by Pascal Marcel Wagner
The following guest post is a translated and revised version of a commentary that originally appeared on Pixeldiskurs.
A “god of steel and steam” is how Victorian industrialist Oswald Mandus describes the core of his Meat Processing Company in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (The Chinese Room, Frictional Games, 2013): a sausage-making machine as big as an entire city and bored deep into the ramshackle core of London. A holistic meat grinder that accompanies the slaughter animal from birth to sausage. The farm animal is born, raised, fattened, stunned, slaughtered and cured in it. The machine is so efficient that it requires no human input apart from its maintenance and cleaning. It spits out so much sausage meat that the bloody mass pulsates in streams and floods through the factory’s innards. The boundaries to modern slaughterhouses and sausage factories are blurred here.
What’s in my sausage? That’s a question which could be carefully addressed to any southern German sausage factory. If there no longer is a need to look at what actually goes into the sausage, then at some point no one will look either. Mandus processes pigs – A Machine for Pigs, as the title says. But who would have guessed that what is a pig and who is a human depends on perspective? Mandus is a fanatic, a doomsday prophet. After a terrible illness on a trip to Mexico, the fascination of Aztec human sacrifices mixes in his head with hallucinations that approach visions of the future. The new century, the twentieth, must never dawn. Mandus is convinced of this, as in his dreams he sees his two sons perishing in the trenches of the Great War – the First World War – on the Somme, like pigs in the mud of their sties. That is why humanity must burn, must be extinguished, and for that it takes a god. One who is less benevolent than Christ. And what could be better in the age of steel and steam than an iron god, a cruel machine which rises to godhood soaked in so much human blood that it is willing to get more by force.
The line between mass slaughter and mass destruction
A machine that has perfected the industrial slaughter of cattle, is just a few moves away from the job of slaughtering people. But Mandus doesn’t sacrifice human beings. For “human beings” are those animated, intelligible creatures who, only later, will be raised up to heaven, through the fire of purification. Mandus sacrifices pigs. Animals with a herd instinct and lots of flesh, fat and blood that yield delicious sausages. For Mandus, this description is not limited to a particular species of common domestic pig. But it encapsulates an attitude to life that he believes also can be found especially among the poor. For this reason, he lures beggars, casual labourers, orphans and prostitutes into the bowels of his factory with promises of free sausage dinners and a place to sleep. Once there, they are drugged to make them dull and compliant and then transformed into humanoid pigs with the technological sorcery of his God-like machine. When they are finally fat enough, they are mashed together with ‘real’ pigs.
The factory eats its inhabitants. Day labourers who shovel coal on the upper levels end up in the boiler at some point, as do the orphans who, because of their compact size, are sent into the red-hot pipes to scrub grease deposits out of the valves. Only the skilled workers, the well-trained ones, are not affected. Mandus never lets them, his ‘loyal workers’, enter the lower levels of the machine. The machine eats its workers and only spits out the engineers. The industrialisation of production and the industrialisation of killing go hand in hand in A Machine for Pigs. This is met by a religious thought that sees institutionalised faith exclusively as a tool for the faith leader to achieve his own goals. Mandus, driven by the nuanced scepticism of the Enlightenment and using the tools of the 19th century, tries to prevent the sins of the 20th century by wiping out humanity before it can start the First World War – and in doing so he resorts to the methods of the Second World War, thereby committing even more terrible sins than he could ever have been foreseen in his feverish delirium. In his attempt to prevent the “primordial catastrophe of the twentieth century”, as he puts it, Mandus has invented one of the tools of the Shoah and used it to prematurely create the predatory capitalism of the twenty-first century.
Us Aristocrats Above those who Work
One of the key passages to understand Mandus is not found in A Machine for Pigs, but in the downloadable add-on content Justine (Frictional Games, 2011) to its predecessor, Amnesia: The Dark Descent (ibid, 2010). “The aristocracy doesn’t need to know right from wrong. We are always right” states Justine Florbelle in the Valve-commissioned Portal tie-in, which translates the basic structure of Valve’s first-person puzzler into a horror game. Justine, as the daughter of nobility and Mandus, as an industrial magnate, a de facto aristocrat of the fading nineteenth century, have lost all connection to socially negotiated standards of morality, if they indeed ever had them: The young Justine through years of psychological testing by her father, the supposedly charitable Mandus through his fever contracted in Mexico and the vision of the Great War. Justine is even representative of the Marquis de Sade, author of the novella Justine (de Sade, 1791), on which the eponymous additional content draws conceptually, and who embodied such aristocratic amoralism in his works which eventually gave sadism its name.
Amnesia’s Justine is equal parts sadistic and masochistic when she repeatedly poisons herself with bromide in order to test her humanity on men locked in death traps during her subsequent temporary amnesia. Mandus, on the other hand, is not a sadist. He does not perceive any suffering that he inflicts on others and that he could take pleasure in, because in his eyes no “pig” feels more pain than a common insect.
Purification only through Personal Involvement
It is only through the confrontation with his own most terrible deed, the ignition spark of his infernal engine, that Mandus finds his way back to a kind of moral understanding via remorse. For it is only when he enters the shrine at the heart of the machinery, reminiscent of an Aztec sacrificial pyramid, that even the amnesiac Mandus realises how the whole demonic complex of the machine is powered by the two ripped-out hearts of his young sons. Although his decision to put an end to the deity had matured before, Mandus is only now finishing what must be done. Mandus must die so that the human-grinding gears of his factory come to a halt. His own death, as agonising as possible, ensures that the suffering of those he has previously condemned to incredible torment is minimised. In this negative utilitarianism, A Machine For Pigs again picks up on the minimisation idea of the agonies of death in the Nazi death camps: The efficient, industrial, rapid killing of countless living beings is not humane and it does not reduce suffering, it causes it. Mandus’ only moral act is to switch off the machines. And for that he himself must perish in agony, in an even more cynical interpretation of the process by which he turns humans into pigs. In an operating chair in the centre of the shrine, apparently designed precisely for this purpose, Mandus allows himself to be disembowelled by mechanical arms. The machine comes to a halt, London finds its peace. The twentieth century dawns with the first chime of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1899. Mandus’s children do not experience the new age or the upcoming Great War in a morbid fulfilment of his hopes. They, like their rich father, will in time merge with the debris of the machine and the flesh in its pipes, forming a new foundation for the capital of industrialisation. No one will ever consume the flesh of the Manduses, and yet the factory has truly eaten its rich owner. Eat the rich, feed the poor.
Recommended Quotation : Pascal Wagner, „ A Machine for Pigs – Feed the Poor (to Whom?)“ in: Horror-Game-Politics, <http://hgp.hypotheses.org/1849> 23.01.2023
Pascal Marc Wagner holds an M.A. in Cultural and Cognitive Linguistics and a B.A. in English Studies and Law from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. He is the founder of the game studies and science communication blog http://languageatplay.de, co-founder of the anti-fascist network http://keinenpixel.de and B2B journalist for the German gaming industry. He can be found on Twitter as @indieflock.