Happy New Year! I have a lot of recent personal developments I should probably be unpacking, but instead I’m going to talk about games. Hooray!
I finally played Doki Doki Literature Club for the first time a couple of weeks ago, binging the whole thing in one night. Then I took a week to recover as I delved into some of the theories on the game behind the game (more on that later). Then I played it again for the good(ish) ending, picking away at it over the course of a few days.
A few observations are under the jump. Needless to say, there will be spoilers.
• While none of the major events were spoiled for me, I did go in with a general awareness that things were going to go Very Wrong, and that Monika was in some way at fault. Even without that knowledge, though, I think I would have seen it coming. The foreshadowing is thick in this game.
Like, really thick.
As a game ostensibly about literature, DDLC practices what it preaches, though not in the way you might expect. The poem-writing mechanic is a bit of an afterthought, but a huge chunk of the game’s dialogue seems to be a metacommentary on both its narrative and its creation process. It’s a lot of fun to play (and replay) with a writer’s eye.
• I have to admit, I cringed inwardly when Sayori showed up the first time. I have a lot of trouble with the “genki girl” archetype, mostly because as an impressionable teenager, I made a point of forcing myself into that mold in ways that nearly broke me. I figured if I could always be cheery and helpful and the butt of the joke around others, no one would notice my crushing depression and I’d feel like less of a burden on them.
Imagine my surprise when Sayori turned out to be a brutal deconstruction of exactly that behavior. The oversleeping and messiness you associate with all your favorite magical girl protagonists? Yeah, no, those are giant fuckin’ red flags, and you of all people should goddamn well know better. Being forced to realize that you made exactly the same mistake about a fictional character as the people in your life have often made about you is deeply uncomfortable, to say the least. The inner lives of teenage girls are all too easily dismissed, and I guess even those of us who have been through it and continue to explore it in our writing still have blind spots in that regard.
• As has been extensively discussed, DDLC appears to have ARG elements hidden in its game files. Check out the decryptions of the character files, along with a photomanipulation of one of the “special” poems that was mostly blacked out in the game. Many have speculated that these tie both to Yuri’s (fictional) book Portrait of Markov and to a potential future project by Team Salvato.
I was incredibly here for this and have been obsessively hitting “view page source” on every connected webpage with little success (This Is Not a Puzzle and Notpron, you have failed me again). However, game creator Dan Salvato is currently denying that there’s any ARG connected to DDLC, or that future projects will be tied to it in any way. That said, all of this seems suspiciously intricate for a few Easter eggs, and the leadup and promotion for DDLC were pretty misleading too…
If my wishful thinking is true and this does turn out to be a gambit, a few other things I’d keep an eye out for: “Atmosphere” was way too much of an arc word to not be Chekhov gunning. Something is definitely up with hxppythxughts.png, though no one seems to have found anything yet, myself included. People are dismissing the old creepypasta (written by Dan Salvato) in Yuri.chr as unrelated. Is it, though? And is the “PM” Monika refers to in one of her “corrupted” game-opening messages really Project M as people have assumed?
• While I did really enjoy DDLC, I feel like some people have overstated its innovation. In truth, a lot of games have covered the same ground, though few have brought together quite the same elements, nor with such panache.
If you’re looking to go down the rabbit hole, here are some recommendations for games that have tried similar things. (Also, I know at least one other game I’ve played has pulled the “use your computer’s name to address you directly” trick, but I’m completely blanking on what it was. I might be conflating it with a couple of SCPs that pull your username…)
Imscared (free on Game Jolt with a new version now available on Steam): This is the first game I encountered that “creates” and messes with its own files as you play it. It uses this to great effect; if you were into the fourth-wall-shattering horror and strange jump scares of DDLC, Imscared takes it up to eleven. The deliberately rough graphics only add to the charm/primal terror. I haven’t played the Steam version yet, and I’m excited to revisit and see what, if anything, has changed.
Shade (play online): An interactive fiction classic that starts straightforward and takes a turn for the existentialist, not unlike DDLC. I can’t say much about it without spoilers, but it’s usually one of my first recommendations in the genre for good reason. It doesn’t take long to play, but you’ll be thinking about it for a while.
One Chance (play online): You like irreversible consequences? We’ve got irreversible consequences. Warning for Flash.
I’ve seen a few people mourning that DDLC’s left turn into horror was a wasted opportunity to explore the girls’ mental health concerns and personal issues sympathetically, rather than using them as tools to be exploited by Monika. I’ve been trying to think of a visual novel/dating sim that does so and am coming up empty. The only one I can think of is one I can’t recommend in good faith, since while it does do some interesting things with similar topics, it has capital-P Problems. If you know of any that fit the bill, let me know!
I’ve also finally gotten around to getting a few games I’ve been dying to play for ages, like Undertale and Pony Island and, uh, Hatoful Boyfriend. I get the impression some of these may be in a similar vein to DDLC. Updates forthcoming…