitting, and the challenge never veers to close to the impossible.
Playing Octodad brought to mind my own lived feelings of sticking out or embarrassing myself. For all the silliness of its premise, it rang true enough that it spoke to me.
But maybe that’s not how you’ll feel. Maybe for you, it’ll be ridiculous, or whimsical. Or maybe you’ll put yourself fully into the game, trying to be this octopus dad, and maybe you’ll feel something more sincere. Or maybe, you’ll feel nothing.
Don’t try to act or feel in a way so intentionally, not when playing this. Being self-conscious is different from being self-aware. Have your own experience, rather than one similar to what I’ve detailed. You probably don’t stand out as much as you think.
The opinions in this post are expressly the views of the author and do not reflect the views of their employer(s) or any entities that they might otherwise be affiliated.