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2015’s We Know The Devil is a very gay game. It’s got magical girls, it’s got lesbians, it’s got anime art styles, it’s got a vague sense of nostalgia, heck, it even has angst! So much angst! Queer stories have a habit of going deep in angst, and for good reason. In case you’ve been watching nothing but Fox News and Info Wars for years, queer people don’t have it so good in, well, any country. But while the whole having equal rights as human beings thing is a significant issue, We Know The Devil is way more interested in more mundane situations and how they have a habit of causing emotional problems for queer people dealing with hardships, and how those issues tend to intertwine and become something horrific.
The premise is that our cast of characters (Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune) are stuck at a crummy Summer camp with a hostile camp councilor and a bunch of douchebag kids. Worse yet, they have to go take care of some camp business and risk facing the Devil. They’re all magical warriors, mind you, but the Devil is the Devil, so that’s still something to be frightened of. The game last for about an hour and arrives are one …hell of a conclusion!
Please, hold your tomatoes until the end of the article. You will want some levity by then because you’re in for a whole ton of sad.
It’s pretty clear from the start that our cast are not exactly in the best head spaces. Venus is overly passive, rarely speaking her mind properly when not in private. Jupiter has a nervous tick where she snaps a band on her wrist when she’s said or done something regretful, and Neptune is so constantly aggressive that it’s difficult to get close to her. As the story continues on, you quickly start to pick up that all of these characters are dealing with some very heavy shit, and the Summer camp is not helping in the slightest. Worse yet, all of them internalize their problems and each have their own self-destructive complex, taking their frustration and pain out on others, themselves, or trying to ignore it and letting it fester.
Venus is referred to as a boy, but the name is a dead giveaway that she’s really a transwoman. She hasn’t come to terms with this or even realized it yet, and is suffering from gender dysphoria. She acts so nice so others won’t hate her, as her real personality is significantly more snarky and judgmental. She also tries to avoid communicating to others on any deep level so they don’t realize how much of a mess she really is inside. She also seems to not understand why someone would like her, expressing shock in some paths if one of the girls goes with her instead of the other. Her Devil form has her appear as some sort of angelic being with a single, powerful gazing eye, a being of judgment with an improper form. It fits her quiet judgment of others and her uncomfortable feelings relating to her body.
Jupiter is the one suffering most openly. She’s scared of making mistakes, more than just out of fear of being disliked, and she constantly looks down. She’s the tomboy of the group, but she also acts the most submissively, and further talks with her begin to hint at a broken home life and an emotionally abusive mother. Her sexuality also becomes a problem, as she’s lack an outlet to explore has internalized feelings of being “wrong” when compared to her peers. And that band snap habit? She does that now to avoid committing self-harm. The other two looking up to her just further frustrates her. The most tragic part is that Jupiter craves contact with others, but part of her feels she doesn’t deserve it. When the Devil possesses her, she ends up as a monster with many hands, becoming the opposite extreme.
In comparison, Neptune seems the most put together of the three, except she acts out instead of represses or self harms. She’s suffering from a terrible illness that puts her in coughing fits, but she hates being pitied. It’s not clear what else has happened in her life, but it has left her unable to normally talk with people, hiding behind an abrasive personality for her own protection. She only lets it down a little when she starts getting close to someone. Seeing Jupiter as such a good person may have her reflect on her own poor behavior, while she thinks Venus acts the way she does to manipulate others instead of as a defense mechanism. Her Devil form is sickly and leaks gross fluids, stated to “feel like sin.” A part of her may want to bring misery to others because of her own frustration with her unfair situation.
All of these characters need help badly, but three of the four endings have one of them always possessed by the Devil. He game repeats that there’s nothing to fear with two people against the devil, and fully contextualizes what this means early on during a talk with the jerk camp councilor. He shares a story about his old group of friends, and how he had to leave one behind for his own good, showing a shocking lack of empathy. Ultimately, the three main routes have you doing something similar. Two of the group will become closer, and the third will have their problems explode as they’re possessed by the Devil and are defeated by their friends.
The game’s central mechanic is choosing which girls do what together at set moments in the game, and your choices will eventually lead to the exclusion. As a result, there’s no player character in the story – or maybe there is. There’s a lot of symbolism to take in, and a lot of it is multi-layered, but part of that symbolism suggests that the player character could be most accurately picked out as the Devil. Every choice you make leads the Devil’s actions and decides who it will possess, and the Devil’s motivations seem to mirror what the developers expect from the players.
The Devil is an honest being that states their intentions in the forth ending. The Devil ultimately wants to free people from their pain, and its world is far more inclusive than the world of God. Its desires to help the kids matches with the player’s desire to see them get through their suffering, to see the cruel world rebuilt. The main three endings seem to show the first happening, and both in the forth. It’s implied that being possessed by the Devil can lead to a lesson learned, becoming more aware of something inside one’s self and having the power to improve or fix he flaw. Venus realizes she’s trans, Jupiter finally speaks honestly about her pain somewhat, and Neptune is made aware of how destructive her personality could be. Of course, each pair in each ending helps one another out too.
The obvious problem with this reading is that one character always goes through something horrific, and people don’t always get better from experiencing something like that. People do need to be aware of their flaws or sources of pain to try and improve or heal, but a sudden shock like that is more likely to traumatize. On top of that, we never see if the possessed truly get better in any way, and their problems can’t be simply waved away. They require work and communication. Venus may become suicidal without a proper support network, with her friends too busy helping each other to pick up on her problems. Jupiter still has to go back to her terrible mother and has no one she can really depend on for support. Neptune is still horribly sick, and she’ll probably remain that way. Having a different outlook doesn’t chance her crappy situation.
God and the Devil are polar opposites that seem to know what’s best, but truly don’t. God is a judgmental, egotistical, uncaring jerk who can’t inspire feelings of love or care in others. He keeps order, but those outside the established norms (ie queer people) can’t properly fit and have to go through traumatic experiences to a some sort of twisted right of passage. When you listen to him on the radio, he’s mostly just speaking to himself in riddles and unnecessary symbolism, not really helping anyone understand anything or properly understand whatever lesson they’re supposed to learn. His world is one of quiet suffering.
But the Devil isn’t exactly the real answer to the problem either. The forth ending has all three girls spending equal time with each other and contacting the devil by accident, as none of them have excluded anyone. The Devil reveals their intentions and offers them its world, and the three become angelic beings that start changing the camp and the world. But we’re seeing this all through their narration, so why it seems like they’re finally making a better world, a lot of the script implies something much darker. The Devil helps people free themselves from suffering by leaving their bodies, with grotesque imagery like casually ripping off one’s arm. It’s notable that during this part, Jupiter is the only one truly horrified. She’s also the only one with a history of self harm.
The scene could be read as a suicide pact, with all three ending their lives and Jupiter being talked into it, as she’s the one most familiar with this behavior and is terrified to revert back into it. The disturbing sexualization of their gory transformation really pushes this, disguising ending each other’s lives as freeing themselves from the cruelty of the world and their situation. In this ending, nobody learns anything. Venus does realize that part of her problem is her body not feeling “right,” but simply casting it away doesn’t feel like the proper solution. The three end up taking out all their pain and suffering on the world they despise – a world we only see through their eyes, their account. They don’t even give proper faces to those they hate. They paint themselves as making he world better through the Devil’s influence, but there’s also hints that the Devil seduces. Its voice is described as “smoke and honey,” a mixture of pleasure and discomfort. The feeling that something seemingly good may not be so.
The supposed golden ending may actually be the worst, because instead of one character being excluded for a cruel, unnecessary lesson, they all exclude themselves from the world and cast their will upon it. They kill who they are as people and become something different, and it may not be something good. God and the Devil aren’t necessarily good or evil, but two different options with different views on what’s right. God desires order and feels that people must fit into norms. If you don’t, you need to suffer first to better fit. But the Devil is equally as cruel, destroying not only norms but possibly even compassion and love. Pain is necessary for people to grow, to realize they’re wrong, or to see something similar in others and help them through it. It’s necessary for empathy to exist. Without it, nothing is there to let us consider the position or world view of others.
The game does a great job at highlighting the struggle of growing up queer in the modern world. You have this nagging feeling that you don’t “fit” with it in some way, and it may turn into something destructive for you or others if you don’t work on it. Queer people of all schools are treated as deviants, or their existence is not registered as “real” (a particular problem for ace and bi individuals). Even if we don’t get that judgment directly in our lives, we know it’s there and that we’re different. When we don’t seem to “fit” with our family or peers, a part of us sometimes blames our sexuality or gender identity, and it leads to usually silent suffering that can become something worse. An inherent fear to talk with peers cuts off the healing process as well, because there are thousands of cases of people being thrown our or even hurt and killed for coming out. For others, your peers being unable to accept who you are can leave powerful scars and cause significant trust issues. We live in a society that generally tolerates most queer people, but not necessarily accept.
The game’s sad message seems to be that a little suffering is necessary to grow. You see it particularly in Neptune, who’s problems lead her to really becoming attached to Jupiter, seeing something in her she doesn’t see herself and trying to nurse the poor girl’s wounds. Yet at the same time, the game is well aware of how horrid a world like this is. It’s filled with beauty, but it’s also filled with untold sorrow and cruelty. But the world of the Devil, the world of no pain, is simply a world without beauty. It’s a new order that ignores the agency of others. You don’t grow as people, and instead become destructive to everyone, even yourself.
There’s no clear or simple answer here, and that may be the point. Life isn’t easy. It’s going to be in a bad place a lot. You’re going to feel hurt, betrayal, and you may even scream at how unfair it all is. But you’re still here, right now. You can still experience amazing things and form bonds. You may get hurt, but it’s not the end, just another bump on the road. Most importantly, you’re here, and you can put kindness and warmth into the world. You can say something someone else needs to hear, and that can make more difference than you can realize.
But be aware. You’re going to hurt people too. It’s unavoidable. Just try not to make that define you.