Firstly, I’d like to apologize for the choice of thumbnail, it was needed to convey exactly which topic I wanted to explore today. Just the sight of Sayori’s bedroom has become memetic even to those who have barely had a brush with the game’s plot, and has become synonymous with the horrors that become more apparent beyond that point. However, as a huge horror fan and someone who enjoys deconstructing and analyzing the genre, DDLC’s strengths, at least personally, lie in more of its emotional balance rather than it’s need to unnerve the player (think more To The Moon, less Outlast. Horror was never it’s main intent). Since this was my first time truly experiencing the game with the release of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! on the Nintendo Switch, I decided my write-up would focus squarely on an often-repeated theme in the overarching narrative; that of rooms. Not of a physical space per say, but boundaries, limits, solace, repression, and namely, fear. A room is a physical, mental, and self-imposed state all at the same time, which is why it lies at the heart of the narrative’s progression.
Many of Sayori’s poems tiptoe on the fine line between happiness and anxiety, referencing the character’s own multi-faceted personality (her depression being constantly overwritten by her positive mindset and need for reaffirmation). Her poems are written with the same approach in mind. As the narrative progresses, her poetry’s own bright and clear-cut themes become overshadowed, quite literally, by these negative traits manifesting. In one such example, the poem Bottles uses physical conflict to allude to mental harm and discordance that the character struggles to keep in check in the course of the story. The bottles are examples of Sayori giving pieces of herself to maintain friendships, resolve conflicts, and attempt to grow in the process, all while being held in the mental “room” that is her own subconscious. The result being that she ends up giving too much with little to heal her own state of mind, which ends up causing her friends concern, something Sayori was trying to avoid to begin with. With this, it can be assumed that Sayori’s own physical room, which we see in person in a number of backgrounds in the game, is disorderly and overexerted, mirroring her state of mind in this poem.
Plus the fact that her AC unit is incredibly small for a Japanese model is hilarious
One of the most important pieces of evidence in this analysis comes from Natsuki’s DDLC+ poem in the balance side story, The Best Place in the World. Here, the room is stated upfront as being her bedroom, which, like with Sayori, we can take as being representative of her state of mind. Unlike Sayori though, Natsuki is much more apprehensive of letting people into where her “Treasures…dreams…secrets…and failures” are. This privacy and standoffish approach can be attributed to her abuse growing up, and her own dislike of belittlement causing her to lock up the entrance to “the best place in the world” (that is, her mind) from prying eyes or from anyone with too aggressive of a personality, even in a positive sense such as Sayori herself. In fact, it’s a focal point in “Balance” that Natsuki’s anxiety over her friend’s overbearing personality causes a rift between the two, that ultimately amounts to a conversation of how “give-and-take” a friendship should be. In this way, we as readers can understand the various limits and boundaries each character holds in regards to their rooms, and in the main game approach them accordingly.
Yuri’s poetry tends to be more abstract and conceptual, far more so than the other two mentioned. Here, a room could be an unending beach or a liminal street illuminated by a single lamp, so the definition of a four wall space is stretched and bound in accordance to the message Yuri is communicating. However, there is one poem with a slightly more definite boundary, being that of The Raccoon. The raccoon, in it’s constant need to be sated and with its uncontrollable, animalistic desires, represents Yuri’s self-harming tendencies taking a physical form as an exterior force. A window is described in the poem, with Yuri gazing out of it and first noticing the creature’s existence. We can glean that Yuri’s “room” contains a window with a way to view the outside world, and a way for the world to view within her subconscious as well. What matters is how much she’d be willing to show within that opening to her mind. There’s very few ideas to go off of in the course of this specific poem (Yuri herself, the knife, the racoon) though each analogy is clearly laid out if not outright stated and acts as a foreshadowing early in the games plot, telling us exactly what Yuri intends to show through that window into her own thoughts.
Finally, Monika’s poetry is incredibly meta in accordance with her need to signal the player of her “decisions” and awareness of the game world. Almost none of these pieces reference a single place or limit on how much Monika desires to be set free of the game’s confines (or mental constraints, for that matter), instead the room could be read as the avenue you choose to play the game on itself (fittingly meta given the character). The four walls are the restrictions of the screen, and that sense of finality is what scares Monika to set the horrors of the game in motion. In all, the room represents a sense of dread among the cast, and lies at the heart of what the story of Doki Doki Literature Club hopes to express to the player; that sometimes boundaries are all held within your own mentality, and open communication can resolve far more than one would assume.
I’ve written more analytical pieces in the past, specifically about the themes and implications of The Tatami Galaxy. Or for something completely different, check out DK’s analysis on the downfall of Shonen Jump.