Doki Doki Literature Club by Team Salvato is something akin to an internet sensation. This seemingly innocuous dating simulator set in an average high school isn't too out of ordinary should you be used to the genre. Players are presented with a choice of four girls to flirt with, each of whom possess their own unique characteristics. There's the bouncy and lively Sayori, the quiet and reserved Yuri, the petite and feisty Natsuki, and the cheerful and endearing Monika. You're free to romance any girl that suits your fancy, letting them come in close to read stories together or come over to your house to help you run some errands. Yup, it's your pretty standard dating sim affair, but there's one catch…
This game is insane.
Left and right, Doki Doki Literature Club throws twists and turns that will leave you dizzy, confused, and downright depressed. It's the type of title that you really have to play to see what I mean, though I do advise that should you be struggling with mental health issues, this is not something you'd like to toy around with. Indeed, the game doesn't tackle the topic very sensitively like in the vein of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. Mental health is more of a crux on which Doki Doki spins its disturbing premise on, and though the sensationalism is very apparent by now (the game's been downloaded over one million times at the time of this writing), there's really no depth or value to be found here regarding mental health.
Then why the bold headline? For me, the appeal of Doki Doki Literature Club comes in how it brings people together and does so while keeping the modern gaming landscape in mind. It's almost as if the game was made to be streamed by a high profile YouTuber as dozens of curious onlookers watched horrors unfold right before their very eyes. Audiences reacted with their favorite personalities on the internet, then went searching for more information as to what exactly this title is together.
As pointed out by two Game Theory videos, this curious exploration led to a bevy of shocking revelations. It may very well be an intricate advertisement for a much more elaborate game or a metaphoric story for something seriously sinister going on in another world. One of the girls may very well be the product of a telekinetic human genome experiment gone completely wrong. As it stands, however, there also are plenty of details to analyze in the characters themselves as they're presented to us over the course of the title.
Indeed, each hides a vulnerability that's far from just cosmetic, as there are cases of depression, obsession, psychosis, and more hidden between those cute faces. It's traumatic in a way and makes me think if people in my own life suffer from similar cases and are just really good at covering it all up. This being noted, it's also important to keep in mind what I said earlier. Doki Doki isn't so much an exploration of mental health as it is a game about uncovering a hidden truth.
There's also the mechanics of the game itself to talk about. In order to find the true ending, players are encouraged to actually mess around with the title's files which, in this day and age, isn't too unheard of, though it may or may not be used in positive circumstances. It's an added level of immersion, if you will, one that not too many games would be eager to actively entice players to explore. Add in the messages hidden within various codes of texts and a bigger, unforeseen picture unravels that will leave people memorized at the possibilities that can be uncovered from a series of ones and zeros.
To put quite simply, Doki Doki Literature Club has managed to invade my mind in ways that I myself can't really put into proper words. Though the sensationalism is there, the gruesomeness of it all doesn't exactly make a lasting impression on me (if anything, the overall poor treatment of mental health here detracts from the experience). What sticks with me is how a dating sim has managed to enthrall media personalities and casual fans of gaming alike, giving birth to rampart theories about the true nature of it all and whether or not Team Salvato has even more dastardly content up its sleeves.
This game about romancing four cute, seemingly innocuous high students has become much larger than just a cheap anime girl cash-in, and it's for this reason that I can't wait to see what Doki Doki Literature Club becomes in 2018 and beyond.