Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the biggest surprises for me from last year, so before I even go dive into this topic any further, I urge you to play before I spoil one of the most interesting games on the market. It’s on Steam. It’s free and it’ll take you no more than 4 hours to finish. 

If you genuinely want to be surprised, play it first and then come back to read this later...I promise you it’s worth it as a gamer, and you’ll appreciate these insights even more.

Done? Well then, let’s dive in!

Horror in Disguise

I honestly thought my colleague, John O’Leary was absolutely batshit crazy for recommending this game to me over the holiday. A Japanese anime visual novel that pretty much looked like a dating simulator? How on earth would he assume I would be into this? Yet, he insisted I go into the game without knowing anything about.

And I don’t regret it one bit. 

While your aim is to win over one of the four cutesy girls in the literature club, the second act takes a dark turn, breaking the fourth wall and turning straight into a psychological horror. The leader of club, Monika, becomes self-aware and slowly begins to manipulate the game’s code to make all the other characters seem...well crazy. One of the other characters, Yuri, for example, goes from being an introverted socially awkward bookworm to a full-blown self-harming sociopath. 

All of this leads to a climatic end where Monika takes over the game and eliminates the competition to be with you, the player, forever. The only way to get rid of her is to literally dive into your computer files and delete her from the game folder...talk about being so meta.

The Devil Is Literally in The Details

If you ever wanted to play a real-life creepypasta (disturbing horror stories that reside on the internet), then this is your game. I was floored by how well the experience was put together. But it’s what I learned about after, which made me appreciate the experience even more. Just take a look at these two videos from Game Theory, one of YouTube’s largest channels with over 9.3 million subscribers:

Game Theory: Doki Doki's SCARIEST Monster is Hiding in Plain Sight (Doki Doki Literature Club)

Game Theory: Doki Doki Decoded! (Doki Doki Literature Club)

Unbelievable. 

What Matt Patt reveals is that the game has built a huge cult following that has been digging deep into the code only to find cryptic clues for the developer’s next upcoming horror game, which will be revealed later this year. It’s an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) at its finest and one amazing move from developer Team Salvato. The move to make this game free was clearly calculated to be a teaser for their next big title, driving as much awareness as possible without needing to share any details of the actual game itself!

Not only did Team Salvato create a strong community for Doki Doki Literature Club, but also excitement for their next upcoming title. For starters, Team Salvato proved themselves as an unknown developer who knows how to make a solid horror experience. They’ve created a foundation and well-deserved fanbase which is constantly engaged, something us marketing or PR professionals are always looking to build for publishers and developers. Furthermore, the game has caught the attention of many top-tier media, solidifying future coverage opportunities and their next game.

To be honest, this isn’t entirely new. Developers have sneaked in teasers of future titles in games before (Ubisoft and Watch Dogs 2’s “leaked” E3 teaser is a good example), but Team Salvato took that idea and brought it to another scale. It’s this level of creativity and organic engagement which makes Doki Doki Literature Club one of my favorite marketing/PR tactics of 2017.