Note: Spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club. There are also frequent references to suicide in this article. [Bold added. -Ed.]
I want to talk about suicide, specifically in video games. Horror games will often use suicide to add to the creepy mood. Sometimes it’s a hanging body flinging down for a cheap jump scare or, other times, a loved character commits suicide to progress the story. You’ll see this a lot in games developed in Japan, a country with suicide deeply ingrained in their culture, not to mention the current youth suicide epidemic. Coming from a Japanese family, I’ve seen this culture firsthand. Recently, the game Doki Doki Literature Club has received a lot of positive attention. This English game has the Japanese anime style and culture in the game, although it’s not technically a Japanese game. The characters are lovable, the dialogue charming, and the plot twists are shocking. As far as games go, it’s solid. However, it’s a prime example of suicide being inaccurately portrayed and handled. Doki Doki Literature Club is not the only game that does this, but since it is a newer game and its content is fresh in my mind, I’m going to pick on it.
When you boot up the game, a message appears: “This game is not suitable for children or those easily disturbed. Individuals suffering from anxiety or depression may not have a safe experience playing this game.”
Then it makes you agree that you are over 13. It mentions that it is not suitable for children, but then, as long as you’re over 13, you’re free to continue. It should ask for ages 17 and up. Admittedly, the “click agree if you’re above blank age” is a weak defense against younger players. However, that’s not my tiff with having the game’s age restriction at age 13. It suggests that the content is appropriate for children, just as long as they’re around 13. Adults with anxiety or depression may now think, “Oh, if a 14-year-old can handle this, I’ll be fine.”
The full content warnings are not available upfront. You must go to a separate link that isn’t even clickable. If the game is potentially dangerous to those with mental illness, it is crucial to have those warnings upfront. The topic of suicide should have been listed immediately. Those who may not have a mental illness may be dramatically affected because of a topic like suicide too. I hear many people say trigger warnings are dumb and to just get over it. It’s hard to “just get over it” when you’re battling depression or have lost someone close to you via suicide. Those who commit suicide leave loved ones behind. We must respect the loved ones as well. Suicide is nothing to just get over. Many games, not just Doki Doki, are guilty of omitting the proper warnings or not having them listed up front.
Doki Doki Literature Club has a grossly inaccurate portrayal of suicide. Sayori, the protagonist’s childhood friend, commits suicide by hanging. She expresses her feelings of deep depression, and the protagonist naively believes that through giving her extra attention, she can be saved. He does not tell an administrator at his school or her parents, nor does he try to get her to a professional. He doesn’t give her any proper help at all. People of all ages will be playing this game; it is crucial that they see the proper steps to handling a situation such as this. Even if she has to die for the plot’s sake, the protagonist could have been made to handle it to the best of his ability. The majority of our population does not know what to do when they find out that someone is suicidal. This sets a very bad example.
Her tipping point was that her feelings for the protagonist were unrequited. This is not a very realistic reason and feels like it downplays the seriousness of suicide. Then, when she does end her life, it is shown in horrifyingly graphic detail. I know the whole point of the game is to invoke horror, however if they are going to show an image like they did, they at least need the proper warnings. Watching someone kill themselves affects our thoughts. Those who were not previously harboring suicidal thoughts may now be doing so simply because of an image. Suicide is almost contagious; being exposed to it in media or real life can easily lead to a downward spiral. That is why game developers need to put more thought and empathy into scenes including or mentioning suicide.
Suicide is an intense topic and should be handled as such. It is disappointing to see how readily people accept any and all portrayals of suicide. When a game is released, anyone can play it. This must be kept in mind when exploring topics that are potentially traumatic. It is a matter of mindfulness and empathy.