A promotional photo of the four characters in the game Doki Doki Literature Club! The video game is a dating simulation game that was released on Sept. 22, 2017. DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB!/TEAM SALVATO

Dating simulation games have become increasingly popular in modern nerd culture. Known in Japan as “otome” games, they come in a range of genres. Doki Doki Literature Club! is one of these generic dating sims.

Many fans of the Japanese versions understand that there is a format that many of the games follow. They offer a similar range of characters, all with specific personality traits, so that the player can move forward with their ideal type of partner. One of the most well-known character types is “tsundere,” derived from the Japanese word, “tsuntsun,” which means high and mighty, and “deredere,” which is the onomatopoeia for being lovestruck. 

Developed by Team Salvato and released on Steam on Sept. 22, 2017, Doki Doki Literature Club! is a psychological horror that takes every opportunity to terrify you. It presents a total of four characters, each of which have some of the most common-place character traits. Initially, everything seems normal. That is spoiler alert until one of the characters commits suicide.

After, the game turns darker. The characters spiral into madness, ranging from over-possessive, self-harming psychopaths to aggressive victims of child abuse. By the end of the game, players are left shocked by the plot twist — a once light-hearted dating game turns into a nightmarish fright fest — and left speechless by the amount of effort and work put in by the developers.

From hidden in-game Easter eggs to audio found in converted character files, Team Salvato never missed a chance to surprise its audience. By the final play, the fourth wall is practically shattered. All this, and the game is free.

“I had no clue it was going to become something so terrifying,” Usman Shafiq, a freshman computer science major, said. “I honestly didn’t think it would be a horror game, and such a complex one as well. There’s more to the game than just the game.”

Extreme fans of the game have taken the next step into the realm of theories. Each and every element of the game provides a hidden clue, tucked away through layers of coding and file conversions. One YouTube theory which was broken up into two videos due to the amount of information the game provides suggests that Doki Doki Literature Club! is all in preparation for Team Salvato’s next project: a horror game.

“It’s a pretty cool idea,” Lauren Asfour, a freshman undecided major, who has played the game and been invested in the theories arising after the game’s release, said. “It’s smart to do this to pitch their next game. They got themselves so much attention by putting a lot of effort into the hidden aspects… secret files, coding… so now people are going to be pretty excited about their next game. I know I’m definitely interested.”

Doki Doki Literature Club! won the IGN People’s Choice award in December for every category. The Doki Doki Literature Club! website has further information on the project, as well as fan merchandise and a chance to donate to the developers. Though it has not yet been made official when Team Salvato’s next project will be announced (the theory videos explain how the developers placed a clue for the potential of a 2018 game, but there has not been any clear assertion), any updates will be accessible through the developer’s website, teamsalvato.com.