Back in early October, an old Army friend of mine visited and began talking to me about a video game called Doki Doki Literature Club! “You have to play it,” he said with a sly smile, “don’t believe the loading screen!”
He already downloaded it on my Steam account, so I couldn’t really protest. My friend told me not to believe the loading screen, but the first thing I noticed was a warning that “children and people who easily disturbed shouldn’t play this game.”
“What is this? One of your porn games?” I jokingly teased. He wasn’t aware, but I secretly had a thing for anime dating games. They helped me get through some tough times and it’s a hobby that my wife allows me to indulge in.
“Oh yeah, this is the real sexy stuff,” he winked.
So I dove in, trying to hide my anticipation of any dark twist. I was expecting a Madoka Magica type twist, but I found hit me like a ton of bricks. This simple looking anime game was one of the most real depictions of depression in entertainment I’ve experienced.
I battled severe depression from my teenage years to early-20’s. I’ve only learned to control my feelings for the past 5 years after seeking professional help – so the literal and figurative scars are still fresh.
Honestly, I’m used to and expect entertainment to misinterpret depression. Many movies, games, anime, manga, and books have this perverse take on the illness. Often times, depression is showed as something that can be shaken off, like a cold or a sprained ankle.
Doki Doki Literature Club! is the rare piece of fiction that gets it. Sayori, Natsuki, and Yuri all suffer from depression and show it in the varying forms it takes shape as.
Early in the game, Sayori attempts to explain her feelings to the protagonist. She doesn’t understand why or how, but Sayori is always suffering from constant sadness and terrible thoughts. It’s not “normal” and doesn’t make sense, but depression rarely makes sense to the sufferer.
It’s strange to say, but I was relieved that Doki Doki Literature Club! showed how hellish depression really is. Despite the best intentions, it’s not something that can be hugged or loved out of someone – which is something the protagonist does. Depression isn’t also something you can “snap out off” or “grow thick skin” to face. No one choices to be depressed, and this game handles that.
Later that night, I stared at the scars that ran up my forearms that I gave myself. I couldn’t believe how much the game’s story stuck with me – especially Yuri’s story. Today, I can lie and say I got those scars from my deployment, but I know the truth.
As a teen, I had no self-worth and didn’t feel deserving of kindness. Whenever something went wrong at home, I felt that I was the cause. So, like Yuri, I could slash myself as punishment. It might not make sense to normal people, but I felt like I had to pay with blood to make the world right.
I was amazed by the real horrors the game included. Sayori’s obsession with suicide in her poems, Yuri’s self-cutting, and Natsuki’s low self-esteem from years of abuse are things you can’t escape from.
There’s no happy ending in Doki Doki Literature Club!, even if you do pursue the true ending. It’s all bittersweet – much like living with depression. However, that’s what makes this plucky indie game so great. It doesn’t bullshit you and come up with a sappy-sweet ending to make you feel good.
You’ll think and confront your life’s demons – and that’s what makes a great horror story.