Content Warning: The following article will contain some mentions of Homophobia and Transphobia as well as major spoilers for “We Know The Devil”.
I’m very strongly of the opinion that video games can absolutely be considered art. Obviously not all games fall under this category, I’m not going to go out there and argue that I consider the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield game as a piece of art, however for every cookie cutter game like that there is a title that pushes the boundaries of the medium, a title that does something you could only really do in a video game.
Enter We Know the Devil, a visual novel released by the indie studio “Worst Girls Games” back in early 2016. It’s Steam page describes it as “A Visual Novel about teens reluctantly fighting the devil at summer camp”. On the surface this was a concept that very much intrigued me, even though I had an idea from the get go that there was likely to be a lot more to it than meets the eye. So, I threw it in my steam cart and went through it in an evening, not having any idea how much the experience I was about to go through would resonate with me.
Before I go into things, I should probably give some context, both about the game, and about myself. For those who don’t know me, I’m Nicole, a 22 year old trans woman from New Zealand and I’m the site backend manager and web designer here at Final Weapon. I also write sometimes, like right now for example. This may seem largely irrelevant at the moment, and to an extent, it is. However, this becomes very relevant later.
In We Know the Devil we follow our cast of three teenagers at a summer scout camp. Making up our main trio is the very shy and timid Venus, the tomboy Jupiter and the sharp-tongued Neptune. Being a scout camp, the game doesn’t take long to jump onto the whole God bandwagon, setting an atmosphere that hangs over you for the duration of the game.
Our main trio are part of what is known as “Group West” who we follow for the next 12 or so hours as the events of the story unfold.
It doesn’t take long to really figure out that there’s something strange going on however, in particular, talks of “The Devil” which are ongoing throughout each of the 4 endings the game has.
We Know the Devil thrives off its strange, out of the ordinary atmosphere, very much seen in its presentation which is a mix of hand drawn black and white character art and photographic backgrounds taken on disposable film cameras. This is all backed up by an excellent 80s synthwave soundtrack, albeit one you’ll want to turn your headphones down for as some tracks peak quite violently with very harsh tones. Now this is obviously by design but it’s a warning I feel is worth mentioning if you feel like you want to play this yourself.
Speaking of which, from here on out we’re about to enter HEAVY SPOILER TERRITORY. If what I have mentioned so far has at all interested you in the game and you feel like you might want to play it, please close this article, pick up the game off steam or itch, play it, and come back when you’ve completed it.
Throughout the course of We Know the Devil you are presented with multiple branches where you have to pick which two characters of the trio spend time together in order to progress the story. The situations you’re presented with vary, from things as simple as “Who should fix the siren”, to more out-there teenage things such as “Who should play a game of Truth or Dare” or “Who should participate in a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven” (A game which I had never even heard of and had to Google in order to figure out the context of whoops!).
Eventually, the story hits its common crux point, where the trio all tune into a radio station to listen to what is quite literally the big man upstairs. Guess God got himself an FM transmitter.
This is the point where things take a drastic shift, with one character suddenly getting seemingly taken over by “The Devil”, metamorphosing into some eldritch creation that is then taken down in very magical girl fashion through text, as “there is nothing to fear with two against the devil”. Everyone seemingly returns to normal, and the game ends.
Now, if you’re like me, finishing the first ending of the game, you’d likely be scratching your head in pure confusion trying to figure out what on earth just happened. Indeed, here’s what I said on twitter right after finishing the first route yesterday.
We Know the Devil uses a relatively traditional visual novel setup, with a total of 4 endings (3 normal and 1 true). In order to see the true ending however, you need to see all three normal endings. Knowing this, I set out to finish ending 2 and 3, in the hope of some more context that would help me figure out what the heck was going on.
This however, did not come to pass. Endings 2 and 3 are just as mindscrewy and difficult to understand as the first ending. Something is missing. A core piece of the puzzle is missing that is preventing me from understanding this. I was confused, kind of frustrated, wondering if I was missing something or that the subtext was going entirely over my head and I was just simply “too stupid” to read between the lines.
And then I played the true ending.
Bombastic true endings are nothing new in visual novels or video games in general, often you want to build up to some huge epic conclusion where things get tied up nicely or at least you’ve given a satisfying end. However, We Know the Devil managed to do something I have never seen before and turned the whole concept of multiple endings in a game into a piece of symbolism I never expected.
To really get down to the nitty gritty as to WHY the true ending of We Know the Devil works so well, we first have to establish what actually happens though, so let me sum it up quickly.
A common pattern throughout the game has been the topic of exclusion, something foreshadowed as early as the very beginning of the game with the story told by the scout leader at the camp fire. In order to progress the story and get one of the three endings, you have to make a choice. I didn’t pick up on this the first time around but going through it again for the second ending, it started to become more obvious what was going on. The ending that you get and who ends up becoming “The Devil” is decided by who you choose to EXCLUDE from the group in your choices throughout the story. The excluded party is then left to dwell on their own, dealing with their inner thoughts and feelings until they eventually accept “The Devil” into their heart, prompting the final sequence of each of the three endings. The events of the game all happen due to your choice to exclude one person from the group of three, causing that person to eventually crack under their own pressure and give up on being a “good kid”.
But… what if there was another way?
The true ending of We Know the Devil manages to throw one of the most interesting plot curveballs I’ve seen in recent memory, where upon a fourth replay of the game after getting all three endings, one scene has a new option added, where all three of Group West stay together. By using this option and carefully balancing your interactions with each party, you can reach a point where nobody in Group West is left out.
So, comes 2AM, when the teens tune in their radio to listen to God’s broadcast… Except this time, it’s not God who they hear coming out of the speakers.
“Oh. Hi there” says The Devil, catching our trio off guard. This isn’t right, this isn’t what they’re supposed to hear but they can’t do anything, frozen to the spot as the Devil continues her story.
“I’ve missed you”
“I’ve always missed you”
“I can still remember what your faces were like”
“I have missed them since before you were born”
“Please come back”
“I know I can’t offer much”
“The bodies I can give you are weak”
“The stories I tell are impossible”
“My world is even more precarious than this one”
“But please come back”
“It hurts to see you like this so much”
“So unhappy in those bodies of yours”
“Stricken by those stories”
“Forced to live in so much pain”
“I can’t even come save you”
“But I can promise you one thing”
“There is room for three in my world”
“And only two in his”
This was the exact moment the light switch flipped in my head, the moment I had been searching for the whole time during my playthrough, the information I needed, the moment the puzzle pieces began to fall into place and it’s the point I began to appreciate and resonate with the story.
At this point in the story, it has become pretty clear that there is something going on with the main trio in Group West, they all have something they are struggling with, something that is often foreshadowed through the story but most noticeably, through their possessed “Devil” forms.
In Jupiter’s ending, when she becomes “The Devil” she transforms into a large being surrounded by hands, lots of hands, embracing her, touching her, caressing her. This directly reflects Jupiter’s big struggle around her yearning for physical contact despite not wanting to form an intimate personal connection with others, all because her mother dissuaded her from touching others, deeming it to be “rude”. Jupiter is suffering from a self-induced touch starvation as a result of her past trauma. She WANTS touch and physical contact but she’s reluctant to initiate the personal connections that could allow her to get that. This is also touched on in one of the “Seven Minutes in Heaven” scenes where Jupiter and Neptune make out in the closet, something she seems to express both reluctance and happiness towards, despite her obvious crush on Neptune that she doesn’t want to accept.
In Venus’s ending, when she becomes “The Devil” she transforms into a large being covered in eyes, watching, looking everywhere. While this connection is harder to make, with later revelations it very much ties into Venus’s desire to live as a Woman instead of a Man. When she accepts “The Devil” her eyes get opened to what she really wants. She is no longer hiding herself nor averting herself from the truth in her life, embracing her gender identity as a transgender woman instead of hiding it from others and herself with her usual timid, shy demeanor and attitude of not wanting to hurt others with her actions.
In Neptune’s ending, when she becomes “The Devil”, she transforms into an oozing monster, oozing out thick black ichor onto whomever she touches. The connection here is probably the most difficult to make and very much has multiple interpretations but, in my eye’s, I view it as Neptune’s anger towards the world around her, the anger she feels towards those who punch down, the anger she feels towards these rules that determine who is “good” and who is “bad”. Her rage hits a boiling point, she wants to act, to do something to re-balance the scales, to simply go tooth and claw at society and those who seem to forcefully dictate how she and those she cares about should live. Unlike the other two, Neptune’s transformation is less about coming to terms with herself and more about recognizing her dissatisfaction with the world and society and the way it is suffocating her.
On their own, all three of these “Devil” forms, stand no chance against the push-back they would get. The ideologies and feelings getting shut down by those around them, in this case the other members of the trio who try to be “good”. The scout camp is a sort of metaphor for society and religion in a way and how it plants thoughts and beliefs about what is right and wrong in the minds of people, and how they should push back against those who don’t agree with them. In the case of group west, all three members fall into this camp of being the ones that the camp and by extension society would push back against.
For example, Venus. As a trans woman, she would have to experience the societal backlash that comes as a result of that, often from religious groups who believe that being transgender is a “sin” and an ever-increasing number of TERF’s (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) who believe that trans woman are just “faking it” and are trying to infiltrate womans spaces, or that they don’t deserve the right to be called a woman because “Trans woman don’t have a Uterus”.
The whole cast as well is shown to be openly sapphic at multiple points throughout the entire game, another thing that would receive major push-back from their camp and again by extension, parts of society.
Neptune wants to fight back against all this, but when it’s one against many, you’re bound to be outnumbered and shut down, which is the crux of the first three endings. The line “There is nothing to fear with two against the devil” openly pointing towards the very common tactic of strength in numbers used by anti LGBT organizations and religious groups to try and shut people down.
In essence, the first 3 endings all consist of the one character who is left out coming to accept themselves, only to get shot down and pushed back into the mold of what the camp believes to be a “good” person. It’s a metaphor for the hundreds of closeted trans woman and men who are pushed back into the closet by friends and family who don’t want to accept them, a metaphor for the friends and family who can’t handle the idea of somebody they know being in a same sex relationship, a metaphor for the people who push against others who want to reach out for change, to band with others and push for a better tomorrow, only to get people throwing water on the flame so as to not give it a chance to kindle.
In the True Ending, all of Group West accept “The Devil”, coming together as one, all accepting who they really are and what they want to do. All collectively deciding to push back against what the camp deems to be “good and right”. Group West however, will not give in.
“The rest of the kids are coming for us, with god and the radio, ready to undo our wish”
“But they will not”
“They won’t touch us”
“One moment is all we need”
“To share, to yearn, to carve us into the world”
“There is nothing to fear when there are two against the devil”
“But we can’t wait to see what they’ll do against the three worst girls since Eve”
As an aside, this scene can also very much be interpreted as a sign of Group West being in a polyamorous relationship, something that would add even more to the push-back they would get. With that in mind I personally thing that was indeed what the writers were going for here but this scene is very much open to interpretation in that regard.
In the end, Group West wins. Their own strength in numbers fends away those who wish to deny them, those who wish to get rid of them. A collective effort from a team that all accepted themselves, instead of forcing themselves to stick to what others deemed good and right.
The real beauty of this true ending for me however comes from the way it is presented and the way it ties the story up. You remember how I mentioned that the first three endings don’t really make much sense? Well, I believe that was done on purpose.
The title, We Know the Devil can be interpreted in many ways, but when you’ve seen the true ending it suddenly takes on new meaning. The “Devil” is the information that “God” aka society, religious groups, LGBT hate groups etc don’t WANT us to get our hands on and avoid as much as possible.
I was talking to a friend on discord right after finishing the game and she made the point that “The first three endings make the player feel like they’re missing something important. They give you the pieces but not, like, the big important piece. They show you this piece constantly and go “This piece is bad, don’t use this information”
“And then in the Devil ending the Devil gives you the final piece and everything feels RIGHT where all the other endings feel WRONG”
This was the moment for me when I knew I had to write about We Know the Devil. The point when everything fell into place entirely for me and the whole game resonated with me on a personal level, because that’s exactly the same experience I went through in my life when coming to terms with my gender identity.
Growing up, I was always told that I was “different” and that it was because of a variety of different things. From Autism to ADHD to Anxiety, these were the things I was told were making me feel “different” by the people closest to me who I trusted the most. For over 20 years, that is what I believed. All these strange feelings that cropped up in me, these confusing thoughts that crossed my mind, I just explained them away as “oh it’s just Autism” or “oh it’s just ADHD” or “oh it’s just my anxiety” but I never felt truly satisfied with that explanation, deep down. I buried it down there anyway, not wanting to face it head on if only because if I tried to do that I wouldn’t know where to start.
The turning point for me in my life was really the internet, a place where I was independent of the watchful gaze of my parents and those around me, a place I could explore and meet new people and discover new ideas that were withheld from me on purpose.
During New Zealand’s first lockdown last year in 2020, soon after I got back from JAEPO and not long after my 21st birthday, it clicked. With the help of personal research and talking to other trans and gender diverse individuals, I finally got that information I needed. I got the last puzzle piece.
And for the first time in my life, I felt right. I felt correct. I felt like I was finally me. In a way, I now knew the devil.
“God” in my life was always my family, friends, the people I knew from my church youth group etc. They will have known this information existed but they would never mention it because it was “wrong”. To them it was “bad and incorrect”. I lived life just following what they said.
For me, “The Devil” was well, the internet and the people I met there. The people who introduced me to the information I never knew and that “God” was never willing to tell me, and suddenly, I felt right.
The structure of We Know the Devil relies heavily on this idea of the first three endings not making much sense, because they’re not supposed to. It’s supposed to leave you confused, bewildered, questioning what just happened, because the information you need to figure everything out is being withheld from you on purpose, just like it was from me. Only when you have that final piece of the puzzle from “the Devil” did it all makes sense to me, both in the game, and in my life.
We Know the Devil manages to tell a unique and compelling story in a way that only a video game really could, a story of a pursuit of happiness, acceptance and love in a world where people constantly are on the push back against you. But under it all is hope and the beautiful true ending which makes We Know the Devil a unique experience well worth having.
If you are at all interested in what you have read here, I highly recommend picking it up and giving it a read as well as the sequel Heaven Will be Mine. They’re both available on Steam and itch for pretty cheap. We Know the Devil is also available on Switch if you prefer that platform (although it is not available in New Zealand at time of writing)