Doki Doki Literature Club and How Games Can Mess with Your Head

Warning:  Spoilers ahead

Toward the end of last year, I kept seeing Doki Doki Literature Club pop up on best of lists. Somehow, this free game that appeared to be an anime dating sim was leaving its mark on one of the best years ever in gaming. After finally realizing that I could download Steam on my Mac, I decided to give it a try and see what everyone was raving about.  I had heard nothing was as it seems in this game and that it would mess with your head, so I did not go in completely blind. But nothing could have prepared me (or my poor friend Trey who I later convinced to play and whose reaction is captured at the end) for what was to come.

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Been there

Despite a warning for those suffering from depression and anxiety playing before you even start the game, the only way this game was messing with my head at the onset was making me feel a little bit like a perv playing an anime dating sim. You begin by meeting the four girls in the literature club and writing a poem tailored toward one of them to share the following day. Once you begin sharing your poems, though, it becomes apparent that there is a lot more going on. Your friend Sayori’s poem is clearly about depression, and the game takes a sharp turn. You’re now spending moments getting closer to whoever liked your poem the best, but there’s a sense of unease because you know it’s increasingly making Sayori more and more upset.

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I now had a choice to make. It was time to prove to Sayori that I cared about her and was going to help her get better, but she didn’t see things that way. After giving possibly the best explanation of what depression is like that’s ever been in a video game, Sayori insists that you don’t try to save her and that there’s nothing you can do. But this is a video game after all, and there’s always a way to win in those.

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Warning: Major spoilers that you should avoid if you ever plan to play the game ahead.

It turns out, however, that there is no way to win this one. When Sayori doesn’t show up for the big festival and you go to check on her, I was in no way prepared for what I was going to find. Sayori had killed herself and the game was making me feel like I was to blame. What if I had chosen a different option the last time we spoke? It was the most gutted I had felt from a video game since Aerith’s surprise death in Final Fantasy VII, and I had spent probably over a dozen hours bonding with her and a mere two with Sayori. It was ok, though, I had a save file, so I could just go back to before that conversation. As much as I wanted to hit restart, I couldn’t. My save file was now corrupted and the text on the screen was glitching out. I would have to start a new game.

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Immediately, it was clear that this new game was not in any way like the first go-round. Strange glitches started happening whenever Sayori should have been mentioned. The Literature Club now consisted of just three people, and text was frequently overwritten with what seemed to be cries for help. The game was now openly antagonizing me, the player, not the character. My mouse was being forced to gravitate to answers I did not want to select, and all of the characters were now far more agitated with the initial attempts at being cute replaced by fighting, cursing, and dark secrets coming to light. Following the disturbing death of another character, what’s going on becomes clear. The club’s president, Monika, has become self aware that she is in a game, and she has tweaked the other character’s code to ensure that you pick her to be with. You find yourself stuck in an endless loop where it’s just you and Monika with no clear way out. You cannot save or load. It’s just the two of you for eternity.

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Games messing with your head and breaking the fourth wall are nothing new. The most famous example is probably Psycho Mantis reading your save files in Metal Gear Solid or the old 1993 X-men game on Sega Genesis where you keep getting told to reset and can’t get out of the stage until you literally hit reset on your system. Doki Doki Literature Club takes this to an entirely new level, however. As Monika explains how she deleted the other girls so you could be together forever, it becomes clear what you must do. You have to find her game files and remove her from the game.

Following deletion, the game glitches again to a third play-through where everything finally seems to be happy. Monika is gone and all of your old friends are back. Even Sayori seems to no longer be suffering from overwhelming depression. But then the first day ends, and Sayori thanks you for getting rid of Monika. It turns out the club leader is destined to always become self-aware, and the remnants of Monika still in the source code decides the game itself must be deleted to save the vicious cycle from repeating. As the credits roll, you hear the first voice in the entire game as Monika plays a truly haunting song on the piano and all the images begin to slowly erase themselves. There is no starting a new game after this because the files are gone. All you get is a note from the devs and an error message (well that, and the inability to sleep for the next few hours as your brain tries to process all that just happened).

DDLC screwed with my brain in a mere 4 hours more than anything has in a long time. I find myself caught between wanting to recommend all of my friends play it so we can talk about it and wanting to spare them that jarring experience. Hell, I even waited over a week to publish this post until I got feedback from another human on their experience with the game. This horror game will stick with me for a long time, and by subverting my expectations at every turn, it proved why it belongs to be mentioned among the best games of 2017. Fortunately for me and you readers, Trey sent me repeated chats throughout his blind play-through of the game which were by far the highlight of my week.

Here they are for your enjoyment:


I’m playing doki doki
and I have a strong feeling
that my choices are leading to a character suicide
i dont want you to affirm or deny
but yeah, so far I think every character is psychologially damaged somehow


I will just enjoy reading your reactions but comment in no way
it was somewhat obvious from the first poems, and continued.  the festival is about to happen
I’ve chosen to pursue yuri on this playthrough
I also chose Yuri
god damnit
the main character responses to sayori’s pain
are not conducive to preventing suicide
“i just don’t want you to hurt anymore”
oh man
it’s so hard to say “you’ll always be my dearest friend”
especially because i feel like im just going to push her over the edge.  similarly, yuri is clearly a cutter
this shit is heavy
with the lighthearted music
oh jesus the club president said “you kind of left her hanging”
this game is giving me anxiety about the game
the game corrupts your save file?!?!
I tried to load to see if changing would do anything, but it also seemed like Monika was pushing her to suicide
“i’ve always walked to school alone”
the interesting thing was that when I tried to load my game, it said file corruped, missing Sayuri.chr
Yes very interesting
do i just play the game until every character dies?
it’s also interesting in that Sayuri said or implied she just wanted the world to be happy without her
and for her friends to be happy
secret poem!
oh shit am i reading yuri’s thoughts?
i didn’t really expect a post game 
i kinda expected a choose your own adventure where the outcome always is tragic
and the point of the game was just futility
but now I’m a bit off the rails.  
monika’s poem definitely changed
I really hope you’re planning to beat it completely today. I have a feeling since you’ve passed the first play through you won’t stop unless parental duties take over
unfortunately i have shit I have to do
didn’t realize i’d get this caught up in this game
I did it all in two nights. Played up until day before festival then finished it all next day
ah nice
yuri’s 2nd poem the 2nd time
fucking wow
Some of the poems are pretty intense
Experimental Gearbox
was the 2nd one
Sayori’s bottle of sunshine poem
i like that monika is selling herself as not fucked up
taking the happy thoughts out of her head
at that moment
I was legit distraught when I came upon her body
I figured it would happen no matter what
the depression, that poem
some things she says
and the main character word choice
plus sayori hints that monika told her what to do
which I was like, that’s fucked, she’s getting her to hang herself
Monika is the fucking game itself
save me load me
I didn’t get it the first time
it says delete her
instead of load me
yeah monika is the game as jealous girlfriend
I’m sure I don’t quite have it right
but there’s lots of evidence
the piano music
she’s late b/c playing piano
telling characters what to do, always knowing about them
it’s like the reversal of gf jealous about games
it’s funny, you are basically getting to hear my internal monologue as I attempt to understand/figure out the game as I play
oh shit
I never noticed monika’s head/graphic bounce from below the screen
on poem making
That’s a play through 2 exclusive
omfg Just Monika
I have actual shit to do
before picking up logan
this is getting in the way for sure
lol the save option went away…. nooooooo how will I get to see all the options……
the mouse forces monika
yuri no
Oof yeah…
shit, this might be an endless loop
Not endless..
Several minutes of skipping
ah, there
Congrats you just spent the entire weekend locked in a room with a dead body!
it pulled my steam account name
i wonder if you could start the game for the first time
and just delete the monika character
i havent checked my local files
to see if it’s actually deleted
but my intuition tells me it’s actually missing those characters now
I had the same debate
it actually acknowledges deleting her file
this obsessive gf ending is long
i wonder if the ending is just me closing the game of my own choice
Or maybe think about some of your previous thoughts
deleting her
haha there’s no point in saving, i’m not going anywhere
Also had the same debate
I wonder also
if you had saved copies of other characters
if you could just paste them in the folder
the song ending
I assume this is the ending
this is good
fuck it reminds me of the portal ending
yeah the credits and game are deleting itself
that was satisfying
what a cool experience
it definitely felt like an anime porn game at first
I get why I saw it on a bunch of top 10 lists
Yeah I felt a little uncomfortable at first
but then it’s like 3 playthroughs, an interact outside the game by delting monika (which reminds me of Xmen on Sega (editor’s note: I was immensely happy to see Trey remembered Xmen, too) where you had to actually press the console reset button)
that was pretty neat
definitely a bit twisted but satisfying in the end
the song that has been getting progressively better throughout the game
the possessive game itself
fucking cool
i loved the lyrics to the song
but yeah, it leaves me with a satisfying end song and a surprising, but similar feeling to portal’s ending



And that is why I love video games so damn much.

2 thoughts on “Doki Doki Literature Club and How Games Can Mess with Your Head

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