Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC) is a visual novel dating simulator developed by Team Salvato using the Ren’Py game engine (Team Salvato, 2017). DDLC mainly consists of still images and dialogue between the player and its characters to develop its plot, with a bright soundtrack and color scheme complimenting the cute aesthetic of the game; doki doki is a Japanese mimetic word referencing the sound of a heart beating, signalling excitement (PuniPuniJapan, 2012). Additionally, DDLC begins with the warning “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed” (Team Salvato, 2017), a paratextual device that is discordant with the aesthetic of the rest of the game and is intended as a trigger warning (Barnabé, 2018). The game follows the male protagonist as he interacts with several girls in his school’s literature club, many of which he can date.
The girls all have stereotypical personalities that coincide with the genre: there is Sayori, the protagonist’s childhood friend, Natsuki, the tsundere (an initially cold character who warms up over time), Yuri, the dandere (a silent character who comes out of their shell near the person they like), and Monika, the only character that is undateable and which the protagonist views as out of his league (Barnabé, 2018). DDLC features limited interaction features such as skipping forwards through text and minimal branching narrative paths. It also features a poetry writing minigame. The player chooses words which correspond with each of the datable characters and unlocks intimate moments with the character they chose the most corresponding words for. Words range from ‘happiness’ to ‘death’.
Partway through DDLC the player is faced with the invasion of glitches that pervade the interface and the confines of the protagonist, and which “manipulate[s] the player’s expectations of the boundaries of the diegesis” (Barkman, 2020). As the glitches become more pervasive, the reader is forced to delve into the game’s computer files, and the Ren’Py engine is used to deliver key plot points (Antioquia, 2018). Through this metalepsis, “the game invites the player to fetch information outside its own frame. DDLC explicitly floods the paratext ... and, in doing so, it encourages the player to search for meaning out of the device” (Barnabe, 2018). The game files also reveal other secrets, puzzles, or images throughout the game at various times, and these usually require deciphering or re-translating through various computer languages (Barnabé, 2018). Furthermore, “the ‘glitches’... disempower the player, serving to create a feeling of impotence and blindness” (Antioquia, 2018). The more the game glitches, the less options the player has interacting with the game and the facade of their narrative choices breaks down; they can do no more than experience the game breaking around them. This programmed glitching is used not only to break the fourth wall, but is integral to narrative progression, and is a fairly new use of the mechanism (Antioquia, 2018). For example, like in DDLC, Undertale (Fox, 2015) uses glitches as a shorthand narrative for the game’s final fight to show the antagonist at their most powerful (Antioquia, 2018).
Additionally, DDLC subverts the hegemonic tropes of the stereotypical dating simulator, with the player losing the illusion of interactivity and control of their actions (Barnabé, 2018; Antioquia, 2018). Although the characters are designed to fall in love with the protagonist and through proxy the player through the inputting of correct choices, the juxtaposing of the uncanny with the aesthetic of a dating simulator, “create[s] an environment wherein the player is sexually and narratively castrated” and “ represents a violent disruption in power dynamics established by the tropes of the form and genre” (Antioquia, 2018). This disruption is enhanced by DDLC first representing itself as the archetypal dating simulator, settling the player into its conventions before breaking the pattern it has created (Antioquia, 2018). Additionally, the introduction of glitches makes the player call into question whether they are experiencing part of the game or the machine they are playing on malfunctioning, which breaks “the hegemonic structure of the separation between game and reality” (Antioquia, 2018). In this way DDLC becomes a defiant text that defines itself without the input of the player, making the game “horrific not because it makes the player uncertain of reality, but because it removes their agency in it—or at the very least, it appears to do so” (Antioquia, 2018).
Finally, DDLC calls into question the “authorial agency and primacy not only in an interactive medium but also in a greater literary tradition constructed and held up by inescapable mythic archetypes” (Antioquia, 2018).
This entry was composed as a part of Dr. Astrid Ensslin’s course, DH 510: Digital Fictions, at the University of Alberta, in February 2020.
Antiquoia, M. J. A. (2018). Exposing Hegemonies and Disrupting Codes in Doki Doki Literature Club!. Journal of English Studies and Comparative Literature, 17. https://www.tmc.upd.edu.ph/index.php/jescl/article/view/6792
Barkman, C. (2020). Not that kind of Level: Metalepsis and Narrative Levels in Pony Island and Doki Doki Literature Club. In the Proceedings of DiGRA Conference Australia 2020. http://digraa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/DiGRAA_2020_paper_1.pdf
Barnabé, F. (2018). The Playful Function of Paratext in Visual Novels: The Case of Doki Doki Literature Club!. Presented at Mechademia Kyoto Conference 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2268/223821
Fox, T. (2015). Undertale. PC game. Toby Fox. Retrieved from https://undertale.com/
N/A. (2012). Japanese Mimetic Words: Doki Doki どきどき. PuniPuniJapan. Retrieved February 16, 2020 from www.punipunijapan.com/mimetic-words-dokidoki/
Salvato, D. (2017). Doki Doki Literature Club!. PC game. Team Salvato. Retrieved from https://ddlc.moe/