Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
A Machine For Pigs: Daddy, Please Don't Kill Me

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 1 Oct 2013 16:00
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"Daddy, please don't kill me."

For all of A Machine For Pigs' problems with not being so much of a game as its predecessor, it is at least pretty well-written. And one of the qualities I admire most in writing is elegance. Being able to convey an idea with as few words as possible is what shows true mastery of the craft. I also like writing that immediately grabs you from the very first thing you read, which is something I kept in mind when I started writing both of my books. That's why Mogworld starts with an alarm going off. Partly for that reason, and partly so that the audiobook can kick off as obnoxiously as possible.

And as a fan of horror, especially video game horror, you have often heard me rail about the importance of subtlety in horror, and that when a big-budget project is obliged to paint all its money up on the screen, subtlety becomes impossible. Subtlety ties into the same appreciation for elegance and doing a lot with very little. Both the Amnesia games show a great understanding of how a creepy atmosphere is created through small touches. And if you want a specific example, look no further than the very first spoken sentence you hear at the very beginning of A Machine For Pigs, over a black screen:

"Daddy, please don't kill me."

And in five little words, aMfP is better written than quite a lot of games. Let's analyse this sentence as closely as possible, so we can understand why I find it so effective. The elegance I mentioned is in evidence in that it is basically the bare minimum of words for the sentiment; you couldn't remove any of these words without changing either the meaning of the sentence or the intended effect.

"Daddy" is a good start which immediately creates two characters where previously there had been none: the speaker, and the person they are speaking to, who is apparently their father. The fact that it's also a childlike term of endearment gives us a good idea of what kind of mental level the speaker is operating on, while also giving us the sense that the relationship between father and child is an understandably informal one.

"Please" turns the sentence into a plea, obviously, rather than a command. And a character does not resort to pleas when they have any kind of power over the situation, or the person they are addressing. Two words in, we have now painted the picture that the unseen father has total control over the future of the speaker. The fact that the sentence is said at all implies that the father either is or was open to being reasoned with, or at least that the speaker believes him to be, reinforcing that the characters have a strong familiarity.

What's also worth noting is that without this word the sentence "Daddy don't kill me" reads like it's being said very spontaneously, in response to some equally spontaneous action on the part of the father. The word 'please' - along with the slow, plaintive delivery - creates the sense that, whatever the father is doing, he is doing it not with a momentary surge of wild passion, but with a sinister deliberation and determination. The speaker can see his intended fate coming from a far enough distance that they have had time to become somewhat resigned, although not resigned enough that they won't resort to begging at the final moments.

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