Unexpectedly, in late 2017, joining an ill-fated literature club quickly turned into one of the most haunting videogame experiences I have ever made. Doki Doki Literature Club certainly did not take long to leave a lasting impression. Its more overtly disturbing moments kept me awake for nights as my thoughts were fixated on the many unsettling images that had burned themselves into my mind. Returning to DDLC via its Plus upgrade four years later brought back those sleepless hours, though their focus had shifted. Of course the horror was still there, but much of my insomnia was the product of rumination — about the very literature DDLC carries in its title and the act of writing itself.
The literature club proper feels like so much more than merely a framing device. Although players do not get to compose actual poems during the minigame segments, the desire to express oneself as truly as possible lies heavy on the club members who share their writing with me. And in this, I see a familiar struggle. As somebody who has long been drawn to writing, the desire to put my thoughts and feelings into words has always also been deeply disheartening — the shadow of something that I owe to myself, a personal request that I am unable to fulfill. The time I spend staring at the digital paper in front of me, paralyzed, has only gotten longer with the pandemic that has made it so difficult just to make it through the day. And simply writing down a little more than five hundred words to convey a few of my impressions of a videogame can take a painful amount of effort.
This is why, even though the characters of DDLC all feel relatable to me, it was Natsuki’s experience, of which I saw the least in the past, that stood out among the others four years later. Like Sayori, I have worked hard on hiding my depression for many years, a task which has only gotten harder with time. Like Yuri, I fear to crumble under self-doubt and a dreadful lack of connection. Yet, while there is much that I could say about these similarities, Natsuki’s feeling of inadequacy — induced by the great achievements of the people around her and combined with the specific context of writing — most strongly reminded me of where I have seen myself in my own life for what seems like forever now. After all, the sensation of being pushed farther and farther from where ambitions and expectations used to shove me has long been a major source of the fears that keep me up at night even when I am not currently enrolled in the literature club. It hurts to watch somebody else go through exactly the same.
And so, the impact DDLC has on me remains the same after all this time, but it is somehow also more. A Plus indeed. In the absence of an easily deletable character file for myself the only option seems to keep pressing on, even when there is hardly any betterment in sight. The dream of finding my own little place, my own little niche, where I can be content with something that I managed to create myself remains elusive, the same way it appears to Natsuki. To ‘write the way into your heart’ is often a journey along a frightening precipice…