# Why did you make me hit you? (Doki Doki Literature Club)
(My experience with Doki Doki Literature Club; spoilers ahead)
00:00 The game asked my name, but everyone keeps talking to me as if I'm male. In my head I mentally rewrite the pronouns they use so that I can pretend I'm a girl. I do the same thing in the game.
00:05 Meet Sayori, the childhood friend character; she's the classic cheerful/always-late-for-school type. She seems nice. I don't like the tiny eyes these character designs have, but that's a minor gripe.
00:30 The poem-writing mechanic is an interesting semi-choice mechanism, and surprisingly fun - it actually captures the feeling of writing a poem while being much easier, which is what games should do. The other characters' poems are... not great works of literature, but believeable as the kind of thing high-schoolers would like, and they have their moments.
I'm kinda-sorta aiming for Sayori's route, but early on the childish/nerd character Natsuki gets into an argument with the mature/sophisticated/literary character, Yuki, and to my surprise I find myself taking her side. Natsuki actually makes a solid argument for herself, and it more or less aligns with my own philosophy of literature: while I would certainly say there's value metaphor and applicability, I think the first duty of a work is to be effective on the surface level (I detest obscurantism). Plus she's into manga like me. Hey, I'm a simple person with simple tastes.
00:45 The other shoe in starting to drop: I'm getting increasingly unsubtle hints about problems in Natsuki's home life. Guess this must be the dark side I've been hearing this game has; I went in without outright spoilers as such, but with an awareness that there was something to be spoiled. Monika tells me I should save before important decisions, as if I've never played a game before.
01:00 The game tells me directly that Sayori has depression. I haven't seen much of Yuri or Monika (the club president who writes nonsense poems; I'm guessing she's the crazy one) yet but I assume they will have similar stories on their routes. While it's good to see this stuff getting coverage, in a game this short I'm not sure the characters are established enough to carry it; they're dangerously close to being defined entirely by their problems. This then creates a bit of a gap between what I'm supposed to feel and what I do feel. In-game Sayori is a life-long friend who I care deeply about; out-of-game I met her an hour ago and while she's been perfectly pleasant there's very little substance to our relationship. (And since the game has just deliberately subverted its own characterization shorthand - ). It's the same kind of forced tragedy as when stories introduce a character just to kill them off. At the time I don't think this explicitly; I'm aware this is a short game and try to bear with the limits of that format.
01:05 And now I'm given a very explicit choice between Sayori and- well, actually between Sayori and not-Sayori, but Natsuki is implicit. The thing is, by this point I actually like Natsuki more; I'm pretty sure that the game will not treat me well for telling Sayori (by implication) that I don't love her just after she's told me about her depression, but telling her I love her would be a lie, and I know that's really not the right way to support depressed people in reality. I hope a game that's getting this much critical praise would be above encouraging that sort of thing, but I'm not that confident.
01:30 Goddamn it. I should just pick one way or another.
01:45 Fine. Ultimately I'm not responsible for Sayori's actions; I have to live my own life, it's not like I can make myself love her. I tell her no.
01:50 Sayori hangs herself. Sux.
Ok, that's a bit flippant. But I'd been thinking through this choice for long enough that I'd at least seriously considered this possibility, and decided that ultimately the responsibility for her choices and actions lies with her. Again, I'm not going to lie to her, and frankly it's wrong and irresponsible of the game to encourage people to do that (and it's also kind of unfortunate that this critically-acclaimed game that's addressing these issues jumps so immediately from depression to suicide; that's already a popular misconception). And without any personal guilt the impact just isn't that compelling: this isn't the first videogame death I've seen, not by a long shot, and many were of characters that I-the-player had a much deeper relationship with than Sayori. Maybe if it'd been Natsuki - who I've actually interacted with quite a lot in the space of playing the game - then I'd've cared more. As it stands, meh.
02:00 Fake ren'py exceptions, fake console, fake graphics corruption and fake text/font corruption. Or possibly fake text corruption rendered less interesting by real font corruption, who can say? Part of the trouble with doing this is that you'd better be damn sure your game doesn't have any actual bugs, because the user has no way to tell they're not intentional. The other problem, as an actual IT professional, is that this kind of holywood-style data corruption rarely behaves anything at all like real-world data corruption, so it's a real immersion breaker. Still, a couple of fake exception screens are nothing to worry about.
02:05 Time to try the other route... huh. Deleting my savegames to make a point could be cool. Making a point of telling me to save and then deleting my savegames is just mean. Deleting the record of which parts I've already read is possibly even meaner (especially having just played *euphoria* which had very fine-grained read/unread tracking, and showed that the experience doesn't suffer at all).
02:15 Sayori's no longer in the game; she's an unperson now. I'm willing to trust the game and see where it goes with this; it might allow making a clever point about loss, consequences and so on. The best visual novels make this kind of point in a way that dovetails with the visual novel mechanics. (I love *Phantom of Evil* in particular, because it plays everything very straight and directly: you can save whichever character you want to, and it's always clear how to do it, but you can't save everyone. No-one dies pointlessly; you choose who dies because you choose who you want to live, which makes it all the more heartbreaking.) *Doki Doki Literature Club* is doing it in a way that cuts against the grain of its mechanics, and making a rod for its own back in the process; I wonder how much of the engine they actually had to reimplement "by hand" to produce the effects they were going for. Meh, not my problem, and on some level I admire the craftsmanship.
The audio squeaks and text gibberish are getting kind of old though.
02:20 "Special poem" eh? Meh.
02:30 Showing how differently things go in the literature club without Sayori to hold it together is actually kind of neat. Maybe she really was a good person, because she managed to bring out the best in everyone else. It's still a pain to reread all that common text for these occasional differences though.
Yuri's cutting, I don't care - not yet, anyway, because even more than Sayori, I-the-player don't know Yuki at all. I'll worry about her after I've finished the Natsuki route.
I start using the skip key more, turning on the setting that lets me skip "unread" text.
02:45 Obvious base64 is obvious - this is a prime example of how this "corruption" is nothing like what would actually happen. I wonder if the creator made a special effort to be sure the poem's encoding would end in `==`. At the very least, the poem's title and text would never have been encoded separately.
I painstakingly transcribe the characters into a converter - it's hard, there are l/1 and O/0 problems. It's some poem about skin and blood, meh, and about 1/3 of the way through it turns into complete gibberish. Possibly I missed a character and the base64 desynced, but then again it would be just like this game to have the poem turn into actual pure nonsense. Either way it doesn't seem like it's going to unlock a secret achievement or anything like that, so I give up on trying to fix it.
03:00 Ok, fine, Yuki's gone, now will you give me the Natsuki route?
03:30 God damn that was a lot of fake corrupt text to go past. Even when I gave in and used the skip key it still took an absolute age; how long would I have been going if I'd done it the hard way, clicking through line by line? Dohoho Monika left me in the classroom over the weekend, but seriously.
This is the point where I start having doubts about the game. I wanted to like it; I like self-awareness, deconstruction, literary takes on gaming traditions. So I've done my best to get involved, to consider my decisions carefully. I've even been making a genuine effort in the poem-writing mechanic, for all the difference it makes. I've been willing to play along. But this... this just feels cruel. A game is supposed to be fun, or affecting, or *something*. Sitting there for minutes clicking past screen after screen of gibberish characters isn't what it's about. The relationship between audience and creator is, well, a relationship; both sides have a certain level of responsibility, and both need to respect their partner. At this point I'm still committed to *Doki Doki Literature Club*, but I'm thinking about my options.
03:45 Monika yandere route, fine, I can work with this. Aww, she figured out how to get my username from the environment variables. How cute!
03:50 Again, talking about deleting the other characters is a serious immersion breaker. That's not how a game like this is structured, and even if it was, deleting them wouldn't have the effects this game is showing. And for Monika to tell me exactly how to get to the files is immersion-breaking and patronising at the same time.
03:55 And... so what are you going to do, Monika? You talked a big game about always being there and spending a lot of time together, and I'm totally down with that, but now you're just... not doing anything? I did genuinely laugh at the "There's no need to save, I'm not going anywhere" though.
04:05 Close and reopen and she just tells me off for it. Ok, fine, but I do want to, y'know, do something.
04:10 Fine, I'll do the painfully telegraphed "delete" of Monika.
04:15 And... that's it? A black screen? What. What do you want me to do now? Hell, maybe this is a genuine bug, maybe it's just a failure to give me enough information to advance, maybe I've missed something. But ultimately it amounts to the same thing; my relationship with the creator is already weak enough that I don't trust them enough to keep trying, and I'm not even sure what I should be trying.
04:17 If the game wants me to hack with the game files, I'll hack with the game files. Right click -> verify integrity of game files (Steam means never having to reinstall, woo). As a bonus that should fix it if it is an actual bug.
04:18 Game has detected an existing save and asks whether to continue. Say yes. Black screen again. Meh. Restore files again, say no this time, back up the "character files" while I'm at it. I'm starting again from zero which I'm pretty sure means I'll just end up back at the same point, but meh, it's worth a try.
04:30 Monika asks whether I'm cheating on the poems. Nope, just picking the obvious Natsuki words, but there's no way to tell her that.
04:45 Choose to tell Sayori I love her this time. She's really happy about it. Guess I'll maybe do her route first after all. Maybe that's how it works.
04:47 Oh fuck this game. So all that time I agonised over what to tell her, and it made no difference anyway? "Deleting" her so that my decisions had consequences, but they were never my decisions in the first place? The creators should be ashamed of themselves; only the crappiest of porno VNs pull this shit, and even they get trashed for it.
04:50 Sayori's been "deleted", but when I restore "her" "file" and restart the game nothing changes. Surprise - not. This is the trouble with all of this fake hacking bullshit: it's the kind of fake puzzle that relies on you solving it in exactly the way the creator wanted you to. Since the game doesn't follow its own rules, there's no relationship between what should work and what will actually work, and no way to progress.
I could look for a walkthrough, but honestly at this point I'm done. Fuck this game.
04:55 One last effort, since the game wanted me to "hack" it: I unpack its archives. Nothing much of interest except an image artifact for a kind of creator's afterword. Some best wishes, congratulations on reaching the best ending, a statement that the author has always been interested in exploring what game mechanics can do or something like that. It seems pretty heartfelt, which mollifies me a little. Then I wonder whether the reason it's in the root of the archive is that the best ending is where the player realises there is nothing to be gained from playing the game and does this before walking away.
The scripts are in bytecode (`pyc`) form rather than plain in the archive; I could dig out a python decompiler and maybe there'd be some clever obfuscation, but probably not. But at this point I don't even care anymore. Even if the scripts were in plain sight I don't think I'd bother reading them.
*Doki Doki Literature Club* takes the relationship between creator and audience and makes it an abusive one. It's a game that punches you in the face and then tells you it's your fault, that you did it, don't you feel bad for punching yourself? You stick with it thinking it'll change, it'll get better - but the best thing you can do for yourself is walk away.
Fuck this game. Do not play.
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