Play Games, Learn About Writing
What is Death Mark?
Death Mark is described on the Nintendo store page as an adventure game, which it very much is. You play as a man with amnesia who finds himself drawn to a mansion he doesn’t recognize, with a mark, described as a dog bite, on your wrist. You don’t know how you got it, why you got it, how to get rid of it, or even who you are, but you do know that the answer is hidden somewhere in this mansion, and that is where our story begins.
Now, my opinions on Death Mark are pretty neutral. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. The Nintendo Switch title is pretty run-of-the-mill Japanese, adventure game. It’s text heavy, which isn’t a problem, usually, but the story really drags at points. The whole amnesia thing is pretty played out for me, but the horror is definitely present and well-done. So, it falls into my, “happy I played it, but probably won’t play again” pile. However, even if it wasn’t the best thing ever, there can still be a lot to learn about writing from this title, and here is what I learned:
Just because you can describe everything, doesn’t mean you always should
Death Mark, as I said before, is extremely text-heavy. Again, this isn’t unexpected of the genre, but, even so, the story just drags on and on. As a writer, just because your medium is based on words and the reader’s imagination, doesn’t mean you have to describe every minute detail. Concise descriptions can be just as powerful, if not more so, for a reader, and it allows the reader to fill in the blanks. If it doesn’t move the plot along, I would seriously question if it is necessary.
Horror can, and should, be subtle
The horror elements in Death Mark, I have to say, are excellent. There is a mechanic in the game where you have to point your flashlight around the room to reveal various things you can interact with. Often times I would be searching for something in a room, only to reveal a ghostly figure standing in the corner of the room. It never made a sound, not even when I exposed it. Even so, just knowing these silent figures could be haunting any corner of the room was enough to make me jump. The horror was pretty much all mental at that point. I was questioning myself, questioning how long it had been there, wondering how long it would wait to strike, etc. Just the presence of an unknown entity can be haunting, and not knowing if, or when, they may strike is even more so. It’s all about subtlety.
Amnesia is super played out
This could totally just be a “me” thing. I am super into anime, manga, J-RPGs, and the like, and I feel like this is more common in those mediums than any other: amnesiac main characters. I get it. It adds mystery. The person we are supposed to be relying on in the story is instantly unreliable, knows just as much as we do, and now we have to go exploring for the truth. I really hate this in most things and Death Mark is no exception.
I feel like it is a cop-out for a number of reasons, but the main one being that the main character almost always ends up being underdeveloped and the key to the entire mystery. So, I ultimately end up not learning very much about our main character, and the major reveal is typically super predictable. Now, I say all this, not to say that it can’t be done wonderfully, and I am sure there are plenty of examples out there where it is executed in an interesting way, but I feel that it is very easy to take the easy way out with amnesiac main character.
Characters can, and sometimes should, fail
Death Mark has the element of choice. During key points in the story, the character will be presented with options. Some options will lead to death, others will keep you alive for a while longer. I frequently fall into the trap of piling plot armor on my characters to the point they are untouchable. This is not something that happens to us in real life. Sure, there are such things as luck, chance, etc. However, don’t let that be an excuse. Your characters need to fail to grow, and sometimes they need to fail so hard that the consequences alter them permanently. This is how life works. Give them options, and make sure they make some bad choices.
People die, so if it is called for, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings
Sure, maybe you can’t or shouldn’t kill your main character. However, if the plot calls for it, don’t be afraid to kill people off. Death Mark is full of death. Depending on the decisions you make, you can kill everyone, or save everyone. Often times, I felt the death endings were more interesting than when everyone survived. I don’t know what that says about me. However, I do know that if I find it interesting, it is probably interesting to others. Just because you love a character, doesn’t mean you should keep them alive. Now, don’t just go killing every character all willy-nilly. Do try to keep in mind that this is something that happens in life. Would it also make sense in your story?
So that was Death Mark. Have you played Death Mark? If you have, what did you think of it? If you haven’t, will you now? What do you think of this list? Let me know, and comment below.