On August 12, 2014, a nondescript game quietly appeared on the PlayStation Store, available exclusively for the PS4. The information provided was sparse—it had been released by the unheard-of 7780 Studios, the cover art featured a tree stump, and the only description provided was:
‘My voice, can you hear it?
This sign, can you read it?
I’ll wait forever if you’ll just come to me.’
Her words – To where do they lead?
Be the first in the world to find out.
*Avoid playing if you have a heart condition
If it caught the attention of a player, and that player decided to download it—which has now happened well over a million times, according to Sony—they would load up P.T. to find themselves in a dark, dank cement room. Employing first-person view, the player would be able to examine their surroundings with extremely limited controls. In fact, the only gameplay elements in P.T. are movement and camera—there are a very few instances in which you interact with anything in a standard gaming way.
Upon leaving the concrete room through a door, the player would find themselves in a narrow hallway of a quite ordinary home. A few picture frames lining the walls, a clock radio, an end table. The hallway turns left. Another door that doesn’t seem to open. A bit further down the hallway, another door, which is obviously the main door to the house. But it won’t open, either. The only other option is to go to the door at the very end of the hallway, down a short, dark flight of stairs . . . and back into the concrete room the player started in. The hallway becomes and endless loop. And then, well, go ahead and look up one of the hundreds of YouTube video play-throughs. I hope you weren’t planning on sleeping tonight.
That’s all I’m going to say about P.T. as a game. It turns out that this release was a “playable teaser” to promote the upcoming psychological horror game Silent Hills. The studio that released it? Fake. To reveal the cut-scene that explains P.T.’s purpose as well as announced the involvement of Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead, a player must “complete” P.T. by doing a number of obscure, nonsensical tasks in an order arranged with no explanation or prompts. And this is where it gets a bit muddy.
Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear series), who has taken up the role of a desperately needed new head of the fading Silent Hill series, stated that P.T. was not supposed to have an ending or be “beaten.” He wanted to focus on the experience, the feeling, the atmosphere. If a traditional game demo is a taste, then P.T. was supposed to be a smell.
Not only did Kojima want to emphasize the gaming experience, he wanted to build an excited and interactive community where people worked together, took notes, exchanged information, and gave each other tips and hints. That is why the requirements for getting to the “end” of P.T. are so obscure—things like having to whisper a specific name into the microphone and having to take a certain number of steps at a certain time. He wanted to push the experience from the screen to a community.
However, of his own admittance, he grossly underestimated the community he was trying to pull together. The elaborately hidden “end” of the game was discovered the very same day it appeared. Kojima claims that he expected it would take at least a week for players to figure it out.
The idea of presenting an experience is a good one, but the gaming demographic seems to have had a hard time with the concept of just being. Games are to be beaten. What is the point of playing a game that has no real goal, nothing to overcome or master? Everywhere I have looked and read about P.T., people are talking very little about the experience itself—instead, just how to “beat” it. Playing it isn’t good enough. You have to finish it.
P.T. was very successful in that it got a lot of gamers’ attention. It introduced the Silent Hill series to people who had never played, or who had no interest, in a new and undeniably vibrant way. But I also think that success of P.T will be Silent Hills’ biggest downfall.
Confession time. I am a huge, huuuuge Silent Hill fangirl. My car is adorned with the Red Pyramid Thing, I can rarely be found not listening to the soundtracks, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Silent Hill, from the town lore to the intricate details of the in-game religious sect the Order. I spend more time than I would like to admit lurking on Silent Hill forums, still reading about games that came out over ten years ago. I say this because it’s relevant to making my next point: as someone who loves this series, even after Konami shit out Homecoming and on, I did not like P.T.
It was simply too scary.
No, no, wait. Hear me out. P.T. was so absolutely terrifying because of the very small and short design specific to this game. The fact that you are always in a narrow hallway with very limited space to move; having no options aside from looking around and walking; the forced first-person view. Using such a limited space for a character to exist in grants an abundance of opportunities to subtly change the environment and have it be noticeable. And while there are some truly frightening stand-alone elements—excellent sound design, even without longtime series composer Akira Yamaoka; powerful lighting and photorealistic graphics; and an antagonist who made it so I had to wake my husband up to go to the bathroom with me—the real fear came from the limited time, limited space, and limited cast element. And, yeah, a few jump scares.
A larger, longer game could not maintain that level of tension; it’s not sustainable without all of those elements of extremely tight control. If it were more of the same, the effect would wear down quickly and become monotonous. If a player was drawn in by the experience of P.T., will they be disappointed in Silent Hills? Kojima has stated that P.T. is not connected to the upcoming Silent Hills and was simply just a way to show off the Fox Engine and the sorts of things that could be achieved. This may also have to do with the fact that many fans were skeptical about his takeover.
I can’t help but wonder whether players will be let down after such a hard-hitting start. What if it smelled delicious, but tastes horrible? The concept of a playable teaser is an intriguing one, and one that I hope will be explored more. And I hope can find balance between expectations and delivery.