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How one teen on DeviantArt sparked lifelong dating sim obsessions

The story of Pacthesis, her dating sims for girls, and the fans who still thank her

Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

For many DeviantArt lurkers in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the name Pacthesis brings to mind a specific image: a yellow background with a grumpy-looking coffee cup, the logo of a particular DeviantArt dating sim maker. And more than that, the name recalls a specific time in these young, female fans’ lives: when they discovered a world of games developed by, and made for, people just like them.

DeviantArt dating sim maker Pacthesis joined the platform in 2007, creating and uploading Flash games to the creative arts-based social network, as well as on game sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate. That alone doesn’t seem particularly novel; Flash game creators proliferate on DeviantArt. But Pacthesis’ games catered to a specific audience of tween and teen girls.

Dubbed the Days Sim Date series, the Pacthesis dating sims always had playable girl main characters trying to romance three or more love interests. The mechanics were simple: Talk to characters to progress through their dialogue and reach their happy ending. The games shamelessly indulged in girlish fantasies. Wonderland Days Sim Date was a rehash of Alice in Wonderland where you could romance the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and the King of Hearts; Idol Days Sim Date had the player become the lead guitarist of a cute boy band. Through them all, the focus was always on the romance.

“This game was so cute that I actually started to play this type of games [sic],” reads a 2010 comment on the Wonderland Days Sim Date page.

“I wonder why Pacthesis’ games are always making me go ・*:。゜萌。*(*´∀`*).*ぇ゚*・。・so much. They are always so sweet and fluffy and some scenes were so funny, that [I] was laughing so hard that my tears would come out. (*ノ∀`)゚o。アヒャャ I think it’s just the perfect combination between romance and comedy,” wrote a reviewer on WordPress in 2012 about Memory Days Sim Date.

It made sense that she found fans among teenage girls. At the time, Pacthesis was a teenage girl herself.

Her age was something she was open about, as it was listed in her profile from the beginning. Pacthesis’ DeviantArt profile has over 10 million views; her games have more than 20 million. She still has around 37,000 DeviantArt watchers (or followers). There were DeviantArt fan groups dedicated to her. People drew fan art, and not just of her characters — but of her, based on her own sketched avatar. She engaged regularly with fans at first through journal updates on her DeviantArt and then through Tumblr posts. Her real-life friends chimed in, helping her make podcasts (dubbed Pacthecasts) and manage the fan groups. But while the Pacthesis games garnered a passionate following, this internet fame wasn’t something she initially aimed for.

As she said during a 2010 Q&A session on DeviantArt: “[I] just made sim dates, posted them one by one on deviantART, people faved them and my stuff tends to come up when you type in ‘sim dates for girls’ on Google.”

Though she opened up about her age, her favorite color, and her preference for coffee, Pacthesis never revealed her full name. Keeping personal details close to the vest was common during the nascent days of social media, when signing up for a service did not require using a full name. (Amy was the name on her profile, though she never divulged more than that.) She kept her identity secret, which was understandable, considering she was a high school student at the height of her popularity. Though many wanted to know more, she only revealed her face in drawings.

After creating eight dating sims and two point-and-click adventure games in a two-year period, Pacthesis all but vanished from her DeviantArt and Tumblr without explanation. Following a four-year hiatus, she published one more game on her profile — Star Days Sim Date — in 2017. She never uploaded a game again.

Many fans who grew up with the Pacthesis games wonder where she went. Her DeviantArt profile’s comments are full of people asking for another game or wishing her well, whatever she may be up to. Even on other social media, former fans reflect on their many late nights playing her games and the fun little interconnected world that they all existed in. Some lament the fact that she vanished. Others talk about how Pacthesis introduced them to the dating sim genre — and to fandom in general.

There is certainly a sizeable portion of dating sim and otome game fans who can pinpoint their love for the genre to the work of this teenage girl, who spent her high school days making the games she wanted to play.

“If [Pacthesis] ever comes back and starts making games commercially, my wallet and I will be ready to buy her stuff, since it’s thanks to her that I got into otome games in the first place,” reads an otome blog post from 2016.

The Tumblr user behind otomesweetheart — a blog dedicated to finding, highlighting, and reviewing otome games — found her passion for visual novels through the Pacthesis games.

“Six years ago this May, I stumbled upon the Pacthesis dating sim games, played them all, and then found My Forged Wedding,” she wrote last May. “I can’t even believe it’s been that long since my life changed for the better! So every year at this time, I always go back and replay my favorite Pacthesis games as sort of an anniversary tradition.”

Searching “Pacthesis” on Twitter and Tumblr still brings up fans waxing nostalgic on the Flash games they played in their youth. Through the years, her fans still think of the games and of the creator who had been part of their lives for so long and inspired a love of the genre. But questions linger. What happened to Pacthesis, and what is she doing now?

Turns out, the answers to those questions are pretty simple.

“I’m currently a web developer at a [loyalty] marketing firm,” Pacthesis — Amy — told Polygon in an email.

The story of Pacthesis starts more than 10 years ago, in 2008. Amy was 14 at the time.

“I liked the Harvest Moon games because I was interested in the dating mechanics,” Amy said. “I thought it was cool that characters had unique personalities and stories you could learn more about by bonding with them via dialogue and gifts. But for some reason I didn’t like the farming and I wished I could skip all the farm stuff and jump right into dating.”

Wanting more games with a focus on building relationship, she took to the internet to find games that had similar mechanics.

“I found dating games on Newgrounds that I could play right in my browser without downloading anything — at the time this was very appealing to me,” Amy explained. “There was also something cool about low-budget indie games made by individuals because I could imagine myself making them too. I guess I decided to give it a shot.”

Inspired by creators like nummyz, another DeviantArt user who made Flash dating sims for girls in the late 2000s, Amy went about making her own project. The first-ever Pacthesis game was Anime Sim Date 1.0. The plot and mechanics were simple — you play as a boy who wants to ask one of his three classmates on a date — but sparked in Amy a love for basic game development.

A few months later, she released Anime Sim Date 2.0, shedding the male lead for a female character. The description for that one reads, “The reason why I made the girls dating sim after the boys is because I wanted it to be so much more better!” Every subsequent Pacthesis game had a female protagonist.

Amy wanted to design games for girls from the get-go, she told us, even if she used a male protagonist in her first effort.

“The dating sims for girls I knew of were decent but I found myself wishing there was more to them and just more of them in general,” Amy said.

After studying other Flash games, she discovered in-game advertising networks and eventually started to publish her games under Mochi Media, a now-defunct network for browser games. It was 2009; she was 15.

“With my first titles I aimed to get a sponsorship and have it be exclusive to the sponsor, but predictably was turned down by every publisher I reached out to,” she explained. “I debated on just releasing and not earning anything, but I was determined to show my parents that the numerous amount of hours I poured into these projects wasn’t all for nothing.”

At that point, Amy had only made three games, but she’d sunk many late nights into them and wanted to continue. Mochi Media gave her enough to “cover a few bills,” she said, and she would continue to submit her games till Mochi Media closed down in 2014.

Amy continued to create games, making each subsequent one more and more elaborate. With 2010’s Festival Sim Date, she introduced more complex minigames. With Wonderland Days, she polished her distinct anime-influenced style. With Chrono Days, she upped the romanceable character count from five to eight, switched to cel shading, and cleaned up the interface. Each project had something new, as Amy learned from and built upon her previous work.

She built each game on her own and entirely from the ground up — leaving her on her own to handle any problems she ran into.

“When I couldn’t get the code to do what I wanted or when I couldn’t fix a bug, I would feel a wash of anxiety because I knew that I was sort of out of luck,” Amy said.

At the peak of Pacthesis’ activity, from 2010 to 2012, Amy launched a new game every few months or so. Most of them were dating sims, but there were a couple of visual novels/point-and-click adventures taking place in the same universe as her dating games, featuring characters who crossed over. Because there were not many other dating sims for girls on DeviantArt at the time — a brief look at curated galleries of dating sims shows that most of the ones users found were by Pacthesis — Amy’s games soon garnered a strong fan base.

At one point, the Pacthesis games dominated DeviantArt and elsewhere. Fan clubs dedicated to her popped up on the platform. Users who loved her games clamored for more, messaging her directly. The amount of fan messages and comments Pacthesis received became overwhelming at points, she said. Though Amy liked to hear from fans, the pressure to be active online perplexed her.

“It was great to get personal and heartfelt messages from fans detailing how my games have inspired them or helped them through hard times in their lives — it did feel odd to me because I never imagined that my games would ever have that kind of impact on others,” Amy said. “It made sense to me why people would want me to make more games, but I didn’t really understand why people wanted me to be more socially involved than I was.”

Amy didn’t realize just how widespread her games had become until her online life crossed over into her real life.

“I was in high school and a classmate was telling me about a dating sim she played and how much she hated it and then I realized she was talking about a game I made,” she recounted. “But it made me kind of happy because I was in awe like Wow! Even kids at my school are playing my games? and I never told her that I made it. I said I’ve played it too and agreed that it sucked.”

While the Pacthesis games gave many teenage girls (and hey, lots of boys too) hours of fun, they also sparked within them a love of the dating sim genre.

People reminisced via a nostalgic post on r/otomegames about how finding the Pacthesis titles in their early teens led them to discover visual novels and otome games — dating games specifically tailored for women — at large. Many Pacthesis fans told us that they stumbled upon her games simply because there were no other options: Searching for English-language dating sims often meant finding adult-oriented games where you played as a heterosexual man.

“I’d never been into that stuff so I hadn’t played any before but playing Pacthesis’ games kinda made me want to,” Cerys, 16, told Polygon in a Twitter direct message. “I remember searching for more but it was really difficult to find any that were my thing mostly because they were aimed to guys or rated ‘mature.’”

Though there were certainly many dating sims out there geared toward young women, they were primarily in Japanese, and not many translations were available.

“I felt that dating sims were difficult to find especially because many were in Japanese,” said Nazeera, 18, via Twitter DM. She stumbled upon the Pacthesis games at age 10. “[Otome, or story-based romance games] was rarely translated to English which constricted the dating sims field.”

The Tumblr user behind otomesweetheart talked to Polygon about how the genre has changed since the Pacthesis days of the late aughts and early 2010s. Notably, she said she’s noticed an increase in the availability of English and translated otome games.

[Finding games] has definitely gotten easier, because the fandom and the genre have grown a lot,” she said in an email. “Even just on mobile, there are plenty of games to try. [The genre has] absolutely gotten more popular, especially with the release of Mystic Messenger by Cheritz.”

Translated versions of Asian mobile games like Mystic Messenger have popularized the otome genre with Western audiences, inspiring English-language dating sims and visual novels such as Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and Choices: Stories You Play. There are also branching-narrative games made by individuals with the easy-to-use Twine engine, and glossier, free-to-play mobile games, like Episode: Choose Your Story. But fans out there still trace their love of the dating sim genre back to their tween days playing Pacthesis’ games.

“Personally, I would credit Pacthesis with inspiring me to make my own visual novels, which have been in the works pretty much ever since I found her games,” said Emil, another Twitter user who also discovered the games when he was in his early teens. “Her games (which included some girls as love interests for the main characters who were girls) were some of the first gay-positive content I’d come across online.”

“I still play dating sims,” said Aniko, who also had fond Pacthesis memories from when she was younger. “I’m really into Voltage games on the app store.”

Pacthesis released Number Days Sim Date in 2012, and it became the last one to launch during her most prolific period. It’s also Amy’s favorite. Unlike her other dating sims, which were very romance-driven, Number Days emphasizes friendship, with an overarching plot that drove the whole story.

The player character and five others are trapped in a theme park. Their phones display seemingly random numbers, and they have to work together to figure out just why they’ve all been trapped. Number Days was the culmination of nine games’ worth of world-building (they all take place in a loosely connected world), so Pacthesis could indulge in her offbeat humor. It was also full of cutscenes, animated sprites, and more complex endings and routes than her previous titles. One of the most satisfying endings happens when you choose not to romance anyone, and instead, just build up the friendships between the whole group.

“It’s still fun to look through the files, sketches, and my notes to see all the work that went into it,” she said.

After Number Days, Pacthesis announced her next project, Star Days Sim Date. She posted a few progress pictures, character sheets, and behind-the-scenes information on Tumblr throughout 2013. And then the Pacthesis Tumblr went silent. A brief update on the Pacthesis DeviantArt page mentioned that Mochi Media had gone under, which meant that on other sites, the games would be gone. Pacthesis assured fans that the games would remain available on her DeviantArt.

A bit later, she posted a hiatus announcement on Tumblr, putting Star Days Sim Date on hold. She followed it up with a little holiday check-in.

Then, more silence.

Then, in 2016, a glimmer of hope: Three years after her last update, Pacthesis posted a link on her DeviantArt that led to her new website, with a promise that she planned to finish Star Days.

And in May 2017, she did. In the four-year gap during which she finished college and started a new job, the project sifted to the back of her mind, though she firmly wanted to finish it someday.

“I started working on it again in 2017, and then took about 2 weeks of PTO from work, confident that I could finish it if I worked 10+ hours a day, but laughably it still wasn’t done after the 2 weeks and I continued to work on it little by little in the following months,” she recounted. “It was funny too because many of my coworkers asked what I did on my ‘vacation’ but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what I was actually doing.”

Star Days Sim Date delivers on what it promised: The player character encounters humanoid aliens from alternate dimensions, as they journey to the mysterious Constellations in order to find a way to bring their loved ones back to life.

Amy’s notes for Star Days reveal a lot of could-have-beens. She wanted more cutscenes and more world-building, but had to cut most of it to focus on the main story. Part of it was the file size. Part of it was simply not having enough time and running out of steam.

“With Star Days, the heavy amount of sprites and graphics in cutscenes made me scale down the amount of events for each character and I think the lack of character development in that title is more distinct compared to others,” Amy said.

Still, there’s a polish to the art style that comes from four years of maturation, a sleek and streamlined UI that comes from working a web development job, and a poignancy to some of the endings that you didn’t get with the first Sim Date games. Much like Number Days before it, one of the best endings happens when you don’t romance anyone.

On social media, fans cheered for Pacthesis’ return, for the completion of Star Days, for finally getting to play the game they’d been waiting on for almost four years — at last, an ending. Amy has updated the blog on her website a few times since the release of Star Days, giving behind-the-scenes looks at some of her old dating sims. Amy hasn’t announced or planned any other titles, but she doesn’t know if she’s done with her game development life.

“It’s not like I decided: ‘I don’t want to make games anymore’ but more like: ‘I want to do something else and I don’t feel like making games right now, but maybe I will later.’ There is a special feeling of joy and happiness I think people get from game development,” she said. “I could see myself making more games in the future — definitely not at the same pace and volume during my teen years.”

Star Days Sim Date might very well be Amy’s last game, but the legacy she created lives on. Discovering games so tailored toward your interests is a special moment, and many fans still recount it with fondness.

“I wasn’t all that familiar with dating sims,” said Aniko, though she did love anime. “When I came across Pacthesis’ Number Days, which was free, of course I had to play it. I loved it. I just had to play more. Basically, long story short: I was a curious lil ole weeb and when I saw the opportunity to date cute anime boys, I took it.”

When Amy was 14, she may not have set out to get DeviantArt-famous or to have fan clubs dedicated to her, but she did. And out there on the wild web, there are many who not only have fond memories of late nights getting that perfect happy ending on a Days Sim Date game, but who also can attribute their love of the genre — and even of online fandom spaces at large — to the works of one teenage girl.

“I’ve played a ton of visual novels since [the Pacthesis games],” said Emil. “Pacthesis pretty much introduced me to fandom culture as a whole since I went to DeviantArt to follow her, and then eventually to Tumblr as well.”