Screencap from We Know The Devil of Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune. Text reads: Neptune: It literally looks like it fucking killed you

Review: “We Know The Devil” is a horror game about community and survival

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

We Know The Devil is a game, a visual novel, created by Aevee Bee with art direction by Mia Schwartz. It’s already garnered a fair bit of attention and tons of gorgeous art and examinations from fans. It’s definitely here to stay, here to be remembered for a long time.

I’ll warn you right now, this is a spoilerific look at the game. If you haven’t played it, please do and then come back.

There are tons of reasons why it spoke to me personally just on a surface level alone: the characters are queer, I had a weird and mostly very bad religious upbringing, I went to a creepy religious summer camp as a kid, I have a literal and terrible fear of demonic possession, the list still goes on. But there is something much deeper than familiar surroundings and personal fear. There are so many themes: isolation, queerness, self-destruction, transness, envy, the impossibility of trying to please everyone, trauma of being forced to do something that will hurt you or somebody you care about (which, even if you don’t know it yet, will resonate with you). But the biggest one, the one that ties it together, is the idea that creating relationships potentially shuts other relationships out and what happens to a person when they’re shut out. It’s not a range of emotion you see tackled very often and usually when somebody ventures into uncharted territory like this, they fumble it but maybe pave the way for somebody else to do it well. Which is why it’s so impressive how completely, thoroughly, and uncompromisingly WKTD nails it.

I think that WKTD is about community and survival. The three protagonists are a microcosm of what a community, any community (having been in many, both queer and religious), looks like. They repress themselves because they have to, because that’s what they’ve been told to do and what can they do about it? They’re just teenagers. But they let each other be themselves just a little tiny bit when they’re around each other, because that way they can survive. A little drinking here, a little lesbian makeouts in a broom closet there, as long as they get to be just a little free while also playing by cruel and rigged rules, they can make it to morning. Maybe make it through everything else. Maybe go home. But the tools they have at their disposal to survive is also what’s breaking them.

Screencap of Jupiter and Neptune from We Know The Devil. Jupiter: Do you think he notices how much of a jerk he is sometimes?


Two against the devil

Three teenagers — Venus who is shy and desperate to please and apologize, Jupiter who is tomboyish and good at everything except when it counts, and Neptune who is grouchy, sarcastic and at times outright cruel but considers herself to be the bearer of difficult, honest truth — are sent to a cabin by the camp counselor, “The Captain,” and have to wait all night for the real, literal devil to come and take one of them. They don’t know if he’ll come or not, but they know he’s real and that he most definitely could come. It’s a test. Or maybe not a test. It’s a thing designed for somebody to lose, because somebody must be taken by the devil. Maybe it’s another one of those things adults force you to do in order to break you and bend you into what they want. Maybe it’s not a test, but indoctrination.

Throughout the course of the game as events occur you are able to pair characters off and they get to talk one-on-one. You get to see the characters be a little more genuine with each other and here the game starts to grab your heart and twist it, because the one who is taken by the devil is the one who you leave behind the most.

On the off-chance that you’re not on the up-and-up with games, lots of them have branching paths and multiple endings which are often divided into Good Endings and Bad Endings. The Good Ending, where everything is saved and everybody lives, and the Bad Ending, which can range from “everybody dies” to “you save a bunch of people but maybe not everybody and the bad guy gets away” or “you win but people are still hurt.” But the Bad Ending is always bittersweet at best and devastating at worst. Pretty straightforward it seems. But WKTD tells you that the Good Ending can’t happen without a Bad Ending for at least one person. You have to pick one of three people, decide who deserves the Bad Ending the most so that the others can have their Good Ending.

In a group of three, one is pushed out more than the other two and the more you leave a specific character alone in order to let two others get closer to each other, the more likely the third character will be taken by the devil. When somebody is taken, the character gives into their guilt, pain, desires, or whatever is scratching at them the most. Whatever thing they didn’t have somebody to help them deal with, the devil will consume them with it until they implode and after a grisly transformation into something terrifying, abstract, and symbolic, the other two will cast out the devil, and you’ll then be brought to a brief ending where the now exorcised third wheel lays unconscious and the other two have a final conversation.

It is one person’s job to be the devil so that the other two can cast him out.

Screencap of Venus and Neptune from We Know The Devil. Neptune: We are bad kids, aren't we.


It should have been one of us

This is a work of emotional maturity about three kids without much of their own. It’s possible to see yourself in every character but each one is so different and embodies such a different experience and frame of mind. They all have depth so far beyond what they are on paper. It’s not about what they are, rather it’s about how what they are shapes their reality due to being forced to comply with something that isn’t them.

Venus is a trans girl who either is closeted or hasn’t figured it out yet, but that doesn’t summarize his character or touch on it even a little bit. He is envious of the other two girls but for so much more than “they’re girls.” Venus’ reality has turned him into something that can’t be summarized by “closeted trans girl” even if that may be a part of where his damage sprouts from. It isn’t even mentioned, except for when his transformed self is suddenly referred to as “she.” Everything is recognizable to other trans girls because they recognize the thought processes and other problems he has throughout the game. We know Venus is a trans girl without any obvious hints. We know beyond the shadow of a doubt before it’s confirmed for us. That is so fucking rare to see.

In fact, Aevee still refers to Venus as “him” when talking about the game. Which is less about misgendering him and I believe more about establishing the world he lives in — which is why I’m still using he/him pronouns despite having obviously complicated feelings about it, as a trans woman. Venus’s world isn’t that simple, not yet anyway. His life is just him grasping at a thing he needs but is terrified of. He is the only one who runs from the devil before giving in.

Likewise, Jupiter and Neptune have a crush on each other and it’s not framed as “oh woah is us, the repressed lesbians,” even though that is exactly what they are. Aevee doesn’t let that side of it get away because it’s real and it hurts, but that’s not what it looks like to teenage gay girls in a weird, rural, religious world. To them it looks like needing to touch and be touched and thinking it’s wrong without a sufficient explanation from adults as to why. It’s kissing in a closet and trying to to do logic gymnastics in your head in order to somehow make it not that Bad Thing, but something else that’s ok but you still can’t tell anybody. Even then, their crush isn’t a fraction of what’s going on with them individually. It’s fucking brilliant.

WKTD never stands up and tells you what it’s doing. You just know it when you see it. Like real life. When something bad happens in real life, you don’t think, “Oh this is the bad part” because you’re too busy having something happen to you.

Each one of them thinks they’re the one who deserves it and is convinced that they’re going to be the devil that night. What’s more is that each one thinks the other two don’t deserve it and despite their terror, are sort of ok with it happening to them as long as it doesn’t happen to the others. They each think the others are basically good and want good things, but won’t extend that compassion to themselves.

It makes the game emotional torture. Trying to decide who deserves to get left out and taken, because none of them do. Mia’s artwork instantly endears the three to the reader, while Aevee’s writing makes you see how precious and beautiful they are in such a short time. You want to protect all three of them at all costs. Especially when you realize that the thing that makes each character become the devil is a thing that isn’t bad, but a thing that would make them beautiful if they would let it. But they’re stuck playing this sick, unfair game set up by adults that requires somebody to lose. Unless…

Unless you get the fourth ending.

There is room for three in my world, and only two in his

If you manage to balance out the interactions with the three, never leaving anybody out, all three are taken by the devil. There is an intense build-up where the three of them together decide that they aren’t going to do what they’re told is good when it means ruining themselves and the three of them are transformed together. But it’s not grotesque and terrifying this time. They help each other be what they are together instead of repressing each other for their collective survival.

The three main endings are about what community is most of the time, but the fourth ending is what it could be, what it needs to be. The fourth ending is people peeling away each other’s shells and people letting their shells be peeled away. Not just being vulnerable with others for your own sake, but for the sake of each other. The build-up to it, the three’s purposeful decision to give in to their own liberation and the artwork you see as a result — to say it’s beautiful doesn’t do it justice. It’s impossibly beautiful.

BUT. To get that, you have to get at least one of the other endings first (though I suggest doing all three) and THEN you can try to get the beautiful, sorrowful thing. You have to let somebody take the fall before you get to that gorgeous love. You have to hurt somebody first. This was a very deliberate choice. Because of the emotional impact of each character’s ending, you don’t forget it forging ahead to see more. Each person’s nightmarish end is burned into your brain while you try to save everybody which not only makes the fourth ending even more beautiful, but makes it way more real.

Everybody has hurt somebody who didn’t deserve it. Sometimes you had a choice and sometimes you did but you didn’t. Nobody makes the world a better place without fucking up and hurting people first. It is impossible. We Know The Devil tells you that you shouldn’t forget the people who got hurt along the way to becoming better. You still carry the weight and guilt of hurting Venus, Jupiter and Neptune even after getting the fourth ending because the emotional impact of doing so is still sitting in your chest like a cactus. By the time I was finished with my first pass through the game, I was devastated. When I played again the next day to get the other three endings, I was inconsolable. Overwhelmed, sobbing loudly into my hands.

We Know The Devil is a game that is about perfect people who are told they’re imperfect. It’s about queerness without relying on that outside-looking-in, analytical gaze. It’s about hurting each other and contributing to each other’s repression. It’s also kind of about saving the world.

Usually, when you save the world in a game you feel good afterwards. Accomplished. You used power to save the world from something fantastical and impossible. In We Know The Devil, you use something fantastical and impossible to save the world from power. That’s why it hurts. That’s why you ache even though you saved them all and tore down every lie in the final ending. Because you know that most endings in real life are like the other three. The fourth isn’t impossible, but because of all that outside power, it’s so difficult. It’s so hard to stop concentrating on surviving for long enough to concentrate on reaching out to each other and holding on tight. It’s so hard to stop worrying about when you’re going to finally be free to just be free already.

This game is compassionate, oh so compassionate. It knows you’re hurting and wants to make it better. But it’s also genuine, so it doesn’t coddle and it doesn’t hold back and it doesn’t make it better. It just tries to make you see.

Adults also hate perfect kids who love the world so much they can’t stop themselves from saving it

Anybody who sees the final ending and thinks, “oh how pretty and nice,” and nothing else has (no offense) no idea what the other endings or the whole game is getting at. It’s beautiful because of how vital it is, but it hurts because of how impossible it seems. Smart, incisive, compassionate and unfair things like this need to be front and center for us. When we talk about media and its potential to hold a mirror up to us and to hard painful truths about us, about communities and relationships and queers and women, I truly believe this will be one of the examples we bring up for some time to come — if we don’t let it slip past us. If we don’t push it away like a third wheel.

We Know the Devil is available on Date Nighto for $6.66

Ottawa, ON, Canada

Writer and illustrator of short story series, Gay Losers Pornographic illustrator, focusing on trans women.

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