Doki Doki Literature Club: The Story of Dan Salvato

All games are about relationships. The nature of interactive media means that
the player is invited to form attachments; to begin to empathize with the characters
in a story as they take on a persona within a fictional world. In creating his very own video game, Dan Salvato
wanted to take this idea to the extreme. He wanted to create a story that was filled
with compelling characters that the player would become attached to, forming genuine
relationships with imaginary people, and feeling genuine heartache when seeing them suffer
from mental and emotional anguish. In doing so, Dan didn’t merely create a
story out of thin air. He based his characters on his own experience
with relationships – both real, and imaginary. Somewhere along the way, by combining his
love of fictional video game characters and his real-world experiences of watching loved-ones
go through crises, Dan managed to create a horror game that took the world by storm. This is the story of Doki Doki Literature
Club, and the very real relationships that inspired the game’s creation. By his own admission, Dan Salvato wasn’t
particularly cool in high school. For the most part, he was lonely, wrapped
up in himself, and unable to understand the relationships that other students were forming,
and how to truly empathize with others. This isn’t to say that he didn’t have
friends – Dan met his childhood best friend when he was eleven, and the pair eventually
became roomates after school when they got older. Dan was a man of many talents, rising to prominence
first and foremost as a professional Super Smash Bros Melee player. He enjoyed a good stint of time on the professional
circuit, and even went so far as to create some mods for the game, before ultimately
retiring to do something new. Dan also developed a love for speedrunning,
setting some records for Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64, and tried his hand at designing
an extension for Twitch, in order to make chatting online more entertaining. Dan loved all kinds of games, but he particularly
found himself drawn to titles which delved deep into emotional storytelling. Games like Yume Nikki, Eversion, Braid, and
Portal all caught Dan’s attention for the way they built up an atmospheric world and
told an engaging story that perfectly linked up with their core gameplay. This was also true of Dan’s personal favourite
game, Riven, a point-and-click adventure game that saw the player interacting with a barren
world, without any need for extraneous dialogue or exposition. By contrast, Dan also developed a love-hate
relationship with anime video games, and the emerging genre of visual novels that were
gaining popularity in the West. On the one hand, Dan saw the charm in these
games, in which the player has little to no control of their actions as a story unfolds. Simultaneously, though, he grew to despair
at the common tropes and clichés that plagued the genre. Many of these games boiled down to a simple
formula, which Dan felt could be encapsulated by the phrase “cute girls, doing cute things”. There was no variety in many of these stories,
no attempt to push the genre or make the player think. As Dan pondered his relationship with these
games – his guilty fascination with their storytelling – he began to wonder what it
would be like to make a visual novel that messed with the player’s perceptions. Talking with a friend, he mused about how
much fun it would be to make a game that appeared to be a typical dating simulator, but which
soon spiraled out of control as the player watched the game fall apart, with characters
in-fighting amongst themselves, and a glitchy world teasing the idea that this game was
more than just a simple simulation. This game, thought Dan, would be a visual
novel for people who hated visual novels. It would give fans of the genre something
new and original, while simultaneously poking fun at tired clichés, and pushing the boundaries
of what was possible for this type of gameplay. Dan’s friend loved the idea, responding
positively, and based on this, Dan began wondering just what it might be like to try and create
such a title. And so, Dan began trying to make his game
idea a reality. At first, things seemed easy – coming up
with the general plot and broad strokes of the characters was relatively simple. Soon, though, Dan found that the big challenge
was in the actual writing. His game would involve a lot of dialogue,
while it would be relatively small by the standards of most visual novels. Even so, this was a lot of work for Dan to
do, and he had to make sure that he kept the project very tightly focused so that all of
his branching story options didn’t overwhelm him. As Dan worked writing the game, he couldn’t
help but feel that reality was bleeding into his creation. What started as typical anime stereotypes
soon became more complex, as Dan began drawing from his own experiences, people that he’d
known, and relationships that he’d had, in order to give the characters more depth. In particular, Dan drew from his experiences
with loved ones who’d suffered from insecurities, anxiety, depression, and other mental and
emotional illnesses. He almost felt like, in exploring these themes,
he could force the player to confront uncomfortable subjects that don’t often get enough attention
in the more mainstream media. Certainly, his tactics were sloppy and he
didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but Dan hoped that, maybe, his little game might
be able to help in some small way with raising awareness of depression. To this end, while all of his characters reflected
these themes, Dan worked hard to make the player character’s adorable childhood friend
Sayori feel particularly real. As he drew from his own personal experiences,
Dan gave Sayori many of the little signs of depression that he’d seen first-hand. Sayori was often nervous, and had difficulty
expressing her emotions or dealing with anxiety. She slept a lot, sometimes being unable to
leave her bed, and often felt the need to hide away from the world when her energy levels
were too low. In order to help players to truly connect
with his characters, Dan reached out to some artists that were far more talented than himself
in order to commission the visuals for the game. Dan commissioned manga artist Satchely to
create all of his character art, while another artist, Velinquent, drew the backgrounds. In commissioning his character art, Dan was
very descriptive as he worked with Satchely, asking for very specific things so that he
could get the characters’ emotions and appearance to look exactly as he imagined them. On the other hand, Velinquent had a little
more free reign, as Dan wasn’t quite as certain of what he wanted, so long as the
backgrounds looked like typical visual novel fare. Beyond getting these two artists involved,
Dan did as much as he could himself to create the game’s overall presentation the way
he envisioned it in his head. He was particularly pleased with his work
on the game’s opening title screen, and even created the music from scratch. While his musical ability was limited, Dan
did his best with the game’s soundtrack. Thankfully, a simple, repetitive musical style
fitted the look he was going for with his game, so while he admitted that his compositions
weren’t groundbreaking, he was adequately satisfied with what he could come up with. The most important piece of music, in Dan’s
eyes, was the end credits song. He wanted a piece of music which, like Still
Alive in Portal, perfectly capped off the game’s story and narrative themes, providing
the player with some degree of closure. The big draw for Dan’s game would be its
fourth-wall breaking narrative, and as such, he did everything he could to hide easter
eggs and secrets in plain sight within the files of the game. In forcing the player to explore game files
in order to progress through the story, Dan hoped that he’d achieve his goal of making
players feel like the game was escaping its traditional boundaries. At the start of the game, the player would
inhabit a role within a typical visual novel, but by the end, they’d seen the characters
as real, and see themselves as the true protagonists of their adventure. All of this hinged on Dan being able to create
compelling characters that the player would truly want to invest in, developing authentic
relationships with fictional people. He worried that perhaps he was going too far
with his game, and with some of the themes of trauma and heartbreak that came up in his
story. Perhaps people would accuse him of being cruel;
of telling a story that deliberately tugged at the player’s heartstrings for shock value. As such, he decided that he ought to release
the game for free – that way, people wouldn’t feel so bad when they discovered that they’d
been lied to about the content of the game. Not long after it launched, Dan also added
an in-depth content warning to help avoid those with genuine mental health concerns
from being confronted with something unexpected that they didn’t want to experience. While Dan had hoped that people would like
his game, he was taken completely by surprise by the reaction that his work received. The game was downloaded in the millions, as
players from all walks of life (and all levels of interest in anime games) embraced his creepy
story. What really took Dan by surprise was the popularity
of Monika, the game’s antagonist. People really seemed to connect with her,
to the point that her fictional Twitter account earned hundreds of thousands of followers. Perhaps the most satisfying feedback of all,
though, came from those who saw Doki Doki Literature Club as a reflection of their own
experiences. Dan had worried that the themes in his game
might be too raw for some players. As the game grew in popularity, he was relieved
to receive messages from many people with experiences of mental health problems who’d
tried his game, and who’d loved it. Many said that the game had even helped them
to work through their own challenges, or expressed their appreciation at Dan’s in-depth analysis
of the challenges of depression and mental illness. Dan was satisfied. He’d achieved his goal of creating a game
that reflected his own relationships both with people he knew, with demons he’d faced,
and with the anime genre as a whole. He only hoped that his next game could live
up to the reputation of this first interactive media creation. The moral of the story is that light can come
from darkness. In some way or other, everyone’s lives will
be touched by sadness. We’ll all either experience mental health
challenges ourselves, or associate with people who struggle with these issues. Empathy can be a challenging skill to develop,
but a genuine desire to understand another’s perspective is a powerful force in creating
bonds between people. Facing our personal demons often seems less
achievable than avoiding or burying them, but for some recognizing these things in ourselves
is freeing. It’s important to remember, you are not
your illness. A person with depression, or anxiety, or any
other struggle, is more than a diagnosis, so much more rich and complex than can be
reduced to a label. We are so much more than the sum of our experiences
and feelings, though we struggle to separate these things out sometimes. Don’t be afraid to tackle big themes, break
taboos, challenge stigma, or bring barriers crumbling down in your work. It can be scary to put your voice out in the
world, you may worry that your experience is not representative, or that people will
not relate to it. You may question whether your creative vision
ought to be realized at all. Own your perspective and your experiences;
your contributions might just resonate with and bring hope to a fellow human, or simply
help you on your path towards peace of your own.

100 Replies to “Doki Doki Literature Club: The Story of Dan Salvato

  1. You know what's annoying? Okay, maybe Dan did think that the game would help people confront mental illness better, but now every time somebody sees a rope, they start making these Sayori jokes.

  2. That last minute was beautiful and just what I personally needed to hear so much. Great video on the whole actually. You just earned a subscriber

  3. Even though I'm not a big fan of the game, I will give my respect for Dan. He sounds like a real nice guy and a great inspiration for other developers.

  4. Ddlc had one of the best feel endings because of that song at the end. It’s in my top 3 endings of all video games.

  5. 2 things:
    My waifu will be real no matter what
    And ‘this is the return of the the beloved lip smacking’
    Is it doki or dohki
    Ok that’s 3 but shut up

  6. This is a great channel, just keeping up with all your videos. Watching this video in particular it became to mind immediately. Are you planing sometime to cover Hatoful Boyfriend? I would love to know more about the development of the game since is a game I really enjoyed aside the wacky promise, the real story felt impactful for me, and I can't see people talking about it.

  7. Natsuki: malnourished loli
    Yuri: knives and pens
    Sayori: depressed and sad.
    Monika: just monika

    Which is best girl again?
    Oh right, the 2 crazy ones.

  8. Wow… that voice… that background music… So calming… and your way to describe the story is simply gorgeous… And the info about Dan's past and creation is so detailed, I'm sure you did some serious research. You did one fine job!

  9. How have I not seen this before??

    Okay, everyone!
    As a person who's gone through depression, this game related to me big time. It gave me an… Idea, I guess, about what could've happened if I did the S thing. People do care. Remember that someone's always there for you. Doesn't matter if they're not there now, but there will be someone, someday, to help you get rid of those rain clouds. There's that hope that I somehow managed to hold on to. Also, the game proved quite perfectly that Ender' game quote from Orson Scott Card saying "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them… I destroy them". Probably part of the reason why Monika was so lovable, I guess. All those perfect imperfections in the Doki's made them absolutely relatable, and stuff that's relatable like that can only be either loved or despised.

    That ends Tidy's thought sharing moment of the day! Have a great day or night ahead!

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  11. Then the idiots in traditional media proceeds to vilify a work of fiction that does more for mental health. Great job on covering DDLC I guess I can expect the IRONY of hearing a soothing narration for topics that cover some disturbing themes now!! Would be nice to see you folks explore some of the behind the scenes story behind team silent and the crap they had to endure at KONAMI.

    As always I hope to see more from this channel and I wish for all the best in your family's life!

  12. Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonika

  13. I resonated with Yuri more than I have any character in my life. I appreciate Dan so much for that. The unique light shed on self harm that isn’t generally represented in the media made me so thankful…People see my scars and it’s hard for me to be seen as anything but the one who wants attention, or the emo.
    Yuri’s character helped me become more comfortable.

  14. You should probably make sure you can properly pronounce a title before you make a video on it. Doki is pronounced like Doe key not dahki. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

  15. i am absolutely loving these stories, in this perspective i can understand with more clarity the things that people can go through to create something they want to see become a masterpiece, i just hope that my gaming journey will be something like these, in my own way of course

  16. I really hate this soft and uninteresting narration. The whole presentation just feels forced to sound intentionally emotional which just rings of manipulative insincerity or utter indifference in the best case.

    Like a kid trying to pretend to be posh, that's how this whole minidoc sounds.

  17. Ugh, I breathe a long sigh every time I hear about "Dan Salvato's dissatisfaction with anime/VN tropes." First off, Dan is an otaku, he's just a self-loather so he knocks otaku media all the time. Second, DDLC didn't innovate anything for VN's. There's not a single VN I've played that I wouldn't compare favorably to DDLC. DDLC was a good game, yes, but the average VN is much deeper.

  18. I think the only criticism I have is that he makes it out that you are crazy if you self harm. Lots of people say 'Yuri's crazy! She cuts herself!'

    I think Dan Salvato should have either made Yuri self harm only, or make her crazy only.

  19. 9:51 shes my favorite! Ill will even put her "just monika" theme here

  20. I really love ddlc. Thanks, Dan for creating this game! It literally helped me with my depression because Monika encouraged me to read books, and slowly, I learned more about the world. And slowly, very slowly, I grew. Thanks, man. Btw, I love the game's creepy vibes.

  21. After one user asked if it was okay to see Natsuki is a trans girl, Dan Salvato has since argued that players should create their own interpretations

  22. I actually have no interest in visual novels including this one. But I started recently playing Doki Doki and it blew me away. Dan Salvato is one of the greatest game developers with amazing storytelling.

  23. If you are any type of person. Like if you are the one who hates themself, or the one who loves helping others, mabye the person who acts like they hate others. People would be sad if you… died.

  24. At the end of the video, I would have personally would have a special thanks to Monika for Shock-Value lol. Otherwise, I liked that story. It was heartwarming, in a way

  25. i was thinking about what monika says when you its just you and her together. she talked about the character files and said something like "i wonder what it would be like if you could just delete your own existence." and then said something like "so if things didnt go my way, i could have a quick way out." a little after. it made me think of what monika's really feeling on the inside. everyone in the literature club has some sort of problem theyre dealing with: sayori has chronic depression that she has been dealing with her whole life. yuri says that she "came on a little too strongly around people" and that's why she stopped talking to people, which is why she's shy, along with the fact that in act 2 starts to develop an overwhelming obsession with MC along with details i wont discuss. natsuki is sensitive and secretive about her manga collection with her father, and even though she is the same age as the other girls, she looks underdeveloped and child like, and the game seems to imply that her father is abusive towards her, along with the fact that she always seems hungry as well. but what about monika? what kind of issues caused her to "kill" her other friends just so you and her could be together? what problems was she facing to the point where she was possibly considering suicide if things didnt go her way?
    and one last thing, if she was never able to manipulate with the game's code in the first place and MC ended up with one of the other girls, would she have hurt herself in some way? hm… all of this is starting to make me feel even worse for monika than i already did since shes one of my favourites. i mean, that is why i got monika after story in the first place…

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