A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Doki Doki Literature Club! is a downloadable computer game about teen girls that has become controversial because of its deceptive gameplay: After an hour and a half of pretending to be a dating simulator, it reveals itself to be a darker, scarier mystery revolving around suicide. Everything starts to go haywire after one of the girls kills herself. Suicidal imagery is shown: One girl stabs herself, and another hangs herself. Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "bitch," and more. There's also a reference to drinking wine, but it isn't shown on-screen. Sex is explored as a theme in the form of the girls cruelly teasing each other over unfulfilled lust and also being angry that one of the girls' breasts "magically grow a size" around the player character.
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What's it about?
In DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB!, players join Sayori, Natsuki, Yuri, and club president Monika to participate in activities like writing and sharing poetry. You'll be influenced by the other girls' writing styles and, if you want, you can try to dazzle and woo one of them. At least, that's what the game wants you to think it's about. But after one of the girls unexpectedly hangs herself, the story makes a huge pivot, asking you to figure out which girl is warping and manipulating both the game and the other girls' personalities to curry your favor.
Is it any good?
While it seems light and friendly at first, the dark twists to this game's story make for a disturbing bait and switch, with mature themes that will frustrate and upset many gamers. Doki Doki Literature Club! is meant to seem like just another dating simulator packaged as a visual novel. Both types of games are popular in Japan (though they haven't caught on as widely elsewhere), and this one uses their typical innocence as a Trojan horse to tease, probe, and finally introduce a variety of heavy themes. The points the game raises are all open to interpretation: the roles we play in relationships, how gaming and the internet have affected our relationship with consuming information, and the willingness players have to go along with clunky stories as long as other elements satisfy their game experience.
Doki Doki tries to force players' expectations to be continually shattered, shifted, and questioned. Unfortunately, there aren't many opportunities here for interacting aside from clicking, clicking, clicking to the next text box. Once Doki Doki has gotten to its grand finale, you're left staring at a static screen with one character staring you in the eye for literally an hour and a half. The first hour is meant to be similarly trying, with its dopey dialogue and bright colors. It's only after the game's twists start playing out that you realize all the dialogue has two or even three meanings, and glitches wreak havoc, pointing out differences in characters' behavior or intentions. Finally, a clear amount of deception is woven into the game; before you even click start, it warns you repeatedly that it's "not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed." You may think it's a joke, but those are probably the most sincere words in the game. While the concept behind Doki Doki is interesting, unfortunately its execution (six hours of clicking) isn't as engaging. And the bait-and-switch storyline has caught many players by unpleasant surprise.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in video games. While you as player don't commit violence in Doki Doki Literature Club!, do you think it takes the topic of suicide too lightly? Should gamers even play a game that suddenly tosses in a serious subject like suicide as a plot twist?
Talk about how the internet affects our relationship with consuming media and information. How are things different from before everyone was online? How do you think people are different today because of it?
Did you start to suspect there might be some plot twists coming in Doki Doki Literature Club! before they were revealed? What clues did you pick up on? How can this skill also apply to reading other people and gauging their reliability?
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