Content Warning: This article has mentions of self-harm, suicide, child abuse, horror, and trauma in DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB.

Anyone who watches live reactions, game playthroughs or even meme compilations has likely heard of DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. The free-to-play game presents itself as a dating simulator. For those unfamiliar with the genre, dating simulators typically involve playing as a male protagonist. As the young male character, you interact with several other girls. Each has a unique personality and a series of actions that progress along a timeline. Acting in certain ways can produce different ‘endings’, where the protagonist male gets any one of the girls to fall in love with him. For dedicated players, there are tons of possible secret endings, like making every girl fall in love with you or finding bonus scenes. This is what a normal dating simulator is like. DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB, however, is a very different sort of game.

To call it a dating simulator is disingenuous. The game begins with standard dating elements but quickly progresses into a psychological thriller and horror narrative. The main character is starting a new school year and looking for clubs to join. After his childhood friend Sayori persuades him to try the Literature Club, he meets the other characters in the game, three other girls.

What begins as a romance gets incredibly dark and incredibly twisted. Now, that dark side is being examined in relation to the February suicide of 15-year-old Ben Walmsley in England. Walmsley’s father alleges that DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB dragged his son in. By playing the game, he claims that Ben’s mental state was so harmed that he decided to harm himself.

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Is the Game Really that Bad?

Short answer? Yes, absolutely. Playing through it myself several months ago, I knew instantly that this wasn’t a standard dating simulator. The game’s page on Steam has several warnings about horror. “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed” is plastered several times across trailers and the download page. Once the game starts up, you see these warnings again.

On top of that, the game forces you to verify your age before the opening scenes begin. As someone who has played, I don’t know if there’s much more the game could have done short of ruining the storyline. Part of the game’s popularity is the eerie, creepy way it shifts from a dating simulator to horror game. The game’s main ‘villain’ is presented as a sentient character who modifies existing files and writes new ones, giving the appearance of controlling your computer.

DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB features four female love interests.
The girls of the game, Sayori, Yuri, Monika, and Natsuki | Image: DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! Official Website

When Free-to-Play Becomes Problematic

This is an even bigger deal because the game is free. There is zero cost to play, the file isn’t too big for downloading, and any computer can run it. So not only is the game’s content disturbing, but it’s readily available. No amount of warning could prepare for the impact that contrasting romance with horror causes. The game is so frightening because it lulls you into a false sense of normalcy. It isn’t until about an hour into a normal playthrough that most players encounter any of the horror elements. These start as simple things. Weird songs, strange angles, and suddenly evil dialogue are common. It isn’t until later that suicide, murder, and self-harm fill every moment of gameplay.

Gore is something a lot of players can deal with. But mixing that gore with the anxiety of the unknown and contrasting it with “romance” makes it extreme. That feeling is uncanny, and the reason for the game’s cult following. Access, humor, and gaming culture’s recent desensitivity to legitimately disturbing violence exacerbate the risks.

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Gaming and Addiction

This following is part of the massive popularity of ‘reaction videos’ recently. Rather than play the games themselves, a lot of people have taken to watching someone else play for hours. Reaction videos are free to watch on platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The gaming streams on both of those sites allow content creators to massively broadcast gaming videos instantly. People recommend DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB because they want to see that reaction. The culture of gaming is now in a form that ignores the context of the reaction in favor of its quality.

DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB character Natsuki brooding in the game.
Yuri’s suicide provokes fear from most and makes for a very popular reaction video | Image: DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! Official Website

Following Walmsley’s death, warnings went out to several nearby schools and students’ parents. It’s unlikely that the game independently caused him to take his own life. But it certainly didn’t help and may have pushed him over the edge. According to its creators, the game is designed to shock players. The bait-and-switch narrative categorizes itself as horror but intentionally underplays it until you’re deep into the game. Plus, due to the player’s own perceived role in causing suicide within the game, and the girls’ use of it as a tool of catharsis, it may stop some players from seeking help or treatment.

Shows like 13 REASONS WHY have prompted some degree of focus on research concerning suicide. Empirical evidence has shown that single instances of trauma often propagate across friend groups or schools. Suicide clusters and mimicry are legitimate concerns that DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB likely contributes to.

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What’s the Solution to DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB?

The solution is to make sure kids and people with relevant triggers aren’t anywhere near this game. It’s marketed as suitable for players 13 and older, but that rating could probably stand to be a bit higher. Even then, any kid knows that entering a fake birthday gets around that. In this day and age, game downloads are almost always digital. Most underage kids have a smartphone and it’s hard to screen everything they do.

doki-doki-literature-club-screencap
The game doesn’t appear as horror just from an image | Image: DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! Official Website

But parents, families, and people in general, can take the right steps. Don’t carelessly recommend psychological horror games without warning. Many people tend to tell those they recommend DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB to “don’t research the game before you play.” Like the game, they want to maximize shock value. But pure shock isn’t always healthy. Ben’s addiction to the game caused him to spend countless hours thinking about it, playing it, and sketching characters. The characters in the game befriend and love the player, and that can affect people in many ways. Ben’s school is taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again, but others can do more by practicing discretion around kids.

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So, What Should I Play Instead?

Bottom line, the rating should be higher, and any parent whose child plays video games should make sure parental controls are on. Kids and teenagers might hate needing their mom’s permission to play CALL OF DUTY. Parents might hate having to screen every download and monitor their kids. But if it’s the difference between a child being safe or getting exposed to triggering content, it’s best to play it safe.

Players looking for thriller games or free ones have options. Games like FORTNITE are free-to-play and extremely fun. While there is gun violence, that violence is clearly stated and nothing is hidden. NIGHT IN THE WOODS has a visual novel feel without constant violence. Thriller games like DETROIT: BECOME HUMAN provide the same kind of decision-based story as DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. Hell, you can even just play a normal dating simulator like DREAM DADDY or MYSTIC MESSENGER.

Do you think DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB goes too far? Should the game’s rating be higher than 13+? Let us know your thoughts!

Featured image from DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB Website.

9 Comments

  1. David

    September 24, 2018 at 8:16 am

    bro what the actual fuck, “is the game really that bad? short answer yes” Listen up. I understand that some are more emotionally unstable and prone to that shouldn’t play the game. But the game’s concept and everything about it is genius, not perfect because there is always stuff you can add to do anything better. But because somebody wasn’t emotionally stable and took their life should not and doesn’t affect a games quality or anything like it. It was impossible to miss that the game was something else, i mean really there was psychological horror as the first tag, and like 5 warnings just when you start up the game. Imo you have to know when you as a person can handle things instead of blaming somebodies unstable mind due to horrible reasons. At the end of the day, the game should not get the blame.

    Reply

  2. N7Freeman

    July 26, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Wait, among the games that you encourage kids to play instead of Doki Doki Literature Club, you recommended Detroit: Become Human???? A game that has more explicit violence, more cussing, more sexual content than DDLC and is rated M/18+????

    What???????

    Reply

  3. Fake_name

    July 11, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Like other people said, he wasn’t playing dokie dokie. But still, it’s complete BS. Suicide is a terrible thing but dont blame it on the game. But even if it was dokie dokie I still don’t blame the game. It warns you enough and the parents should be monitoring what they play. It shows how much they didn’t care and if they were vigilant enough they would have stopped him from playing. But of course 6 and 7 year olds can play GTAV and that’s alright but with that kind of game? Nooo that’s apparently worst that having sex with prostitutes and then killing them or going to a strip club and watching two girls naked dance in front of you. Also, i love how they say to play fortnite. Do you REALLY want your child to be playing that 24/7? Of course not! Also, couldn’t it be possible that maybe, JUST MAYBE, he was already planning suicide? Once again (although apparently it doesn’t matter how many warnings you give) suicide is a terrible thing but nobody is wondering what is life was like. Hell, it could have been the parents’ fault that he was depressed or school. Please, someone go on the record and tell people that he wasn’t playing dokie dokie and even still, it shouldn’t be blamed

    Reply

  4. Steven Lemonache (Alpenmilch)

    July 3, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    How sad everyone is bashing on doki doki when the actual game this kid was playing was mystic messenger on smartphone, the dad’s description doesn’t match with dokidoki an later on he even said that dokidoki was one of the game he played during that time but not only, The media again took it out of the context and everyone is spreading the wrong message. How should dokidoki send notifications on his phone, what the dad said in an interview, dokidoki isn’t online and neither on smartphone.

    Reply

    • BEILLET Ephraïm

      July 3, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Bad journalism is bad. How typical. (Also under a picture of Yuri, it’s written “Natsuki’s suicide”. I hope this was done on purpose in order to not spoil the game, cause if it wasn’t, I’m going to seriously doubt the claim that you played the game.)

      Reply

      • Jay Gibbs

        July 3, 2018 at 8:58 pm

        Thanks for catching that Beillet!

        Reply

  5. Frosthy

    July 2, 2018 at 12:14 am

    STFU, DOKI DOKI IS THE BEST GAMING OF THE FUCKING LIFE, LOL BRO, THEY PUT AN ADVISE BEFORE THE PLAYER STAR PLAY THE GAME, SO JUST STFU, YOU FUCKING BITCH

    Reply

    • Zyfiel

      July 2, 2018 at 10:44 am

      This article isn’t even against the game. Just saying it isn’t for kids and that parents should be responsible for what their kids consume from the internet.

      Reply

    • Zyfiel

      July 2, 2018 at 10:49 am

      This article isn’t even against the game. Just stating that parents should beware of the content their kids consume online. I know there is a lot of bad articles only covering one side(the side that thinks doki doki is the worst thing ever) but this article is not one of those.

      Reply

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