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Player Punch

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"It's a shock, you know? I mean, I knew the Sith were evil and all, but the reality of it kind of slaps you in the face."
Mission Vao, Knights of the Old Republic

There's some times when playing a Video Game can be a little dehumanizing. After all, if your character is The Faceless, then there's no cinematic depiction of his grief that his Doomed Hometown was wiped off the map. And to the player who doesn't see it except if they possibly read the instruction manual, it's not that motivating.

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Enter the Player Punch. The script gives our hero a sidekick or supporting character who is given a good degree of characterization or is just plain adorable. Over time, the player begins to take a liking to them when suddenly — BAM! The villain displays a startling Kick the Dog moment in killing them off (usually in a non-resurrectable Plotline Death), or worse, forcing the player to kill them by kidnapping them and turning them into a Tragic Monster. It isn't just personal now for the character. The player has been drawn into the situation because they liked Skippy the Adorable Airedale, and now that villain is going down HARD.

Alternatively, the developer can do this by forcing the player to kill a sympathetic Anti-Villain (usually a type 4 such as a Noble Top Enforcer), which causes the player to question: Why did it have to end like this? If a Boss Fight against either the Anti-Villain or the aforementioned Tragic Monster turns up, you can expect Sad Battle Music to top it off.

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Can also be utilized by making the villain into such a smug jerk that the player wants to rearrange his face, or by suddenly having a former ally commit a Face–Heel Turn or come out as Evil All Along.

In unusually cruel and dark instances, the player is simply punched without the presence of a villain, or anybody else, to blame and take revenge on... Or even any other kind of positive resolution. On the opposite end, sometimes avoiding the player punch is possible, and a reason to do a Pacifist Run or get the Golden Ending.

See also Death by Newbery Medal, Dropped a Bridge on Him, Gut Punch, Cruel Twist Ending. MacGuffin Delivery Service is one way of doing this. Contrast Moral Myopia. Related to The Computer Shall Taunt You.

As this is often a death trope, UNMARKED SPOILERS are below.


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Examples:

Non-video game examples:

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    Literature 
  • Ender's Game has an in-universe example: Ender finds out that his "final exam" was a real battle, and thus, not only did he kill hundreds - possibly even thousands - of his fellow troops, he's also committed outright genocide against the Formics. He doesn't take it well.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is an effective means of breaking the "Psychopath" and "Murderhobo" playstyles of Munchkins: by illustrating the consequences of their actions, they come to see that the game they're playing isn't just a "game" with one-dimensional NPCs, but an interactive story with fleshed-out characters, whom would realistically respond with grief and anger should a Munchkin player kill their loved ones in cold blood. This doesn't always mean punishing the player directly: a convincing Tear Jerker can make a Munchkin reflect on their character's actions, and abandon their former playstyles as they become more immersed in the story.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Ben Croshaw calls this "The Token Shocking Moment" and complains about its overuse in modern military-themed shooters (most especially Modern Warfare) in several Zero Punctuation episodes.
    • He later dedicated an entire Extra Punctuation column to examining the Player Punch in Spec Ops: The Line and what made it so effective and shocking.
  • When Lets Player Nate From the Sunshine State gets to point in his playthrough of Halo 3 where Miranda Keyes is killed from behind by the Brutes, you can hear him loudly inhale in shock... and then he growls in authentic rage, "I don't care what I have to do, I will exterminate your entire f*cking species! I swear to f*cking God!" And for the rest of the Let's Play, every Brute he kills gets a "F*ck you! That's for Miranda!" send-off.
  • It happens to poor Ross on Steam Train when doing a Genocide Run of Undertale. Keep in mind that Ross not only cackled like a madman when they killed Toriel but actually encouraged Barry to do it in the cruelest way possible by pretending to be pacifistic and then striking when she drops her guard and trusts him so that he could taunt Barry for feeling horrible about it. When it comes time to kill Papyrus though he's not so chipper. It brings Ross to literal tears (yes you can actually hear him sniffling and his voice breaking), and they begin the next episode with about 10 full seconds of defeated silence before pressing on.

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