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The Stories We Play: Doki Doki Literature Club

Visual Novels are a small but growing subset of video games. These games add small interactive elements but mainly focus on telling a cohesive narrative story. The best visual novels, like Doki Doki Literature Club, combine strong narratives with game mechanics and visuals that couldn’t be realized in a traditional book.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel that layers horror elements under a cutesy dating sim facade. The game begins with you roleplaying a high school student during his first days in the after-school literature club.

Dating Sim

Photo Credit: Team Salvato

The story of Doki Doki Literature Club begins innocuous enough. You play a young man in a literature club with four other female members. The game gives you the illusion of choice in romancing these characters, but in reality, your choices are pretty linear.

Dating sims allow players to roleplay relationships. Making choices based on the connection one has to the fictional characters and “gamifying” romance. The genre has become more popular recently, especially in the Japanese market. And Doki Doki Literature Club presents itself as a standard run-of-the-mill dating sim.

Horror Lying Beneath

Photo Credit: Team Salvato

The game takes a sharp turn at the end of your first playthrough. Regardless of your choices, a main romanceable character will die suddenly, causing the game to end and send you back to the main selection screen. You can immediately start the game again, but everything is just slightly different.

The character who died is no longer in the game. You are not given a choice to select different options and save her; you can only move forward with the Literature club, which now consists of only three girls. As you advance through the second playthrough, things become more bizarre. It’s almost as if someone else is controlling your gaming experience.

Breaking The Fourth Wall

Photo Credit: Team Salvato

The fourth wall is a concept that dates back to the 16th century. It refers to the imaginary wall between an audience and the actors on stage. “Breaking the fourth wall” is when an actor directly addresses the audience—shattering the illusion of viewing a play, watching a movie, or even playing a video game.

Video games have toyed with the notion of the fourth wall before Doki Doki. The Stanley Parable is a short experience that executes fourth wall breaks exceptionally, but Doki Doki stands out for its genre-bending fourth wall break.

The Game That Plays You

Photo Credit: Team Salvato

What begins as a cutesy dating sim turns into a surrealist horror trip. The leader of the Literature club reveals to the player that she has been pulling the strings all along. Sabotaging the relationships you make, deleting characters from the game until she is the only romanceable character left.

The only way to finish the game and roll credits is to follow the same rules as the character pulling all the strings. You cannot win by romancing a character. You must go into the game’s files and delete her character. This shift in playstyle, going from basic visual novel to minor code cracking, sets Doki Doki Literature Club apart from its many contemporaries.

Disillusionment

Photo Credit: Team Salvato

Doki Doki Literature Club acts not just as a great narrative but as a commentary on how we interact with media. By presenting an in-game character obsessed with you, the player, the game forces us to reflect on how we perceive our favorite video game characters.

Female representation in games has long been subject to the male gaze. From Samus Aran appearing in a bikini to Laura Crofts over exaggerated pixelated assets, female video game characters are often over-sexualized. Doki Doki Literature Club flips the narrative, sexualizing the player from an NPC point of view. The fact that this squarely puts the game into the horror genre is not lost on us here at BossLevelGamer.

Fetishizing and sexualizing video game characters may feel innocuous, but it can lead to a toxic culture. This toxic culture culminated in 2014’s “Gamergate,” and while the medium has made some strides since then, there are still gatekeepers attempting to keep the hobby from those they deem less worthy.

Doki Doki Literature Club forces the players into a role they never thought they would be in. The game holds a mirror up to the toxic male gaze culture and forces the player to sit in the chair of those whom the culture has hurt. It’s an exceptional way to flip the narrative and one that is made better by adding that extra layer of interactivity.

Author

  • Joe Moore

    Joe Moore is a freelance writer at bosslevelgamer. He can usually be found listening to pop-punk, playing story-driven games, eating chipotle, or all three at once.

Written by Joe Moore

Joe Moore is a freelance writer at bosslevelgamer. He can usually be found listening to pop-punk, playing story-driven games, eating chipotle, or all three at once.

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