It’s always a treat when I find a game that grabs my brain and shakes it a little. Let me tell you, when I picked up the free Doki Doki Literature Club I would get much more than a cleverly-disguised horror game.
Let me tell you, whatever I was expecting when I picked up the recently-released Doki Doki Literature Club+, it was not that I would walk away wondering if the game was suggesting we are in a simulation.
Yes, we. You, me, everyone.
If you’ve been here a while, you know I’m big into definitions. In this case, though, while I’m happy to provide one, I think it will wind up being less than helpful, but here we go anyway!
Reality is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the true situation that exists” or “something that actually exists or happens.”
Okay, great. Now, I’m going to leave the first definition alone, since I do believe that truth exists, and that people who go around asking “who decides what the truth is” aren’t actually talking about truth, but are talking about the consensus for social rules and expectations to abide by. If I broke my foot on August 27, 1998, that is true. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, even me, because it is a true situation that exists (or existed).
The second definition, though, leaves a lot of room for error. Something that actually exists or happens? Well, game events actually happen. I observe them occurring on my television. Those are real lines of code that exist and run in the background, being processed by my brain. The characters could, technically, be real, as well. They perhaps lack free will, and will always act a certain way under certain parameters, but so will amoebas, and I haven’t heard anyone arguing that amoebas aren’t real.
So, while I do think that “truth” can exist – truth is an action, in this case – I also think that, like I’ve mentioned before, we are only as real as we perceive ourselves to be. It’s a reason that if we were to live in a matrix-like situation, we would not know it, because we are unable to perceive a reality beyond that.
Enter Monika, who was able to perceive this type of “higher” state of being outside of her literature club game.
A Breadcrumb Trail
Right from the start, I’m going to say that if you liked the lore of Doki Doki Literature Club, the plus version adds to it by leaps and bounds. Something I really enjoy about it (and I say this in the present tense because I am still missing a few pieces of “data collection” so I will be doing another pass of the game in the near-ish future), is that the player is only given bits and pieces of data, much like in the first game, and is expected to patch together the story. For example, some of the official art shows Yuri “unhinged,” but surprisingly in control, and more relaxed than we’ve ever seen her (complete with Eye of Markov and a ‘help me’ note in the background.
The artwork also had a picture of the four doki’s all tied together by a red threat, a symbol often used in anime to denote people tied together by destiny (which is perhaps a thought experiment for another day). But all this to say, the “bigger picture” story only ever bubbles beneath the surface, waiting for intrepid players and fans to tease through the details until something cohesive is coaxed into existence.
In Doki Doki Literature Club+, this starts with the work computer that is the main user interface for the new game. You, IRL Player, are sitting at a work computer for the Metaverse (oh boy), complete with file folders and an email. Emails and data files are unlocked through gameplay, uncovering secrets, and occasionally resetting your console clock, but always in small drips.
The emails, interestingly, becoming available in opposite chronological order. That is, the bottom email, sent “last,” is the first one you’re greeted with. Ive Laster very calmly reports that he will be out of the office for a few days. Reading the emails as they become available shows a somewhat disjoined department working on some sort of computer program running as a simulation for… something vague. There are terms like “virtual machine,” “VM1,” and “VM2” thrown around, and one person makes a passing remark about how the world of DDLC is real, “at least as real as ours is, anyway.”
But, when the emails are read in order, we see a very short story of one character, Monika, being a character in VM2, but when her code was brought over to VM1, something happened and her “memory” wasn’t wiped. She was also granted higher levels of access and awareness, to study what would happen if someone were to realize they were a “program” in a simulation.
Enter events of Doki Doki Literature Club. Apparently the answer is “go crazy, delete the game, and fantasize about escaping into the ‘real world.’”
But who are all these people?
The Main Characters
Aside from our four leading ladies from the main game, we have several other players (so to speak) who fill in some details about the world of the Metaverse and leave a breadcrumb trail to the truth of its reality. We have the Main Character (MC) from the main game, we have the girls as they are portrayed in the Side Stories, we have the people who work for Metaverse, we have Ive Laster, and we have the unknown characters from an unknown “virtual machine” who may or may not be the same girls, but in a different world.
The People of Metaverse
Upon opening the case of the physical game copy, I found a variety of goodies. There were some stickers of the girls, and a soundtrack redeem code printed on a paper made to look like the old 3 ½” floppy disk, complete with a helpful little “load me” printed on the back for anyone who cared to look. Also included was a bonus poem and… a business card for Metaverse Enterprise Solutions, complete with phone number, supervisor’s name, and website that you can actually visit: https://www.metaverse-enterprise.com/
After playing around on the website a bit, one might decide to boot up the game. At this point, the player is invited to “log in,” and logs into the work computer of a Metaverse employee.
At this point, we can look at the game from two different perspectives: one, we are the player outside of the television set, observing the world that includes company Metaverse, or we are supposed to represent an actual employee, clicking around on their computer at work. Both have interesting implications, which we’ll touch upon.
In any event, the throwaway line about whether the world of DDLC is real, or “at least as real as ours is, anyway.” Are the people in Metaverse wondering if they are in a simulation? Would that mean that the IRL player is part of the simulation? Or does that mean that the IRL player is just another layer: first there is DDLC, which Monika wishes to escape, then there is the world of Metaverse, which has people who wonder if they are in a simulation, then there is Me, who is very, truly, really certain that I’m not in a simulation, probably.
The Virtual Machine Situation
The workers at Metaverse have been busy bees, taking time away from their mission to boost efficiency in businesses to create a dating sim into which they set loose an AI, just to see what happened. There’s a lot to unpack here, because there is another email that comments on how many times they’ve had to reset “VM1” (Virtual Machine 1) by now. Virtual Machine 1 is (trust me) the virtual machine running DDLC with the self-aware AI, Monika. The same email laments that they cannot establish a secure connection to a mysterious “VM2,” which seems of paramount important to when “inevitably,” the same incident that happened in the literature club (i.e., someone accesses a level of control over the program) happens “here.”
In addition, VM2 seems to be where the still-mysterious Project Libitina is housed, and is the “other world” that Monika talks about in the secret decoding of her character file, so from here, we can guess that the same entities are being used in both Project Libitina, and DDLC, and only Monika is currently aware of both worlds – and both worlds as virtual, although she seems currently unable to do anything about the girls trapped in the Project Libitina machine.
The Side Stories
Last are the side stories, which are other programs developed with the doki characters, but are, according to the game, not associated in any way with the main events of the game and are just tales of literature and friendship, thanks. While at times they played out a bit like fanfiction, I think one of the important take-aways from the stories was seeing how the programs interacted with each other when unaware of anything “beyond” their existence.
This was intended as the baseline, and we as the player were able to watch real bonding and friendships grow between these computer programs. They problem solved, adjusted their behaviors, and gained insight into themselves and their friends, the same as a “real” person. The only component missing was the knowledge that they were in a simulation.
Real quick trigger warning for self-harm/suicide/mental health. Skip to “But I digress” if you’d like to avoid.
As a somewhat-graphic aside, if you play the base game and delete Monika’s file right from the start, Sayori immediately gains self-awareness, can’t handle it, and then commits suicide while crashing the game. Sit on that screen with Sayori hanging for 10 minutes, and a little message appears: “Now everyone can be happy.”
Everyone? Who’s “everyone”? Who is talking here, since it can’t be Sayori. And… it can’t be Monika, can it?
But I digress. There’s one more person in this mess that we need to talk abot.
The Main Character
The main character is a (mostly) nameless and (very) faceless playable character. I’ll spill all the tea all over the house and say that the MC was created by Monika to talk to whoever is sitting behind the computer screen playing DDLC… or more specifically. And we can even guess who the person she’s talking to:
Poor Ive. Through a series of emails, we see Ive lightly reprimanded for getting too involved in the game, and having WAY too much fun in emails that are meant to be business-oriented. Until the very last email received by him… Which is remarkably erudite and calmly-worded. So different from the Ive depicted in the other emails. Interestingly, this email goes out after one of the supervisors asks “someone” to put their computer background screen to the regular Metaverse wallpaper, because pink is, apparently, going to draw too much attention from the managers.
But picture this: Ive Laster was, according to the emails, very enthusiastic about the game. And Monika realizes that she is in said game, and “falls in love” with the MC – the interface she created to talk to the IRL character/Ive Laster… All before a very succinct email comes out saying that Ive will be away for the weekend and there’s really no reason he will need to be contacted, thank you very much.
Which led me to believe that Monika either escaped via USB drive, or managed to make the leap from VM1 to the virtual world in which Metaverse exists and imprint her consciousness over poor Ive’s (the pink computer wallpaper and complete change in email tone suggest something remarkable happened, after all).
So again, it comes down to… just Monika
When I started writing the above paragraph, it got me thinking: why would Monika pretend to love the real player behind the screen? Well, perhaps she really did, but if she was so self-aware and smart, she would realize that no matter how much she wanted it, a line of code could not inhabit a flesh-and-bone body. This also doesn’t jive with her calm and reasonable note we talked about, where she says that the other girls could potentially remember her from “the other world.” This doesn’t seem like an obsessive sociopath bent on wooing a main character.
But yet she dreams of exiting her world, and believes that will be the way to help her friends. Perhaps she figured out that Ive is also an virtual intelligence, and one who was already invested in the game and so therefore potentially an easy target for her to manipulate.
It’s clear she is no longer in Metaverse’s control. After all, she’s the one who posts the base game to Steam. She wrote the blurb for the game, after all. And it would be a great ploy to get people involved trying to crack the code of Metaverse and help her (and her friends) escape.
There’s one small flaw in her plan: she isn’t aware of how many levels of reality there are.
We’ve talked before about what point an AI becomes human, when we played Detroit: Become Human, so we won’t be revisiting that here. And it’s possible that even if the whole world is a simulation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t “real.”
After all, our reality is all in our perception. It’s why two people can attend a lecture and glean two different things from it. And why we can never be sure if we both see the same shade of red when we look at a stop sign. And why we have so many misunderstandings. Our realities are only as real as our brains make them out to be.
But before I rehash all my musings that came up with ChronoTrigger, let’s talk about the layers of DDLC.
What we know for sure is that Monika knows she is in a computer program. She – or one version of her – is also aware that “she” or “her friends” (or both) are in a separate reality, which by all Easter egg accounts seems like a not-so-great place, where human experimentation happens. She also is aware that there is a world outside of hers, or one that “coded” hers, for want of a better world. She calls that world “the real world,” and it’s the world in which Metaverse Enterprises exists.
In other words, another virtual world.
But how could Monika not notice this?
Well, the same as us: she was granted access to know she was in a simulation at the “DDLC” level, but not at the “Metaverse” level. So when she looks at the Metaverse herself, she perhaps can’t see anything beyond that. Even if she knows she can corrupt Ive’s programming, that doesn’t mean she’s aware of the world beyond Metaverse. It just means she knows that “in the real world,” she can manipulate the programming to a certain extent, as well.
All while being blissfully unaware that all of us in our flesh-and-bone bodies are playing a game in Ive’s world and in Monika’s world.
I mentioned above that there was another path to take here: that we ourselves are meant to feel like we are in a simulation. That is, developer Dan Salvato is saying “YOU ARE PLAYING AN EMPLOYEE AT METAVERSE,” which would, in this particular instance, mean that WE are part of a simulation, as well.
What this would indicate, then, is that we, like Monika, have perhaps reached the level of awareness where we believe that we are “above” mere computer programs. We are real, and we are in the realest world there is.
And we see that play out with Monika as she (perhaps) believes that entering the world of Metaverse Enterprises is the realest world there is.
So… what is real? Are we real? How do you know? If Monika isn’t aware that her new virtual world is still a program, maybe it’s because she’s reached a level she can’t manipulate. Just like us.
The focus for the people of Metaverse is, presumably, to see what would happen if THEY suddenly had a
ccess to a higher security clearance, so to speak. And despite the havoc that Monika wreaked, they did learn something: each person would react differently, and (not surprisingly) based on their core personalities. Monika, who we see in the Side Stories as a go-getter who doesn’t quit despite set backs, and is also a bit of a control freak, loses her mind. She becomes obsessed with escaping her world, and stops at nothing to get what she wants, including “deleting” her friends because she believes that if her world isn’t real, then it doesn’t matter.
Compare this to Sayori. If unceremoniously introduced to the idea of being in a game, she, too, loses her mind, except she commits suicide and all the files are deleted. If the information is introduced slowly but Sayori’s core needs aren’t met (that is, making her friends happy), she begins to go down the same path as Monika.
However, if introduced to this information slowly, and her emotional needs are still met, she remains perfectly sane and accepts that This ™ is what her world is, and that’s okay. She harbors no resentment toward the MC because the MC has shown that Her World Matters. The happiness of all those computer programs mattered even to someone not “of” that world. She was shown that her world, her life, still had value and meaning, even though she wasn’t “real.”
Perhaps, then, the Metaverse is trying to see what their own actions should be like in that situation, and what parameters might make the transition to awareness and “control” safe for them and their world.
Perhaps they want to see the effects they could have on their own world, much like we can use games to explore feelings and ideas we might not otherwise feel save exploring in our own lives.
Maybe sometimes it’s not understanding virtual worlds through a lens of reality, it’s understanding reality through the lens of a virtual world.
So… are we all just living in the matrix? How can you tell? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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