Really. It’s called Doki Doki Literature Club. It took me three times to get the name right when a girl I was counseling mentioned it to me. And, even though you might not be familiar with it, either, you want to pay attention if you’re a parent. Kids watch videos of it on YouTube. It was nominated for “trending game of the year” at the 2018 SXSW Gaming Awards (which are evidently a big deal in the gaming world). But, what you really need to know is that, in its first three months of release, it was downloaded over one million times, and exceeded two million downloads about a month later (according to Wikipedia). And that kids are talking about it.
At first glance, Doki Doki Literature Club appears to be a lighthearted dating simulator, but is actually a psychological horror game. The game opens with a warning: “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed,” and then has an intro similar to your kids’ favorite cartoon. The girl characters talk about “valuing happiness”, “finding comfort in the world of books,” and being “deceivingly cute girl with an assertive punch.” Sounds harmless enough. It’s about a male high school student who joins the literature club, which is made up of these four female students.
As a player, you interact with the other characters, with the feeling that you’re controlling the action. But, in reality, you aren’t. And things turn very dark fairly quickly. There are themes of depression, rape, abuse, and suicide. A website called kotaku.com, discusses the plotline and the evolution of a character named Sayori. “By the time Sayori tells the player character that she’s severely depressed, she’s clearly teetering on the edge of a breakdown, tearfully confessing her love for the player character. Even if you say that you love her back, her mood doesn’t improve. In fact, her inability to be happy that her crush is reciprocated makes her even sadder.”
The game contains optional endings. In one ending, one of the members stabs herself to death, and another finishes the game sitting beside her dead body. In another ending, another member takes her life. And, even adult game reviewers talk about how frightening and disturbing the game is. On Polygon.com, a reviewers says, “As I crawled into this “second run,” I wasn’t just horrified; I was mentally trapped in the game's world and its antics. But I still wanted to dive back in, and I spent time with myself to understand what I had to overcome in order to continue the game. In the process, I realized how Doki Doki Literature Club utilizes an underrated aspect of the horror experience: control, or the lack thereof.”
And this is a game the kids we love are playing. As always, we want to safeguard our kids online. We want to play the games they’re downloading first. Make sure we have parental controls set up, so we know what they’re watching. And we want to have conversations about the dangers of even seemingly innocent content.
I read one website that said that The First Rule of Doki Doki Literature Club is not to talk about Doki Doki Literature Club. We don’t want the kids we love to have that rule about this game, or any other trend that catches their technologically hungry eyes. For more information on how to help, you can grab a copy of Taming the Technology Monster. And follow along with us for more information on Technology Tuesday’s about what kids are watching (and playing and posting) and what we can do to help.