Team Salvato's Doki Doki Literature Club made a big splash last year when it was released for free on Steam and its own official website. Although designed to look like a fairly standard anime-styled visual novel, Doki Doki takes several dark turns as the story progresses, transforming into a psychological horror. Because of the game's dark nature, a father in Manchester believes it's to blame for his teenage son's suicide.
15-year old Ben Walmsley took his own life in February, and his father Darren blames the free-to-play game. According to Mr. Walmsley, his son was "dragged in" by the game and became obsessed with it, often sketching its characters. He also claims the game would send his son text messages in the middle of the night, waking him up. This cannot possibly be accurate, as the game offers no such feature and isn't available on mobile devices. Perhaps he's referring to an unofficial fan-made app of some sort, but it can't be the actual game.
"Ben was growing up fast. It is hard for parents but this needs to be highlighted. There is no confirmation yet, but we believe that the game could be linked to Ben's death. Characters suggest things and you decide what to do. It drags you in and they make it very real. Ben did not speak about it, but parents need to be aware of this game and other similar games. It is free to download but once you get into it, it will not leave you alone. The characters befriend and love you and give you tasks to do but if you do not do them, they turn nasty."
"Children are curious but they can get sucked in. The characters are clearly designed to drag young lads in. It is a game that needs taking offline and destroying. Ben was intelligent and funny with a great sense of humour. He was a gent, loving and caring. We just want to find out why and at the moment, it's all pointing to this game." — Darren Walmsley
Mr. Walmsley seems to be generally confused about the game, and his description is not particularly accurate. Doki Doki Literature Club, like many "dating sim" games, presents the male protagonist with several potential female romantic partners. The choices the character makes (mostly just choosing words for a poem and answering yes or no questions) determines which girl will fall for the protagonist.
Partway through the experience the game begins to introduce more serious themes, including depression, self-harm, child abuse, and suicide. Later still, an element of psychological horror enters the fray as one character begins manipulating the game's code in an attempt to get what they want, causing some of the other characters to exhibit erratic behavior. Most of the "nasty" behavior alluded to by Walmsley happens regardless of the choices the player makes.
In response to Mr. Walmsley's claims, the local coroner's office issued a warning to authorities across the country. The coroner, like Mr. Walmsley, blames the game for Ben's suicide but does not appear to know much about it.
"I believe the information is so concerning that this warrants my writing at this stage to make the local authorities aware of the issue so appropriate information can be disseminated. This has arisen due to the fact I am conducting the inquest into the death of a 15-year-old-boy who died earlier this year. Evidence obtained suggested he had used an online game called Doki Doki." — Manchester Coroner's Office
I'm not sure how one "uses" a game, but for the record, Doki Doki Literature Club is not an online game, although it can detect if you are streaming online while playing. The coroner's statement made no attempt to explain how playing Doki Doki could have possibly been linked to the boy's suicide.
Following the coroner's statement, several schools in the Manchester area have also issued warnings regarding Doki Doki Literature Club. Philips High School in Whitefield, where Ben was a pupil, issued the following statement.
"A concern has recently been brought to our attention by HM Senior Coroner regarding the use by young people of the online game 'Doki Doki', also known as 'Doki Doki Literature Club'. This is a psychological horror game. Please monitor and check your child's internet use regularly and be mindful of the time spent." — Philips High School
Headteacher Nicola Hill from Hetton Primary School also issued a warning to parents, calling the internet a "minefield" and cautioning against children playing the game. Even Detective Inspector Jude Holmes from Greater Manchester Police's Public Protection Division has caught wind of the story and weighed in. According to Manchester police, Doki Doki is "a risk to children and young people."
"GMP have been made aware of an online game called 'Doki Doki' or Doki Doki Literature Club which is a psychological game. We believe this game is a risk to children and young people especially those that are emotionally vulnerable and anyone with existing mental health concerns. I would ask parents to check the sites their children are using on a regular basis, as websites like this aren't flagged up by normal firewall settings." — Jude Holmes
As with any form of media that deals with difficult subjects like depression and suicide, it may be a difficult experience for people who struggle with such issues. For this very reason, Team Salvato has taken multiple precautions to make sure players are well aware of its potentially shocking content. The game is officially listed on its download page with tags including "Psychological Horror," "Horror," "Dark, "Gore," and "Violent," along with a warning that it's not suitable for all ages. Upon booting the game up, players are immediately greeted by the following warning:
"This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed. Individuals suffering from anxiety or depression may not have a safe experience playing this game. By playing Doki Doki Literature Club, you agree that you are at least 13 years of age and you consent to your exposure of highly disturbing content." — Doki Doki Literature Club
This warning also links to the game's content page for a more complete description of the types of disturbing content the game contains so players can make sure they're prepared for what's to come or choose not to play the game if they aren't. It's truly tragic that young Ben took his life, and we can't even begin to imagine the pain his father is going through right now. We hope he can eventually find peace and begin to recover from this horrific event.
Unfortunately, it seems that his misunderstandings about the game have caused him to see it as the sole culprit, and some authorities are following suit. Dan Salvato, creator of the game and the sole member of Team Salvato, has been reached out to by the Daily Mail, but he has not yet issued a statement.
Source: Daily Mail