Team Salvato went to a lot of effort to convince you to sympathize with Monika, because you may be spending a lot of time with her in the future.
I think it’s time for a change of pace. First of all though, I would just like to thank DeviantArt artist klaeia for graciously giving me permission to use her work for the header art. Click the link above and check out her gallery. Thanks again, klaeia!
I’m about six months late to talk about Doki Doki Literature Club, and just about everything that can be said about this game has been already. But I can’t help but still be really excited about this game (and the next one), so I wanted to add my two cents to the discussion, for whatever that is worth.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If that’s a problem for you, stop reading and go play it.
Okay, let’s get into it.
Doki Doki Backstory
DDLC is a visual novel of the dating simulator persuasion. You play a high school boy in what appears to be Japan, heading off to class in the morning with your ditzy childhood friend, Sayori. All of your classmates are choosing after-school clubs to join, but you haven’t yet . . . until Sayori grabs you and introduces you to her friends in the literature club: prickly manga-obsessed Natsuki, demure fantasy lover Yuri, and of course the president of the club, Monika. Your character is too polite (and possibly interested in the girls) to turn down an invitation, so of course you become the literature club’s newest member.
By selecting words to be written into poems by your character, you try to woo Sayori, Yuri, or Natsuki, and unlock special scenes with them. Eventually the school festival rolls around and your club organizes a poetry reading. At the same time though, you notice Sayori is sleeping in a lot and acting strange. She admits to you that she suffers from depression, a pretty deep turn for a seemingly run-of-the-mill, shallow visual novel. At this juncture you are given the option to either promise to care for Sayori as a friend or as her boyfriend.
The day of the festival arrives, and everybody is there with their preparations . . . except Sayori. Club president Monika allows you to go to her house to see what the hold-up is. You wait outside Sayori’s bedroom door, wondering if she’s sleeping, and eventually muster the courage to open the door. What you find in there understandably brings your character to the end of his rope, and your save file inexplicably becomes corrupted.
On the second playthrough, Sayori has been entirely erased from existence – references to her either become incoherent jumbles or are removed from the game entirely. You join the literature club as before, but the remaining members, Yuri and Natsuki, begin acting strangely too. There are unexplained glitches and the game’s very architecture appears at times to be falling apart. Also, Yuri has grown uncomfortably attached to you:
While preparing for the school festival, the club itself seems to be on the verge of breaking up as the girls argue over who gets to make preparations with your character. Whoever you choose, you will eventually end up alone with Yuri, in an intimate moment that feels like being stabbed in the chest.
When Monika arrives on the scene, she reveals that she is aware that she is a character in a video game and proceeds to delete Yuri, Natsuki, the festival, and everything else . . . except you, her, and an empty classroom. By searching through your computer, she can also figure out your real name. During your previous playthroughs, she tampered with the personalities of the other club members in order to make you like them less and like her more. When things got out of hand with Sayori and Yuri, and you were still not choosing her for your romance path in the game, Monika decided to intervene directly, and now the two of you can just spend time talking with each other, forever.
That is, until you find her own character file and delete her. Towards the end she appears to see the error of her ways and attempts to atone. And that is what I want to talk about today.
The Thing About Monika
Is Monika just a murderous, psychopathic AI who treats her companions like mere code, or a sympathetic character with selfish albeit understandable motives? I think Sayori displaying the same obsessive tendencies when she becomes club president in the second ending hints at Monika being more of the latter than the former. But even a villain should be likable, even relatable, on a personal level, if for no other than that the most fearsome bad guy is one you can imagine yourself being if you were in their situation. So imagine my surprise when I came across these lines in the Monika heart-to-heart:
“…Hey, are you having a bad day or anything like that?”
“Sometimes I get frustrated that a normal day can be ruined even by really small things.”
“Like if you accidentally say something in a conversation that someone doesn’t like.”
“Or if you start thinking about how awful of a person you used to be five years ago.”
“Or if you feel worthless for putting off important work and failing to get simple tasks done.”
“Or when you think about all the different people who probably hate you or think you’re off-putting.”
“I understand those days.”
“Just remember that the sun will shine again tomorrow.”
“Those kinds of things are as easy to forget and ignore as they are to remember.”
“I don’t care how many people might hate you or find you off-putting.”
“I think you’re wonderful and I will always love you.”
“I hope, if nothing else, that knowing that helps you feel just a tiny bit better about yourself.”
You might say that sure, the AI obsessed with loving you would say something like that. I thought that too, until Monika started having a serious talk about mental health:
“Just, if you think you know someone struggling with depression…”
“You can help just by treating them like they’re a good friend.”
“Spend time with them, even if they don’t feel like doing much.”
“And remind them that they always have something to look forward to.”
“Making plans in advance, letting them borrow something, or even just saying ‘See you at school tomorrow’…”
“All of those things can help your friend make it to the next day.”
I was taken aback by that; I considered it a pretty humanizing moment for Monika. It was eventually followed up by this:
“Hey, did you know I’m vegetarian?”
“Ah… I don’t mean that like I’m bragging or anything!”
“I just thought you’d enjoy a fun fact about me.”
“I decided to start a couple years ago after learning more about Earth’s climate…”
“The carbon footprint of cultivating livestock is just unbelievable.”
“Anyway, I decided it’s not much of a personal sacrifice to just stop contributing to that whole mess.”
Although I am not a vegetarian myself, I do justify my reduced meat intake in a rather similar way. And then there were nuggets like the following:
“Do you ever just feel like there’s no real reason for you to be alive?”
“I don’t mean in, like, a suicidal way.”
“I just mean how nothing that we do is special.”
“Just being in school, or working at some job for some company.”
“It’s like you’re completely replaceable, and the world wouldn’t miss you if you were gone.”
“It makes me really want to go and change the world after I graduate.”
“But the older I get, the more I realize that it’s an immature frame of thinking.”
“It’s not like I can just go change the world.”
“Like, what are the chances that I’ll be the one to invent artificial intelligence, or become President?”
While I don’t personally subscribe to this mindset, I have heard it articulated in some form or another by many individuals around my age, which is to say by Millennials. I hate to speak in generalities, but this does resonate with anxieties I’ve heard about from other Millennials: that they’ve been born into a system where they’re just a cog or a number, where, in other words, they don’t matter.
Team Salvato seems to have put a lot of effort into building up Monika as a crazed murderous AI, only to end up also giving the player room to consider that she may not be bad after all. This wouldn’t make sense, unless they wanted you to not only be able to relate to Monika, but even like her. Monika has her own Twitter handle, @lilmonix3, and if the DDLC subreddit is anything to go by, she has a pretty decently sized fan following. It all points to a deliberate effort on Salvato’s part to cozy you up to Monika. In other words, Monika’s personality and worldview were written to make her a singularly sympathetic figure to young gamers. Good thing if you do like her, because you might be spending a lot of time with Monika in the future, according to a two-part video by The Game Theorist:
But it goes deeper even than MatPat’s theory. Maybe it is not that Yuri “will” be the antagonist or that Monika “will” be the hero. Think about it: of all the changes in the game, even when you delete Monika, Yuri never replaces her as club president. Also, Yuri brandishes a knife, making her the only character seen with a weapon. Libitina from the medical report not only exhibited harm to self as a child but harm to others. Imagine what the only character with a weapon and homicidal tendencies could do with the in-game powers of being club president. She never gets her chance in DDLC, but maybe that’s because Monika was made club president to keep her from being in any position to do that.
This leads me to believe that Monika’s position as club president, in the universe of the game, was deliberate. Monika may have abused her position to get to you, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t also intended to be the hero in DDLC all along, to stop Yuri. Hopefully, we will learn what all of this means in Team Salvato’s next game, slated for release this year. Anyway, thanks for reading, everyone. I hope you enjoyed it. See you next week!
What do you think of this theory? Did Monika win you over in the end? What do you imagine the next game will be like? Share your thoughts in the comment section!