I thought it would blow my mind and I still wasn’t prepared for anything that happened.
Please note the following before you continue reading this article:
1. If you’re even remotely interested in playing this game then you need to stop reading this article, like, RIGHT NOW. Don’t worry about me, I’ve already got your pageview – and genuine thanks for it!
2. It’s going to be difficult to discuss this game without talking about some very dark topics. I will be attempting to alleviate this darkness by being glib. Do not mistake this glibness for a lack of empathy – understand it to be a defence mechanism for us both, you and I.
3. As you can tell from the previous item in the list, this game deals with some very mature themes. Therefore, due to the nature of the game, SPOILER WARNING and also TRIGGER WARNING for issues relating to self-harm.
Jeez, maybe I should just write an article about Wolverine’s 10 weirdest outfits instead.
But hey – I’ve already started writing, and that’s one of the writing tips offered by the fictional literature club in the game: When you get writer’s block, just start writing anyway – it’s better to have something written down than to be sitting there twiddling your thumbs, after all.
Well – I guess I can’t really put this off any longer…
Why I Played Doki Doki Literature Club And How My First Session Panned Out
I have two daughters, and the eldest one guest-stars in this articles. Let’s call her Skye. Because that’s her name.
I’m the kind of person who uses video games to teach their kids things about the world in a non-threatening space. Skye, for instance, learnt about how conspiracies work (actual ones, not the useless ‘5G causes COVID-19’ crap) when we played Beyond Good & Evil together, and she learnt about PTSD by playing Final Fantasy VII.
She also learnt that her father is sometimes impatient and grumpy when we tried to play Kingdom Hearts 2 together, but I wasn’t trying to teach her that lesson. Somewhere, someone is STILL waiting for the intro cutscenes to stop, I guarantee it.
When she got older, we’d just recommend games to each other and discuss them whenever we caught up.
Last year, she recommended Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC) to me.
I took a quick look at the Steam store page and said ‘Bro, have you MET me? What am I gonna do with this cutesy crap, learn about making cupcakes?’ because not only am I sometimes impatient and grumpy, I also call my daughters Bro (because that’s what I call everyone I love, even my wife).
She assured me that it would be worth the time and effort, and that I would enjoy the payoff, because she knows that’s how to get me to do anything: Just tell me I’ll enjoy the payoff and I’ll probably give it a chance.
So I installed DDLC and gave it a go.
The very first screen had a warning: ‘blah blah blah this game deals with dark issues something something something not suitable for children’
I thought to myself ‘Oh how very edgy, I wonder which character will turn out to be a ghost lol’ and continued on.
I got bored after half an hour and gave up, not touching it again for months.
That Time I Actually Played Doki Doki Literature Club Properly
Skye visited me for Father’s Day this year, and I casually mentioned that I still had the game installed. She was curious to see if I could guess ‘what would happen’, so we both agreed I’d play it while she watched, so I could have someone to bounce my theories off of and so she’d see what I did differently to her.
I start the game again, and make a stupid joke about the trigger warning at the start ‘I’m a bit old for jumpscares bro’ which she casually brushes off with a look that clearly says ‘Maybe wait until you’ve played the game before you roast it’.
Oh yeah – the game.
DDLC is a visual novel. This means it’s basically one long cutscene but you sometimes get to make choices, like a Choose Your Own Adventure game.
The player character is a teenage boy, which I enjoyed because I used to be one of those. You can choose your own name, so I chose Dingo (a shortened version of my usual handle, Strontium Dingo).
I meet my oldest friend and neighbour Sayori outside our houses as we both start walking to school on the first day of a new school year. Our school apparently requires that we join an extra-curricular club, and she asks me which club I’m going to choose. I tell her I don’t know, but I’m obviously going to choose her literature club because that’s what the game is called.
That should have been my first clue of what to expect from the game. But it wasn’t.
I join her club, and am introduced to three other girls: The popular and perky Monika, the abrasive-yet-charismatic Natsuki, and the demure intellectual Yuri.
They make a big deal about having a boy in their club and begin doing some low-level flirting. I shift uncomfortably in my seat.
Skye notices my discomfort, and chooses to make it worse by asking: ‘Which one do you like the most?’
I reply: ‘Yuri seems fascinating. She’s a little too quiet – I wonder what she’s hiding?’
Skye nods and says ‘Interesting’ in a tone that wouldn’t sound strange coming from Mr Spock.
I continue on with the game.
Doki Doki Literature Club: A Poetry Simulator
At the end of the club meeting, it’s decided that we’ll all write poems and meet up the next day to share them.
I thought the poetry writing would happen in a cutscene, but it was gamified. I choose the word I want from a list of possible words, 20 times. These words will create my poem, which I will never see. Next to the list are chibi versions of Sayori, Natsuki, and Yuri. Certain chibis are reacting to the words I’m choosing. Yuri seems to like the larger words, Natsuki seems to prefer smaller words.
I offhandedly remark to Skye that it’s too bad if I wanted to see a chibi version of Monika too. Nobody else is missing, just Monika. Skye casually says not to worry about it too much. I comply.
The club meets the next day and we share our poems.
Yuri likes my poem. Natsuki does not.
I can’t remember how Sayori felt about my poem because I didn’t really care. We’ve been friends for such a long time, I can’t imagine one poem changing that.
There’s just Monika left now, and she gives me a few tips on how to improve my writing.
We all agree to write and share poems again.
I choose the large words again, not because I want to impress Yuri but because it feels natural to me: I enjoy the clarity that comes with carefully chosen words.
Skye says that she’s never seen anyone do that before, most other players try to write for a particular club member.
I don’t tell Skye, but I’m starting to get bored. I thought something weird was supposed to happen in this game. We’re almost two hours in, and all I’ve done is click my space bar hundreds of times and choose some words from a list.
The club meets again the next day. We share poems. Yuri likes mine. Natsuki does not. I can’t remember what Sayori thought. Again, there’s just Monika left now, and she gives me more writing tips.
We agree to write and share poems again. I yawn.
I write another poem and tell Skye that I’m trying to impress Yuri this time around. This is a lie, because I’m just choosing my own words knowing that they’ll impress Yuri anyway and I want Skye to think that I’m giving the game a fair chance.
I briefly consider the meta-narrative that I’ve just created, and think no more of it.
The club meets again the next day.
Doki Doki Literature Club: The Only Constant Is Change
It’s different this time. Monika says she’s had an epiphany and that we should all read our poems in a festival that’s happening after the weekend. The girls have a brief argument about who I should work with preparing for the festival.
Surprising nobody, I choose to work with Yuri. I’m hoping there’s no romance because that would be awkward as fuck, but I meant what I told Skye at the start of the game: I’m fascinated by the character of Yuri and I want to know her secret. Yuri agrees to work with me.
This is when I begin to truly try to guess what’s going to happen in the game, because so far I’ve seen no real sign of darkness or child-unfriendly content.
I go wild with speculation. The club is actually a cult and they’re going to sacrifice me. One or more of the girls are ghosts. We’re all trapped in hell because my character did something horrible that involved the other three.
Skye doesn’t let on, but one of those guesses is almost close.
The next day of the game takes place on a Sunday, when Yuri is going to visit me. First though, I visit Sayori and she confesses her love to me. I tell her that I don’t feel the same way but I will always care about her and I’ll make sure nobody ever hurts her. Unsurprisingly, this upsets her even more and she asks me to leave, which I do.
Yuri visits me so we can work on the festival preparations.
I find out her secret: She likes knives. Like, she REALLY likes knives. It’s implied that she cuts herself, but there’s only evidence – no proof.
The next day the festival activities begin. Sayori isn’t there. Monika berates me for not dealing with Sayori’s confession appropriately. She says I’ve ‘left her hanging’ and suggests I go and check on her.
My hackles raise (in real life) and I don’t even know why.
Some time over the last 15 minutes, I’ve begun reading the text very quickly. Skye notes that I’m leaning toward the screen: I’m clearly invested now.
I’m almost panicking as I smash the space bar so I can see if Sayori’s okay. I’ve begun to appreciate her happy-go-lucky attitude and I don’t want her to feel bad. I want to let her know that there are better guys to fall for than Dingo. I want to apologize for reacting the way I did, I want to explain that I’d just never thought of her like that and that’s not her fault and that being a teen is a fucking rough time because you’re expected to be able to deal with everything even though you’re still basically just a kid.
But I don’t get to tell her that. I don’t get to tell her anything.
Because she’s hanging from the ceiling.
That was when I decided that I hate Monika.
Well, that’s it, I guess. The game’s over.
I’m sent back to the start menu and I think to myself ‘Well, that was depressing as fuck’.
I look at Skye as if to say: ‘Is that all?’
She nods toward the screen.
It’s glitching out.
Doki Doki Literature Club: Change Is The Only Constant
The game begins again, but this time there’s no Sayori. It’s like she’s been removed from the entire world. According to the text I’m reading onscreen, my character doesn’t even remember that she ever existed.
Skye tells me to check my install folder.
There are 3 files in the character folder:
That should have been my second clue. It wasn’t.
Disappointed that I still haven’t learnt anything about making cupcakes, I play the game as I did before – concentrating on Yuri to see what else I can learn about her.
The game plays like it did before (making poems, showing them to the club) with one major exception: There are constant graphical glitches and the music seems off somehow, as if one of the instruments are out of tune.
The text is also much harsher. A lot of the friendly banter has turned into text book examples of toxic femininity. Body shaming becomes commonplace in the classroom scenes, and the overall atmosphere is one of petty viciousness.
A picture of Sayori hanging from her ceiling randomly appears on the classroom noticeboard in the background. Nobody in the game comments on it.
I get the opportunity to tell Yuri that I find her fascinating. She responds by proving her love to me (which isn’t what I meant when I said that, but okay) by piercing her heart and stomach with one of her beloved knives.
until her body crumples on the floor, lifeless.
My character remains in shock for the entire weekend and we’re – I’m – still there when the school opens to prepare for the festival.
Natsuki isn’t there yet, just Monika. Monika doesn’t even seem to notice Yuri’s corpse beyond a glib off-handed comment that cements my hatred for her.
I check the install folder, and sure enough: yuri.chr has been deleted.
Doki Doki Literature Club: Constantly Changing
The game restarts.
It doesn’t take long until I’m asked to choose between showing my poem to Natsuki or Monika.
The name Natsuki doesn’t actually appear – just Monika.
I click on it.
The world melts around us both, and the classroom appears to be floating in a hellish void. Monika gloats about deleting the other girls.
Not killing: Deleting.
She calls me Strontium Dingo.
I didn’t give her that information, I only entered the name ‘Dingo’. I’m freaked out for a moment, but I realise she’s simply used my Steam profile name. I honestly wish that moment had lasted longer, because it was strangely delicious.
Monika tells me she’s aware that DDLC is a game, and not to be angry at her, and in fact I should be happy that she loves me so much that she removed the others from the gameworld so we can spend eternity together.
I close the game in disgust and make my way to the character folder on my hard drive.
There’s just one file: monika.chr.
I have literally never enjoyed deleting a file so much in my entire life.
Skye, who surprises me by existing (because I was so invested in the game by this point), says: ‘Wow, it took me a lot longer to think of doing that, good job!’
Doki Doki Literature Club: The End
I restart the game, and Monika appears to have taken it personally: She’s angry I deleted her file. She soon relents and I’m allowed to play the game without her.
I’m happy to see Sayori again. There’s so much I want to say to her! But before too long, she goes power mad and begins acting in a manner that makes Monika seem entirely reasonable in comparison.
Monika takes over again and apologizes for her behaviour. She explains that being a video game character was the epiphany she had the week before the festival, and she didn’t want the girls (or me) to suffer for eternity, so she did her best to give them all quick deaths.
But she shows some maturity and says that it was wrong of her to try to control them, and that she’ll just let things happen naturally from now on.
I show some maturity myself and choose to replace my hatred for her with pity, if not empathy. Aren’t we all trapped in a world, doing our best, failing, hurting others while trying to help them, and still trying to do our best regardless of some of our horrible past decisions?
But she lied, because this is what I see when I try to restart the game, which means I need to reinstall it (or at least verify my cache on the Steam properties for the game):
This isn’t a new game, and it’s not a proper end.
It’s simply an afterimage of a broken world filled with imperfect characters.
And it’s absolutely perfect.
Thank you for reading this article, it’s one of the hardest I’ve ever chosen to write and I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read it. Fun Fact: Skye assures me that, had I gone with Natsuki, I could have actually learnt how to make cupcakes.