Thoughts on We Know the Devil

This game is why I started this site. I wrote far too many words about it, realized it was too many words and stopped and shelved it. So I'm repurposing some of it for here.

We Know the Devil is a horror visual novel that takes place over the course of 12 hours at a Christian summer camp and follows three troubled teens: the tomboy, Jupiter, who tries to always do the right thing; the shy, bullied Venus whose words can be subtly, bitingly cruel; and Neptune, the meangirl who wants her friends to stop trying so hard to be good. It's approaching the end of their time at camp and Group West knows their turn to be sent to the cabin is coming up. It's their turn to be on watch for the devil and drive him off.

We Know the Devil has a unique aesthetic that immediately catches your attention. While it's not uncommon for visual novels to use drawn characters and photographs as backgrounds, the black and white, rougher style of the characters works a lot better than others I've seen, and the dark, synth soundtrack that feels out of a John Carpenter film brings it all together.

The story focuses on alienated teenagers, religion, social pressure, LGBT identities and repression. As you play through it, you will be asked to choose which two of the three characters will be together in a given scene, which is how the routes are handled. Not all combinations are available for every scene and you will always force one to be alone. I really related to the topics of repression and fear throughout it. If the basic concept of horror aesthetic, gay teens and a religious summer camp interests you and you haven't played it, please go check it out, it's available on steam and ($6.66) and has a prequel demo called We Know the Demo.

The Summer Camp the girls are at is never named and the game only has scattered mentions of its bigger picture. We don't get a lot of answers as to the world of We Know the Devil (WKTD from here on out for brevity), but we know what we need to because the story isn't about unraveling the mystery of what is this camp, we only need it as a setup. The Summer Camp has a cultish vibe, the students carry around crystal radios, wear white button down shirts with crosses that appear to be hastily drawn onto their pockets with a fabric pen. They also hear god on the radio, there's mentions of transformations and they go to a cabin to face the devil.

To those unfamiliar with the history of radio, the crystal radios sound even more mystical than they actually are in the game. Crystal radios were popular around 1900 as they required no external power to play the radio signals they could receive, they instead used the power of the radio signal itself for power. The crystal that Venus — who excels at working with the radio — references in the game, galena, is what was commonly used in these radios of the time. Crystal radios are simple, you need some wire, a capacitor, a crystal and some sort of earphone. They're a very interesting topic I highly recommend you look into further.

Brief diversion aside, even with prior knowledge of crystal radios, something is different about the crystal radios in WKTD. They are described with odd adjectives. Venus mentions their use in slicing things in the demo and each girl's radio has a different adjective associated with it. The Bonfire Captain — the only seen camp counselor — describes them as unique to each person and they connect to each of our three protagonists' personal issues.

The campers tune in to hear God on the radio and — if they are not careful — they can sometimes pick up signals from the devil. The Devil lives between the frequencies, while god is always found at 109.8. God sounds like every boy you are afraid of talking to at once. God doesn't check in to make sure you're caught up to what he's talking about. God expects you to show up on time and pay attention. God has rules.

The kids are split into groups of three and are then setup to isolate one of the three in most activities. The demo shows that this is common across most camp activities as only two of them can compete in a dodgeball game and only two in a talent show. The kids must be cruel to each other, especially when they go to the cabin. The Cabin is where kids are sent to face The Devil. The Devil lives in the woods and one of them will be tempted by and possessed by him. The Camp sends groups to The Cabin because they believe they all have something wrong with them and want that stamped out. They pit these kids against each other, they want them to isolate one of their number so that they fall to the devil and then be stopped by the other two. The kids must know that they are wrong.

The game centers around this as the mechanic. You the player/reader must pick which pairing will work together at each decision point, and outside of one the seven events, you only get to pick between two of these pairings. This not only saves time on writing and makes replaying for each path a bit quicker, but also forces you to see every combination of character. You can't just stick Jupiter and Neptune together every chance you get. But because there are 7 events, you can't balance them perfectly either. Someone is always left behind until you unlock the true ending.

There is nothing to fear where there is two against the devil. Two people can shame and drive back The Devil. Two people can report this fall to sin and push their third back on the right path. Each path ends with the character you featured the least turning to the devil as the other two use their radios to turn them back. The isolation has caused the remaining character to turn inward on their "bad" impulses and they know the devil. T

As the girls turn to the devil, they undergo a graphic transformations that reflect each character before they are driven back by the other two. One of them always has to be a bit worse than the others, one of them must be a scapegoat and the other two must be good and turn them back.

I mostly want to talk about Jupiter. I want to talk about her in a way that really goes through a lot of the details of her plotline, so if this game interest you, go ahead and play it yourself first. It's $6.66 normally and usually is in a bundle or steam sale for less.

Jupiter wants to be a good kid. She needs to be a good kid. She's supposed to be good. She can't not be good. She's smart, a good student, an athlete, and everyone else expects her to do well. She's not the kind of girl who gets sent to a camp like this. Even the jerks in Group South think she's cool. Jupiter always tries to put on a strong face. She acts like nothing bothers her, she tries to be friendly and tries to do the "good" thing without being sanctimonious about it. Jupiter makes occasional reference to her parents. Her mother is implied to be emotionally abusive. She may have been physically and/or sexually abused in the past as well. Jupiter has an extreme aversion to touching or being touched that can imply this.

Each girl in the game has a tic, her's is she snaps her hair tie on her wrist.

Jupiter has a crush on Neptune — she's a closeted lesbian who tries to lock these feelings away because it's not "good" to be gay. This is why she is at the camp. If you're not aware, snapping hair ties or rubber bands on your wrist is a form of aversion therapy often used by gay conversion camps. The idea is you snap the band on your wrist, causing you a non-serious amount of physical pain whenever you have gay thoughts. This causes you to begin to subconsciously associate your sexuality with pain to cause you to retreat from it. It's a cruel practice.

Jupiter really wants to be a good kid. Everyone expects her to be good, the pressure of the expectations of everyone else clearly weighs on her, particularly in her own route and the true ending. Her radio is described as heavy. I find the other character's "radio adjective" can be more directly related to how they communicate, but Jupiter's is a bit more general to the character I suppose. She feels the weight of the expectations of her parents, friends, and society. In Jupiter's ending, she, as she does through much of the game, immediately blames herself.

Jupiter says she liked it when she thought heaven was based on merit, where if you do good things, you can one day be good eonough to go to heaven. But she's gay. Her heart isn't "good" it's deviant. She can't be inherently good, she can only act it out. She can't go to heaven, God knows her heart has other desires. If it was about doing good things, she could make it. She doesn't have a shot at heaven now. She can act good, but she can't be good. She's inherently wrong and broken. Her mother taught her touching others is not polite, her dad told her as a girl she must protect herself from the touch of others, but she can't protect herself from her own touch. She asks what would happen if she stopped trying to stop herself from trying?

Throughout all the routes and especially the final route, Jupiter has trouble choosing her own happiness. She wants the devil to be real because she wants the devil to make her choose him. She needs it to not be her fault. She is too scared to make the call to be herself. She's afraid.

In the true ending, all the girls turn to the devil, be together and be themselves. Jupiter has the most trouble doing this though. She just can't let go and be herserlf, be "bad." She tells Neptune that she needs her to force her to join the other two with the devil becaus she's not strong enough to do it on her own. She begs them because it neerds to not be her fault. If she has to turn to the devil then it's okay.

She's scared, but she knows it's what she needs to do. She knows that if she takes that first step, she'll never be able to look back.