Don’t Take It Personally, I Just Don’t Like You is a visual novel by Christian DeCoster, pitched as “the lo fi anime dating sim to cry to.” The full game is upcoming — DeCoster is planning to release it in early 2021 — but an hour long standalone prequel called The Camping Trip is available now on itch.io.
Despite its short length, The Camping Trip is one of my favorite experiences of the year. Set in a nameless college town at a time when flip phones existed and midnight anime ran on TV, it’s a cloyingly awkward mixture of low-stakes romance and low-stakes horror. Part wholesome yuri, part Blair Witch Project.
“It came about as setting up a lot of those horror tropes and horror cliches, and then focusing more on the interpersonal aspect of that, because that’s what I want to key in on,” DeCoster told me in a Discord call. “It’s the anxiety and discomfort of being the sole point of contact between two people who disagree, and maybe don’t like each other all that much[.] So the Blair Witch pastiche was mainly to set up what the game is actually about, which is the messiness of interpersonal relationships.”
Indeed, you spend most of the prequel intervening between Rose (a strait-laced girl you’re sorta? seeing) and Maria (a punk you’re sorta? friends with) as the titular camping trip goes awry in myriad ways. Todd was supposed to come (he’s another sorta? friend of yours), but he’s pining over some cheerleader named Dale, so he stayed home. No matter who you end up siding with, somebody’s going to get third wheeled.
“It’s the awkward position that puts you in,” says DeCoster. “No matter how you try, you’re eventually going to have to take a side in that, because otherwise you’re just the person neither of them likes, because you didn’t stick up for either of them.”
And, since you’re playing a dating sim, it’s not like you’re free of ulterior motives. You’re in the woods because you’re trying to sleep with someone.
That’s the whole point.
In this way, Don’t Take It Personally, I Just Don’t Like You is a very true simulation of dating. It’s not about idealized romance, or wish-fulfillment, or even sexuality — rather, it trades on a sloppy, nameless, humiliating breed of desire.
“I’ve read comments on a couple of the YouTube playthroughs I’ve seen of it, or on the store page from people who have heard of the game, and they’re like, ‘man, I’m really liking Maria. I can’t wait to see what you do with her, but that title has me really concerned,’” says DeCoster. “And I like that, because that’s life. Sometimes there are people who you might be interested in, and there’s no combination of anything you can do that’s going to make them fall romantically in love with you. Some people just might never like you that way, or never like you at all.”
These themes persist, as well. Even if they’re only alluded to, every character in The Camping Trip is missing something — they couldn’t buy beer before the liquor stores closed, or their tent was stolen, or they’re chasing otome space boys, or they’re yearning after a cheerleader.
Rose, one of the prologue’s two love interests, didn’t bring a sleeping bag. She was hoping to share yours.
This is later described as “like being shrink-wrapped together.”
Everything is too close, but you want to be closer, too far, but not far enough. The campsite itself is an elegant little macrocosm of this — as Maria eventually reveals, you’re trespassing. The stand of trees you’re camping in is government land, and although you’re unlikely to be caught, you’re not supposed to be here. Your relationship to the setting is too much — it’s too close, too unacceptably intimate, but, as Maria points out (and as you and Rose eventually learn) the sunrise over the river really is beautiful.
DeCoster plans to finish development of the game by February 2021. “What we’re hoping for is five — I don’t know how else to phrase it other than, pursuable? — characters?” DeCoster says. “Because they’re not necessarily romanceable or dateable. Only I know who is romanceable and who is dateable.”
He doesn’t say, “and I won’t tell you,” but I decide not to ask.
(Editorial disclosure: the author is very much a Rose girl, even if Rose is a fucking narc.)