Death Mark Explores How Trauma Can Make Monsters of Anyone
Death Mark sees players struggling to survive against horrifying ghosts. You’ll need to learn about the ghosts and what they endured in life to make it through these encounters. And while these supernatural beings can make you suffer all manner of horrible ends, you can stop them with elements of their humanity. If you have been paying attention to their stories throughout each chapter, you can peacefully dispel them. That’s because, while they may be dangerous spirits, they were all born from very human trauma. Trauma that could make monsters of any of us.
In this game, you’ve received a mark that means you’ll be dead by dawn. You’ll have to banish the ghost that gave it to you to get rid of the curse. Those ghosts have been pretty busy cursing folks left and right, too. So, you will always have a phantom-hunting pal as you explore decaying schools, creepy forests, and other ghostly locations. It’s always nice to have someone around during scary times, isn’t it? Conversation makes horror much easier to deal with.
As you’re exploring the ghost’s place of death in Death Mark, there’s usually a lot of information about them. While it’s scary to mess around in the dark in all of these places, there’s all kinds of valuable information about their hauntings you can find. Diaries, notes, and objects tell a little bit about the ghosts and how they died. More importantly, they tell you a bit about how the ghosts lived as well. What did they do before they passed? What happened to them? You learn so much about each ghost as you wander around their haunting ground.
That information will save your life. The first ghostis a school-aged child. He appears in mirrors and asks you if you think he’s pretty. If you say that you do, you’ll die. Normally, that would have caught me off-guard. Most of the time, you usually have to answer affirmatively if some scary ghosts asks if they’re pretty. Here, you die. But you learn a bit about that in advance, if you’re paying attention. You also learn that the kid hates adults as well. So, when he asks if you’re an adult, you might want to lie to him since you character is in his 20’s-30’s. If you don’t bother to learn about these ghosts, you won’t live long.
This makes for some interesting encounters with the deadly phantoms at the end of each night. Death Mark sees you in a standoff with the ghost as dawn approaches. During these battles, the ghost will attack from range as it moves toward you. You have to weather it’s distant attacks until it gets close enough to touch you. With every step, they grow more unnerving and twisted, finally revealing their disturbing shapes when they’re within arm’s reach. That’s where you’ll need to do one final thing that will free you from their presence.
While you have to know little things about the ghosts throughout the chapter, you’d better know their entire story by the end. As you explore each chapter, you’ll pick up items. This hodgepodge of bottled liquids, makeup, sporting equipment, and broken tools often looks like a meaningless mess. If you’ve been reading closely, though, you’ll see how the items connect. That way, you will know which tool you and your partner must use to overcome every step of the ghost attack. Miss even one of them and you’ll be dead in an instant.
This is where trauma really starts to appear in Death Mark. A lot of these items feel random and bizarre. However, these often tie back in to things from the ghost’s lives and deaths. A mirror doesn’t seem like it would be useful to banish a ghost that appears in a mirror. Lipstick doesn’t seem especially useful, either. What about a tree root? A handful of audio cassettes? Each of these connects to the lives of the ghosts you use them on, hopefully connecting them to instances of happiness. You need to pull them from the dark ways they died in order to set them free.
Within that happiness tends to be a connection to the horrific thing that lead to them becoming ghosts. The mirror is a gift from the person who last made them feel loved before they were taken away to an abusive life. The root is a connection to that feeling of family they lost when their cult all took their own lives. A song on a tape reminds the ghost about their loved one that they lost after taking their own life after being viciously assaulted. There is so much pain in each of these ghosts that there’s almost no wonder why they hate the living.
And that trauma is reflected in what they’ll kill you over, too. The abused child will kill you if you tell them they’re pretty, recalling some sickening things that were said to them. The ghostly bride hates to have eyes looking at it since its attackers took photos of their assault. They also sent them to the ghost’s boyfriend at the time. If you even mention the word “eye” or a word that sounds like it, she’ll kill you. Their pain is threaded through everything about their newfound ghostly life and death.
All of these things are unsurprisingly human, too. There’s not many rituals or unspeakable supernatural events in Death Mark. It’s just the terrible things that human beings do to one another. A principal abuses a student with impunity. A gang targets a woman walking her pet alone at night. A cult hurts someone who looks upon them as family. There’s no great occult thing going on in their lives. They’re just people who suffered greatly due to other people.
There is trauma throughout the stories of all of the ghosts in Death Mark. You need to know about the trauma they endured to survive their attacks. You spend the entire chapter poking through their personal lives and effects and trying to make them into something coherent. If you finally learn about it and bring them some hope, you can set them free. In the end, though, you can see how easily trauma can make monsters of caring, vulnerable people. It shows you how brutal, but human, pain can make monsters out of anyone.