Doki doki literature club is still a master of horror

During the fall season, I spend a lot of time searching for fresh scares. I’m immune to lớn haunted houses & horror movies, because neither one force me out of my comfort zone. I know that movies will progress without my input; even if I’m shrinking back a bit in my seat, it’ll keep moving, and I can live out the full experience. As for haunted houses, with the exception of a few “intensified” experiences, ghouls can’t cảm ứng me, và the scares are predictable. I can round a corner and, well, gosh! It’s … a dude in a costume & usually some pretty cool makeup.

I often feel the same sense of ease when playing horror video games. Gore doesn’t irk me, and monsters are so yesterday. I"ve already seen my fair chia sẻ of Resident Evil 7 Let"s Plays without feeling much in my gut. Like I vì with haunted houses & horror films, I always know that none of the scares are real.

But a lãng mạn visual novel, of all things, petrified me recently — just by completely subverting my expectations. It exploited my confidence in the visual novel genre & turned that into a twisted trò chơi of its own. It taught my nightmares new tricks.

(Some light spoilers follow below; here’s your spoiler warning.)

Although it looks lượt thích a dating sim, Doki Doki Literature Club is a free-to-play, psychological horror game, produced by indie studio Team Salvato. Since its release, the game has earned a reputation as an innovative scare. It’s a slow burn that begins with you & group of cute girls who must prove that their literature club is worth becoming an official school organization. Of course, your protagonist is hoping lớn forge new bonds with some of them along the way. The game encourages you to pick a girl to write a poem for, và depending on your choices, you may draw closer lớn the club’s charming, sweet members.

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A typical scene from early on in Doki Doki Literature Club. Team Salvato
Eventually, true to lớn the game’s advertised content warnings (which you should take seriously, by the way), Doki Doki Literature Club leads you down a dark path, leading to the shocking & emotional death of one character. But in the same moment that it rips your heart open, the trò chơi instantly takes a much more unusual twist.

After this initial playthrough ends and the main thực đơn restarts, the dead character’s image is pixelated and warped, as if her death affected the game client itself. The save files become inaccessible, forcing the player into a new game. If & when the player moves ahead khổng lồ begin this new file, the game seems to react at any hint of this former character, and the client loudly glitches và morphs until it seems satisfied with its outcome.

Soon into the next run-through, the client repeatedly takes control of itself, speeding through text và tacking on unusual images lớn create grotesque jump scares. But the reality of a sentient game client becomes nightmare fuel on its own.

To make matters worse, in the moment of the character’s death, keen eyes will notice that the trò chơi directs the player outside of the client by naming a specific game file, alluding to an outside force changing the game’s universe. It becomes a terrifying mystery, weaving in và out between the in-game plot và the game files’ cryptic implications: What happened to Doki Doki Literature Club?

As I crawled into this “second run,” I wasn’t just horrified; I was mentally trapped in the game"s world và its antics. But I still wanted to lớn dive back in, và I spent time with myself to lớn understand what I had to lớn overcome in order khổng lồ 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.

On a basic level, the fear of fear (the anticipation, in a word) is what makes horror as a genre so difficult for many people. In interactive media, you’re especially aware of how you’re prompting the horrors by progressing through the work. Worse, a game can mask the world around you in highly efficient ways, bringing down your guard before a good scare. You can start crawling into a space before getting dragged out, or you can open a door that seemed safe before and encounter a new monster. The point of many games becomes, then, that fear often makes you lose control, & just as often, loss of control makes you thua the game.

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The game looks lượt thích your typical dating sim ... At first. Team Salvato
The “action-adventure horror house” is an effective and proven genre, with tactics such as jump-scares, claustrophobic encounters và high-adrenaline chases that work despite their tired use. Developers have learned how lớn capture the traditional horror atmosphere và drive tension in such an efficient way that even the aforementioned classic methods are amplified in these settings.

Doki Doki Literature Club uses many of these same familiar concepts, but not in the way you’d expect, & that’s mostly thanks to its breakdown of the fourth wall. Known as “metafiction,” this genre of work is explicitly designed to restructure the dynamic between the work & the person interacting with it. In this case, it almost entirely removes control from the player.

It’s worth noting that metafiction already has huge potential in horror games, because of their inherent nature of directly interacting with the player. This isn’t supposed to lớn happen in a video game, right? The window isn’t supposed lớn exit, that file wasn’t there before, is that character addressing me? It creeps into & mocks our imagination and ideas of what that trò chơi is supposed lớn be, và that quickly gets under players’ skins. Much lượt thích horror, a primary theme is control.

As a work of horrific metafiction, Doki Doki Literature Club quite literally overwrites that control, taking the tropes of metafiction, horror and visual novel genres và amping them up a few notches. It builds moments based on what is assumed to be your understanding of the genre’s tropes and the fundamentals of interactive media. There are ominous text files appearing out of nowhere; a “bonus poem” unlocked by the player in this new run-through can either be a sweet “I love you” or a dark regret of our former character. “Scenes” I expected lớn be cute are overlaid with static and blacked-out eyes, và characters sometimes zoom in with uncomfortable closeness. The game knew that I knew this wasn"t normal, và it used that as a tool to make me uneasy.

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Team Salvato
More importantly, it kills a character, then explicitly prevents you from doing anything about it. I expected to return to lớn your save file to rescue her or maybe date another girl, but I was not allowed to. She was gone. When the trò chơi restarts, it constantly mocked my decisions & regrets. I wasn"t given any idea of how fix the universe, short of a hard reset on the game altogether — which would only bring me back to square one.

In sum, this is what’s horrifying about Doki Doki Literature Club: You, as a player và a character within the game’s world, are helpless.

As I dug into the game’s newly-warped world, extra poems & the suddenly-appearing trò chơi files, my grasp of the game slipped further. The quest lớn discovering the game’s secrets becomes a paradox, because as much as I wanted to lớn know more, the process untangles the universe further và further. And, when that realization sunk in, I became less sure what the goal was. All I could vì was move forward & find some light at the over of the tunnel. (Well, hopefully.)

Team Salvato has unearthed a new way of terrifying us by ripping apart our expectations of how interactive truyền thông media should work. Doki Doki Literature Club is a game that played me, và somehow, I"m nội dung to let it take control.