Doki Doki Literature Club's Meta-Narrative
Why Team Salvato Are on the Way to Revolutionising Storytelling
On the 22nd of December 2017, long after the birth of the visual novel and even longer after the birth of interactive fiction, video game platform Steam debuted Team Salvato's much acclaimed Doki Doki Literature Club. Doki Doki Literature Club is perhaps a spiritual successor to Adam Cadre's 1998 Photopia, offering 'choices' amidst a linear narrative to create a commentary on fiction - a meta-narrative. However, Doki Doki Literature Club has access to the 2017 technologies that Photopia did not - and in using them creates a far more chilling narrative.
I am aware that some readers may have missed or forgotten the English lesson with the decade-old presentation on meta-narratives made by another teacher. No judgement here. A meta-narrative is when a story is told to justify or exposit another story, concept or worldview. A particularly clear example would be McEwan's Atonement, whose meta-narrative remains hidden until the very end of the novel, at which point the story takes on its duplicity and tells a very different tale to the one the reader has just read. Seinfeld is another, but its ending does not have the clout or intellect of Atonement, and it is arguable that there is not enough thought in it for it to truly be classed as a meta-narrative.
Doki Doki Literature Club is so self-aware that unlike most video games it cannot be used as a means of escapism. Instead, the game's antagonist, Monika, is clear about the fact that she is aware of her status as a video game side-character, and there is no passiveness about this. Monika is given responsibility for the corruption of the game's files, and at times even deletes the files of 'dateable' characters such as Sayori and Yuri - a fact which spawned the memetic 'Just Monika.' It is in this way that we are able to class Monika as the game's meta-narrator rather than the protagonist, who takes on a straw man role. As such, Team Salvato have used file corruption alongside traditional storytelling methods to create a self-aware piece of fiction.
However, Doki Doki Literature Club is not the first piece of meta-fiction, or even the first piece of interactive fiction to use coding in a way that startles consumers: those with a love for freeware horror games may be cognisant of the white chamber's [sic] 'NOT NOW' when a certain number combination is entered too early in the game. However, Doki Doki Literature is the first game to use coding to create commentary on its own genre. The game is capable of reading files on the player's computer in order to use their real name rather than the 'name' entered at the start of the game, and will even scan to see whether the player is recording and call them out on that rather than use the player's name. This differentiates the player from the player's character, who has no part in the completion of the game. The onus is on you, the player, to infiltrate the game files and delete Monika altogether.
In this way, Salvato creates a commentary on the interactive form of storytelling. The choices you make are not your own, from the final coding to the earliest brainstorms, the path you take is always predetermined. Doki Doki Literature Club is a philosophical piece on free-will and determinism that infiltrates the genre of choice-based fiction much as Nabokov infiltrated 'acceptable' fiction with the prettily-wrapped sleaze of Lolita to create a commentary on censorship. Both pieces use the genre in which they are classed to exemplify the genre or the literary establishment's shallowness.
So, in summary, Doki Doki Literature Club casts a meta-fictional eye upon the genre of interactive fiction, with Team Salvato making exciting use of their available technology to expose a new audience to the philosophical rhetoric wrapped within the game's compelling story and enticing artwork.