A closer look at the Doki Doki Literature Club

03 December 2018

What it is 

Doki Doki Literature Club is a “visual novel” that, from the outside, looks like any other anime-style computer game.  In the first 3 months following its release (September 2017), it was downloaded over one million times - and has since gained a cult like-status with gamers.

The game starts as a “dating simulation” and follows a male high-school student who joins a school’s literature club, interacting with its four female members.  The player is encouraged to choose a girl to write a poem for and, depending on their choices, may be drawn closer to the club’s seemingly charming members.  The majority of the gameplay consists of the player reading the game’s story with little impact on what direction the plot takes although, at certain points, the player (who is addressed by name throughout) can choose what happens to different characters.  About 90 minutes in, the game leads the player to the shocking and emotional suicide of one of the girls, and the plot turns into a mystery around this.

At the point of her suicide, the player is sent back to the main menu and the game seems to glitch, with all previously saved files erased, then restarts.  However, when the game is started again the story is different and packed with more graphic, dark scenes. This leaves the player questioning whether the game's shift is due to a technical fault with their computer, or if it was planned all along. From this point the gamer is often addressed directly by the characters, who make it known that they are aware of how they exist within the game.  Unsettling events begin occurring, such as depictions of self-harm, suicide and violence, with apparitions of the dead girl appearing at points in pixilated form.

Why children and young people like it

Many are intrigued to try the game due to comments from others on social media, and there can be peer pressure to get involved.

Seemingly light hearted and fun at the outset, it’s only when players have been drawn in that they begin to encounter the darker aspects of the game.  

The culture around the game on social media is rich enough to gain an insight into the darker aspects of it; there’s even a soundtrack that’s available on many platforms including Youtube, Spotify and Apple Music.  Songs are themed around the different emotions within the game, meaning that players can always be exposed to its ideologies, even when they are not actively playing. For children specifically, this may result in them becoming even more invested in the game’s content and further blurring the lines between their character in the virtual game and their real-life self. 

Basic markers for this trend

Words such as 'DDLC', 'Doki' and 'ddlcclub' are used to describe the game.  There are a number of characters., including 'Yuri', 'Sayori', 'Nasuki' and 'Monika', the latter being the president of the club.  Players are encouraged to choose a 'Team' which represents who they have loyalty to e.g. they may refer to themselves as 'TeamMonika' or 'TeamSayori'.  There are also a number of key words based around poems that the user is told to construct during the game, as well as lyrics within the sound tracks.


Why it’s on our radar

  • Doki Doki has been singled out as being particularly disturbing to children and young people because of the way it blurs the lines between the game's fictitious story and real life - known as "breaking the fourth wall".
  • Due to the dark psychological nature of the game it can often be some of the most vulnerable people who are attracted to playing it - those who might already be struggling with their mental health.
  • It has been linked to three suicides in the UK earlier this year.

This game takes hours to play and potentially appeals to quieter and more conscientious personality types that can often go 'under the radar'

The low down

  • This free-to-play play interactive psychological horror game is easy to access and can be played on both Mac and PC. 

  • The game suggests a minimum age of 13 and comes with a warning (which appears after the game has been installed) that it contains “highly disturbing content” and is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.  At no point is the age of the gamer verified.

  • There is no PEGI rating because it isn’t sold on Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo; or in Apple or Android stores.

  • With adult language and shocking scenes, it would get a minimum of a PEGI 16 rating if it was released on any of these platforms or sold in physical form.

  • This is a very mature game: essentially like a very long horror film that will upset and disturb many gamers. 

  • It starts out as a “dating simulator” but reveals itself to be a darker, scarier mystery revolving around suicide.

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